LOS ANGELES -- The return of Steph Curry, as well as Andre Iguodala, wasn't enough for the Warriors to overcome their road blues Sunday in their 113-105 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers at Crypto.com Arena.
Iguodala played 14 minutes off the bench in his first game since Jan. 13, and the 39-year-old finished as a plus-13 in plus/minus, helping ignite the Warriors in the second quarter after they entered the period in a 15-point hole. Steve Kerr also showed he still trusts Iguodala's Basketball IQ and defensive acumen as much as anybody down the stretch.
For Curry, after missing the past 11 games to a lower left leg injury, two things stood out, despite the loss: His killer instinct and his world-class conditioning.
The former was on full display early in the fourth quarter.
With the Warriors trailing by six points going into the fourth, Curry opened the final frame by driving to the hoop for a layup. Lakers backup guard Austin Reaves had other plans. Reaves swatted away Curry's attempt, looked down at him on the hardwood and had the home crowd erupt.
Never poke the bear. Even one who turns 35 years old in a little over a week and has far outgrown his old Baby-Faced Assassin moniker.
All Curry needed was 11 seconds to get his revenge on Reaves. Coming off a screen by Draymond Green, Steph splashed a three from the top of the arc with Reaves right behind him. He slightly moved Reaves out of his way, turned to the Lakers crowd and brought the petty with him to LA -- waving his hands sarcastically, setting the stage for what was to come.
"Just playing basketball," Curry said. "You're gonna get your shot blocked every once in a while. Just try and find ways to impact the game and not let whatever happened before impact what's going to happen next.
What happened next was a Curry flurry. The Warriors have seen it for years now. So have their opponents. Reaves and the Lakers were the latest on his list.
The more Reaves tried to guard Curry, the more he took him to class. Curry's next shot attempt was a step-back jumper on Reaves after setting him up with a dribbling display. Then, he took Reaves to the rack and got a shooting foul on him. Steph sank both shots at the charity stripe. A little over a minute later, Curry raced past Reaves for a layup to cut the Warriors' deficit to four points.
But his best highlight of the night was step-back 3-pointer that brought the Warriors to within one point of the Lakers. Yes, Reaves was on the wrong receiving end of that one too.
"It was very impressive," Klay Thompson said of Curry's fourth quarter. "Any time you can stop and pop from three 40 feet away the basket -- I mean, he's probably the only one who can do that."
"Yeah, he got going," Reaves said with a laugh. "Honestly, I don't know how he's in such good shape with not playing for however long he didn't play. He never looks like he's tired, always coming off pindowns, ball screens.
"I had a nice block on him, and then he came off a pindown and hit a three. I think he had like seven straight. If I could give the block away for him not to score, I would have. But he's obviously a really good player for obvious reasons. You try to make it hard on him. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it don't."
Overall for the Lakers, their game plan did work. They came out as the victors, and Reaves was fantastic off the bench. He scored 16 points, had eight assists and was a plus-11 in plus/minus.
Though the Warriors had their five-game win streak snapped and fell to 7-24 on the road, there were positives. Curry was the biggest of them all.
Starting slow with a scoreless first quarter, Curry then scored eight points in the second. He again was scoreless in the third and the first 10 seconds of the fourth weren't ideal. Still, he ended the night with a team-high 27 points.
Nineteen of those came in the fourth quarter. Catching fire in the clutch, Curry went 5 of 9 from the field when it mattered most, making three of his six 3-point attempts and all six of his free throws.
He played a little under seven minutes in the first quarter, eight-and-a-half minutes in the second, seven minutes in the third and then nearly 10 minutes in the fourth. That put him at 32:02 for the night. Returning from a leg injury this time, Curry actually played slightly more in his first game back Sunday compared to his first game back from a shoulder injury earlier in the season.
"As the game gets deeper into it, you try to meet that intensity and that energy and that level -- physically and mentally," Curry said. "It felt great to get thrown back into there right away.
"I was a little sluggish in terms of the sharpness of my skill set early, and then you start to feel the speed of the game. If I get better as the game goes on, that's always a great sign for me individually. And then for our team, even though we lost, there are some bright spots for sure. Felt great."
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When Curry stepped onto the floor from an 11-game absence in January, he scored 24 points against the Phoenix Suns. The Warriors lost. Curry gave Golden State 27 this time, again in a loss.
The Warriors bounced back with a win the last time, and will look to do the same again Tuesday in Oklahoma City against the Thunder. March rings the bell for the stretch run, and the Warriors now have the biggest weapon in basketball on their side.
That's bigger than wins and losses, and has brought the Warriors many more wins than losses in the past.