Steph Curry was confident the Warriors would enter Wednesday's play-in game against the Los Angeles Lakers with plenty of fire.
"I feel like we can come in guns slinging, ready to start the game off hot," Curry said the day before.
And he was right. The Warriors started the game off ablaze.
Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins kept a cap on Anthony Davis and LeBron James, forcing them to go a combined 3-of-19 in the first half. All of the Warriors' supporting cast knocked down their shots as Curry navigated the Lakers' defense with ease. They entered halftime with a 13-point lead and all of the momentum.
But that's where it stopped. At halftime.
According to Warriors coach Steve Kerr, their 103-100 loss was sealed in the third quarter.
"We knew they were going to come out, we talked about it at halftime, they’re a great team, they’re gonna make a run all that stuff," Kerr said in a postgame video conference. "We got away from ourselves."
Maybe the Warriors knew the Lakers were primed for a run, but it sure didn't look like it. Los Angeles came out in the third quarter with entirely new energy, focus, and aggression, completely erasing any positives Golden State strung together through the first two quarters.
As for the Warriors getting away from themselves, that was the direct result of their inability to take care of the ball and defend without fouling.
At halftime, the Warriors had committed just five turnovers. They racked up eight more in the third quarter alone, leading to 12 Lakers' points. Curry and Green both committed three in the frame (and ended the night with six apiece), while Wiggins and Jordan Poole coughed up the other two.
"I don’t even think our turnovers were forced," Kerr said. "I thought we just made careless decisions with the ball and that’s what turned the game."
No, not all of the Warriors' turnovers were forced, but the Lakers' defense had an undeniable impact in the second half. Just as Golden State's offense did to LA in the first half, the Lakers suffocated the Warriors in the second.
Golden State started the third with four consecutive empty possessions and committed five fouls in the first three minutes, putting LA in the penalty before midway through the quarter.
Perhaps one of the reasons why the Warriors fouled so much early in the second half was because of the Lakers' increased physicality. LA had the clear size advantage over small-ball Golden State, but the Lakers didn't use it much early.
But once they started to rely more heavily on it, the Warriors reverted to fouling.
It's similar to what Golden State did earlier in the season when they felt overwhelmed by defenses.
"That changed the dynamic of the game," Curry said. "The flow was interrupted by not getting shot attempts, them getting free throws, and they got life. Like I said, that was a tough stretch. We knew they are a great team so they’re going to make a run. But you can’t give them help in that situation."
All of the Warriors' empty possessions propelled the Lakers to get out in transition, where they thrive and create mismatches. It took LA just over three minutes to whittle Golden's State 13-point lead down to one.
The Warriors did regain most of their composure, and that should be commended. Actually, 75 percent of the game should be applauded.
First, nobody thought the Warriors would make the play-in tournament. And once they did, they weren't given any chance at defeating the defending champions. But they gave themselves a shot Wednesday.
Curry finished with 37 points and displayed just how incredible his on-court vision is, finding ways to still impact the game while getting swarmed by double- and triple-teams. Green's defense was unrelenting. Wiggins lived up to his nickname "Two-Way Wiggs." Then there's the play from Kent Bazemore and Poole. There were a lot of positives from this game.
But, that 25 percent where the Warriors let up is what cost them the game.
Sure, James gave the Warriors a taste of what Curry does to opponents night after night -- hitting a ridiculous dagger 3-pointer with a defender's hand right in his face -- but James' shot didn't hand the Warriors the loss.
The third quarter did.