Though Stephen Curry and LeBron James were the names atop the marquee, it wasn’t much of a battle between the two superstars.
It was, however, a wonderfully competitive game between the Warriors and Lakers.
The Warriors faded in the second half and came away with a 103-100 loss Wednesday night in the play-in game that earned Los Angeles the No. 7 seed and a first-round matchup with the second-seeded Phoenix Suns.
The Warriors return to the Bay Area and will face the Memphis Grizzlies in the play-in tournament finale, with the winner advancing to a first-round series with the Utah Jazz.
Though Curry was slightly better than James most of the night, scoring a game-high 37 points, James, playing on a tender right ankle, still posted a triple-double, totaling 22 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
LeBron’s desperation 3-pointer with 58.2 seconds remaining was the winning margin.
Here are three observations from a game the Warriors tried/had to win twice.
Horrid third quarter invites disaster
After riding terrific defense to a solid first half that allowed them to go up as much as 13 and head to the locker room with a 55-42 lead, the Warriors came out in the third quarter and gave back all the currency they’d earned.
Though they invited trouble by committing five fouls inside the first three minutes, putting the Lakers in the bonus, most of the self-inflicted damage came on turnovers. The Warriors committed eight, gifting the Lakers with 12 points.
Curry and Green each committed three turnovers, with Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole responsible for the other two.
The result was the Lakers opening the second half with a 14-2 run, slicing Golden State’s advantage to one. When the Warriors recovered to push the lead to 12 (72-60, 5:07 left in the quarter), the Lakers responded with a 17-7 close of the quarter.
The Warriors didn’t lose this game down the stretch. They gave it away in the third quarter.
Draymond gives Davis fits
The Warriors entered the game facing two imposing individual matchups and knowing they needed to win at least one of them to have a chance. One of those matchups involved Draymond Green.
For most the night, he was a decisive winner.
Drawing the familiar assignment of defending Anthony Davis, Draymond barely let the eight-time All-Star breathe. Davis might have been hampered (he was listed on the injury list as “questionable” with a right shoulder sprain), his early impact was whisper quiet, with five points on 2-of-12 shooting.
Davis woke up in the second half, scoring 20 points, and finished with 25 on 10-of-24 shooting, including 1-of-6 from deep, where Draymond practically urged him to launch. Green also found time to block three shots, twice rejecting Davis and also sending away a driving Alex Caruso.
As the marquee game of the play-in tournament, Warriors-Lakers was given the big stage. That’s Draymond’s comfort zone and, for most of the night, it looked like it.
Looney cracks rebounding code
In three regular-season games, the Lakers outrebounded the Warriors by an average of 19.7 per game. The Warriors knew a similar deficit would send them back home with a loss.
Kevon Looney seemed to take this personally. Though usually content to do the dirty work in the background, the 6-foot-9 center/forward announced his presence by grabbing 11 in 12 first-half minutes. He finished with 13 in 20 minutes.
The Warriors talked of gang rebounding, sending four and five players to the glass. There were times they followed that plan.
But Looney’s work on the glass was massive and kept the Warriors afloat.
The Warriors ended up minus-3 (49-46) in rebounding, which is about as good as they could have hoped for.