The Golden State Warriors gave the defending-champion Los Angeles Lakers everything they could handle Wednesday night, but ultimately fell just short in a 103-100 thriller in the inaugural NBA Play-In Tournament. The Lakers secured the seventh seed in the Western Conference and will face the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Warriors get one more chance to reach the playoffs on Friday in a must-win game against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Here are five takeaways from Golden State’s narrow loss in Los Angeles:
Steph makes the Warriors dangerous
Stephen Curry nearly carried the Warriors to an improbable victory with a brilliant performance. Despite facing double-teams all night, Curry scored a game-high 37 points in 41 minutes, making six of his nine 3-point attempts. He also grabbed seven rebounds and dished out three assists. Curry’s heroics served as a reminder to the league that as long as he is on the court, Golden State can beat anybody on any given night. That should make the rest of the Western Conference, particularly the Warriors’ potential first-round opponent Utah, very nervous.
‘Playoff Draymond’ has arrived
Draymond Green put forth a tremendous effort of his own, despite only scoring two points. Green provided his usual elite defense, shutting down whichever Laker he was guarding, recording three steals, three blocks and nine rebounds. He also helped orchestrate the offense, dishing out a team-high eight assists, including a crucial dime to Jordan Poole that put the Warriors ahead with 3:43 remaining. Golden State coach Steve Kerr has called Green the smartest player he has ever seen, and his decision-making on both ends of the floor create immeasurable value for the team. “Playoff Draymond” showed up in a big way Wednesday night and figures to do so again Friday.
Defense rounding into form
It wasn’t just Green who brought the intensity on defense. The entire Warriors roster made life miserable for LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the rest of the Lakers. James scored just 22 points — five below his career average — on 7-of-17 shooting. Davis started the game 2 for 14 from the field before eventually heating up and scoring 25 points. As a team, Los Angeles shot just 41 percent from the field and made only 10 of 31 3-pointers. During the regular season, Golden State allowed nearly 114 points per game on 47 percent shooting. The defense had been much better toward the end of the regular season and that trend continued Wednesday, a welcome development for a potential playoff run.
Turnovers remain deadly
If you had to point to one reason for the Warriors’ loss, it would be turnovers. Golden State committed 20 of them, including an inexcusable 15 in the second half, two more than the Lakers made the entire game. The Warriors led by 13 points at halftime, but Los Angeles forced eight turnovers in the third quarter to claw back within two points heading into the fourth quarter. The turnovers kept coming in the final period, including four in the last five minutes. Of course, Golden State also found itself on the wrong side of some questionable calls by the officials, but that was probably to be expected on the road against James and company. Moving forward, the Warriors absolutely must take better care of the ball.
Won or done
Now the season comes down to one game as Golden State hosts Memphis on Friday night with the eighth seed on the line. The Warriors played the Grizzlies in Sunday’s regular-season finale, winning 113-101, and they will be favored again. The key will be putting Wednesday’s crushing loss behind them and bringing the same type of aggressive effort in front of the home fans. If the Warriors take care of business, they will face the top-seeded Utah Jazz in a best-of-seven series beginning Sunday in Salt Lake City. If not, the season ends Friday.