If you turned off the Martin Luther King Day showdown between the Lakers and the Warriors after the purple and gold built a 12-point lead in the first quarter, or when they took a 16-point advantage into halftime, you could be forgiven if you were surprised about how close this matchup actually ended up, much less the result. It was the Lakers that Steve Kerr compared to his 73-9 Warriors team over the weekend, but it was the Dubs that gave everyone a flashback to their halcyon days with their scorching comeback from down by as much as 19 points to win a 115-113 barn-burner that the Lakers deserved to lose after an embarrassing performance.
Things looked good enough for the Lakers to start. Dennis Schröder hit the Warriors with a barrage of scoring early, dropping 14 points in the first quarter while Anthony Davis dropped a career-high (for a single quarter) of 6 assists in the first frame, all as the Lakers coasted to their early advantage.
But everything changed in the second-half. The Lakers’ defensive intensity and commitment to executing offensively clearly waned. This is a team that has played with their food a ton over the last few weeks, a habit that clearly bit them in this one. Schröder got frustrated with foul calls and cooled off to finish with 25 points. LeBron James was not his usual self, either. He had some uncharacteristically sloppy turnovers, and appeared visibly irritated for most of the night, culminating in him yelling at teammate Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for not shooting before James himself committed a travel.
Amidst all of it, Kyle Kuzma was huge for the Lakers as the team tried to hang onto their lead, hitting several timely threes to push back against Warriors runs or start mini ones for the Lakers. He had 15 points and 10 rebounds, and deserves credit despite the eventual result.
But in the end it wasn’t enough. Now don’t get me wrong: The Lakers should have won this game. That they didn’t is frankly almost an achievement in apathy.
I mean, look at this!
But instead of seeing the benefits of blowing a team out like they have so often lately, they themselves blew it, suffering breakdown after breakdown on defense in the fourth quarter as the Warriors heated up, and allowed Eric Paschall (19 points) to scorch them off the bench on easy buckets around the rim. Draymond Green and Stephen Curry hit some shots late after inefficient first halves, and despite the Lakers trying to turn it on at the end, it wasn’t enough. Sometimes basketball isn’t a switch you can flip, it’s a finicky old car engine that doesn’t always start in a timely fashion. Tonight, instead of getting where they were going, it sputtered out for the Lakers and left them stranded on the side of the road.
In a fitting analogy for the night, the Lakers almost didn’t even get a shot off on their final possession while trailing by three points. After calling a desperation timeout and inbounding the ball, LeBron missed another tough three, and that was all she wrote.
Is this an unforgivable defeat? Of course not. Games like this happen over the course of a season. The Lakers weren’t going to go undefeated, and had lost three games already (they’re now 11-4). But head coach Frank Vogel said before this game that his team was focused on themselves and their habits more than their opponents, and that the Warriors’ offense would be a good test for the Lakers’ defensive principles. It’s fair to say the Lakers mostly failed that exam, and they’re going to have to focus on themselves in the film room and make sure these bad habits don’t cascade on themselves moving forward.
The Lakers will now have Tuesday and Wednesday to rest before another marquee matchup, this time against the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday. We’ll see if they can bounce back in that one and learn from their mistakes after what had to feel like a fairly humiliating result on national television tonight.