OAKLAND — Walking to the bench with 3:24 to play in the fourth quarter, the Golden State Warriors’ starters shook their heads as they looked at the scoreboard.
Trailing by 23 points at that point to a Los Angeles Lakers team that had played without LeBron James for much of the second half, Golden State was well on its way to a Christmas Day beat down at Oracle Arena.
The eventual 127-101 loss — the Warriors’ fourth 20-plus point loss at home this season — raised questions about Golden State’s focus, and whether or not the defending champions have capitulated to the same sense of complacency that haunted them last season.
“I think the bar has been set extremely high here,” head coach Steve Kerr said. “It’s disappointing to lose big at home. We’re obviously not trying to do that, but stuff happens.”
For Kerr, who led coached the Warriors to a 73-9 record in 2016, getting his team to lock in for regular season games began to become a problem last season, as Golden State, which had won two of the previous three NBA titles, often seemed complacent on the court.
On Tuesday, those issues resurfaced, particularly in the Warriors’ first-half play. The Lakers out-shot the Warriors 58.1 percent to 38.1 percent from the field, despite Golden State taking 11 more shots, and held a 15-point halftime lead over the defending champions.
Led by James, who scored 17 points in the first 24 minutes of the game, Los Angeles made seven of its first 15 three-point attempts and got the the free throw line 12 times.
“I want to come up with something sarcastic and witty [to explain out defense] but nothing comes to mind,” Kerr said. “[Those numbers speak] for themselves.”
Not contesting jump shots and committing undisciplined fouls contributed to the Warriors’ lackluster first half, but lack of offensive execution was arguably the biggest factor in their 15-point halftime deficit.
Jonas Jerebko — who had shot 49 percent from the field this season — and Klay Thompson combined to shoot 0-for-8 from the field in the first half, including a combined 0-for-5 from beyond the three-point line. Golden State’s leading scorer on the night came off the bench, in Andre Iguodala. He scored 23 on 9-of-12 shooting and 3-of-5 from beyond the arc — by far the best shooting line of any Warrior.
Thompson, who would go on to finish the game 2-for-7 from the floor, is now 9-for-39 from 3-point land in his last eight games, including Tuesday.
“It’ll get better,” Stephen Curry said. “It’s obviously on a national stage, Christmas Day … You can feel terrible about it leaving the arena but you’ve got to understand that it’s December.”
Within the first three minutes of the second half, Golden State coughed the ball up three times, leading to five Lakers points.
Two of the turnovers were charged to forward Draymond Green, who had a pair of passes sail out of bounds.
“I kind of f****d out whole offense up,” Green said. “I was really hesitant.”
Before long, the Warriors found themselves in a 19-point hole. As the poor shooting and lackadaisical defense continued, Golden State caught a break as James left the game at the 7:51 mark after tweaking his left groin. He would not return, and over the next five minutes, the Warriors would reel themselves back into the game, closing the gap to two points with 2:48 to go in the period. The 19-5 run was spearheaded by Curry, who knocked down two 3-pointers during that stretch.
The LeBron-less Lakers surged back, building the lead to nine after a buzzer-beating triple from Los Angeles guard Lance Stephenson.
“We were coming up with stops and getting in transition,” Curry said. “If I really knew [what we lost], maybe we could have done something about it in terms of really getting over the hump.”
As the fourth quarter began, the Warriors further fell into the hole they had just climbed out of, falling back into the same lazy and complacent habits that got them down in the first place.
With the help of craft veteran Rajon Rondo, who finished the game with 15 points and 10 assists, the Lakers would close things out neatly for the visitors, and raising questions of engagement for Golden State.
“I think we come into the game with focus,” said Warriors forward Kevin Durant, who went an uncharacteristic 5-of-13 from the field for a very inefficient 21 points. “But during the game, I think we can make better adjustments … Just talk a little bit more, communicate a little bit more.”
“We can’t expect to win a championship playing like this,” said Curry, who shot 5-of-17 and finished with 15 points.
While the Warriors have spoiled their fans, winning over 80 percent of their regular season games over the last four years, Golden State chalks their fall back to earth this season — including Tuesday night’s loss — up to the normalcy of an NBA season.
“People are expecting maybe that same thing to go on,” Kerr said. “The reality is that we’re at a different point as an organization and as a team, and we’ve got to fight through the adversity that hits like a game like tonight and keep moving forward.”NBA