LOS ANGELES — The invincible Warriors and the hapless Lakers traded bodies for an afternoon, producing an upset that was disorienting, stunning and oddly comforting.
The defending champs didn’t put on a particularly enthralling or inspired performance in just their sixth loss of the season, but it was reassuring to watch them lay an egg. It was reassuring to see Stephen Curry reach into his magic hat, only to come up empty time after time. It was nice, frankly, to have a reminder of the Warriors’ mortality.
Golden State, cruising at altitude above the NBA’s other 29 teams while riding a seven-game winning streak, stalled out against the West’s worst on Sunday, losing 112–95 to the Lakers in a game so backward that Curry and Draymond Green sat out the closing minutes because the Warriors were down by double digits.
There were extenuating circumstances—the 12:30 p.m. PT tip time and the absence of Andre Iguodala due to hamstring tightness—but there was no excuse. Golden State failed to win any of the four quarters, falling short of 100 points for the first time in nearly two months (against the NBA’s worst defense) while conceding 112 points (to the NBA’s second-worst offense) just two days after the Hawks held the Lakers to just 77 points.
Although the victory won’t boost the Lakers out of the lottery and the defeat may not prevent the Warriors from reaching a record 73 wins, the result goes down as the NBA’s ultimate “Any Given Sunday” affair.
The Warriors (.917) and Lakers (.190) entered Sunday with a historic winning percentage differential, and yet it was the underdogs who played steady from start to finish, scoring 60 first-half points and committing just 11 turnovers on Sunday. L.A.’s surprising victory recalled the expansion Raptors upsetting Michael Jordan’s 1996 Bulls, except this was a thorough blowout.
“I’m just as speechless as you guys are,” Kobe Bryant said, who scored 12 points on 4-of-14 shooting.
In place of their usual endless loops of highlights, the Warriors accumulated bloopers and blunders. Early on, Curry bamboozled multiple Lakers defenders off the dribble, spun the ball around his back and then missed his target with the pass. Later, his effortless handle buffered when he caught the ball on his hip for a turnover. His attempt at a buzzer beater airballed so badly that teammate Leandro Barbosa plucked the errant shot out of mid-air and converted a layup before the first quarter closed.
Golden State hit just 4 of 30 from deep, marking the fewest three-pointers during coach Steve Kerr’s tenure. Curry (18 points) and Klay Thompson (15 points) combined to shoot just one of 18 shots from deep. The only bright side to be found was Curry extending his record streak of consecutive games with a three.
“It was just a bad performance all the way through,” Curry said. “I’d say 24 or 25 of those [three-point attempts] were good shots but they just missed. It happens. … It just wasn’t our night. The big thing for us is how we respond. We’ve responded to losses well this entire year.”
Down the stretch, the Warriors kept turning to Curry for the necessary spark to shift momentum, only to be left without a fire starter. He bricked a step-back three. He pushed the ball up the court and pulled up from deep, the crowd edging forward in anticipation, only to miss again. He threaded a pass to Thompson for an open corner three, but that missed too.
The Warriors were so far off script that they managed to commit a backcourt violation immediately after a timeout. Their disciplined, long defense regularly lost track of Jordan Clarkson (25 points) and D’Angelo Russell (21 points), as L.A.’s two young guards combined to shoot 7 of 13 from three. And Marcelo Huertas, of all people, pierced Golden State’s fearsome smallball lineups. The 32-year-old point guard is often a punching bag on social media, but he scored 10 points and dished a career-high nine assists, shaking Curry for a running floater and sustaining L.A.’s flow in the final period.
“We had zero attention span on either end of the floor,” Kerr lamented afterward. “Our guards were leaking out, not helping on the glass, turning the ball over again and again. Not following the scouting report defensively. Not putting any pressure on the ball.”
Kerr, whose anger got the best of him when he was hit with a technical foul late in the game, was hardly ranting. Having played on the 72-win Bulls, he understands better than anyone that night-to-night perfection is unachievable, even for a Warriors team that still boasts the best record through 61 games in league history (55–6).
“This team is full of Millennials, and Millennials can’t focus,” he joked, attempting to lighten the mood and avoid any extended hand-wringing. “We looked like the Millennials tonight. We weren’t locked in at all. We weren’t focused. … Every team is going to have a tough time being locked in for 82 games. It’s hard.”
For Kerr, Curry and company, Sunday’s loss stands as a point of caution, a go-to example for what happens when their attention wanes, their jumpers rim off and their defensive intensity slips. For the rest of us, Sunday is something of a relief. Even merciless, machine-like, joyous world-beaters are occasionally subjected to a really, truly bad day.