So the Warriors, it appears, are not invincible. Not by a long shot. In just six games this year, they’ve already been thoroughly beaten twice — first by the Spurs on opening night, and then again on Friday by a Lakers team that looks to be much improved under Luke Walton.
The final score in L.A. was 117-97.
It was a drubbing.
Here are four takeaways:
1. First, give the Lakers some credit
In every facet of the game, the Lakers were better. You can chalk it up to the Warriors being on a back-to-back after an emotional win over Oklahoma City Thursday night, but the Warriors won a lot of back-to-backs last year. Pretty much every one they played, matter of fact. The Lakers, now 3-3 on the year, flat out beat them.
So many guys weren’t just good for L.A., but great. DeAngelo Russell, who finished with 17 points, started the game with six straight points and hit a monster three to stop the flood of a Warriors third-quarter run that was threatening to overwhelm the Lakers. He was confident, aggressive and sharp all night, as was L.A., which effectively won the game twice — first with a great first quarter, and then when it responded to that Warriors 16-2 third-quarter run by outscoring Golden State 18-14 the rest of the period to preserve a double-digit lead heading into the fourth.
The Lakers of last year would’ve folded right there. That is a terrific sign.
Back to the performances — Lou Williams, who finished with 18 points off the bench, hit huge shots down the stretch. Larry Nance Jr. finished with 12 points, nine boards and one of the nastiest dunks you’ll ever see. Nick Young, who has somehow become a wily veteran, finished with 12 under-control points including about a 30-foot 3-pointer while also playing … solid defense? Julius Randle, who Luke Walton says can be like Draymond Green, was absolutely everywhere with 20 points and 14 boards. The Warriors had no answer for him in the paint.
The Warriors had no answer for anything, really. The Lakers had more rebounds, more assists, more threes, more points in the paint and less turnovers. They were the better team. By a lot.
2. Speaking of those paint points …
Listen, it’s hard to evaluate the Warriors because one night they look unbeatable and one night they look something not too far from miserable, which was certainly the case Friday. But the one consistent area of concern has been their paint presence, or lack thereof.
Multiple people, starting with Damian Lillard, have commented that the Warriors just aren’t the same defensive team without Andrew Bogut, and they’re not. There are some who want to say Zaza Pachulia can be some kind of B-version of Bogut, but he hasn’t been anything close to that yet.
In 10 first-half minutes, Pachulia didn’t have a single rebound. He had three for the game. And no blocks. Not even really a legit contest. Somehow he was the only Warriors starter to finish with a positive point differential (plus-3), but at this point, he is providing very little in the way of rim protection. The Lakers scored 64 points in the paint and pulled down 16 offensive rebounds. It was a cakewalk through the lane all night long.
Not all of that is on Pachulia, of course. There were some weak-side rotational breakdowns and guys were getting beat off the dribble left and right, but that’s what Bogut, and to a lesser extent Festus Ezeli, made up for the last few years. Golden State’s perimeter defense is very good, but perhaps it’s not quite as good as it’s made out to be without a human mistake-eraser waiting behind it. Or at least it hasn’t been this year.
When San Antonio exploited this big-man weakness, it was one thing. It’s the Spurs.
When the Lakers do it, it’s another.
This is a legitimate problem, even if it will be masked on many nights by a bombardment of 3-pointers.
3. Happy trails, Steph Curry’s 3-point streak
It ends at 157 straight games, an NBA record. Curry went 0-10 from downtown Friday and is a combined 2 of 16 over his last two games. He came into Friday shooting the long ball at nearly 45 percent for the season, so the numbers were more than fine, but other than that red-hot 23-point third quarter in Portland, he hasn’t really hit his stride so far.
Is he looking too much for Kevin Durant? Is he less wiling to shoot himself from cold to hot with another all-time scorer next to him? He doesn’t appear to be looking for his shot off the dribble quite so much, but a lot of this is about adjusting to a new offensive dynamic, even if the scheme is still the same. Plus, believe it or not, Curry is not immune to pretty awful-looking shooting lines from time to time. He’s had more 10-miss games than you probably realize — though he obviously hasn’t been completely blanked in a long time. When you fire threes up at the volume he does, particularly with the defensive attention he faces, these nights happen.
Don’t worry too much about this.
4. Klay Thompson, on the other hand …
The other Splash Brother’s jumper is starting to sound like someone banging pots and pans at a New Year’s party. Thompson came into Friday shooting … wait for it … 19 percent from downtown. Somehow, that number will improve after his 2-for-10 showing against the Lakers.
If Curry hasn’t quite looked like himself this year, Thompson has been flat unrecognizable. He started 0 for 7 from deep Friday night, and he’s just not getting as many rhythm shots as he got last year — though he’s still getting plenty. Thompson will surely get going at some point soon, but this distant-third-option thing is not looking like a great fit for him at the moment.