They played such an excellent game. They corrected so much of what had been ailing them to the point that they looked like a different team playing a different style of game. Stephen Curry had a triple double and led all players in scoring. The Golden State Warriors were on the verge of evening-up the Western Conference semifinals heading back to Chase Center with chance to swing the momentum in their favor.
After being blown out in Game 3 in Los Angles on Saturday, the Dubs responded beautifully in Game 4 last night before slowly unraveling late and trying to hero ball their way to a win, losing to the Lakers 104-101. The Warriors are again on the brink of elimination.
Insert "We're down but not out" quote here: "There's confidence that we can figure this out. Obviously [we've got to] just focus on winning Game 5 and take it from there," said Steph Curry at the postgame interview last night. "You can't fast forward to the end, but we have a lot of confidence in our ability to take the good things from tonight.
"You gotta maintain positivity."
"Just who are these Golden State Warriors(?)" is a question I promised to stop asking after this incredibly weird and frustrating season. But after the first half last night, the question came to the fore yet again. The Warriors were marching into the paint, getting behind the Lakers' defense and sneaking to the rim for easy layups. The Dubs hacked the problem of Anthony Davis's stifling defense at the rim by drawing him to the perimeter. Gary Payton II, who started the game in place of Kevon Looney (who is said to still be recovering from an illness), scored a flurry of his 15 points virtually uncontested under the basket in the first half.
Steph looked like a quarterback rather than a marksman, dishing the ball at will to build his 31-point, 10-rebound and 14-assist night, racking up his third-career playoff triple double. The Warriors shot terribly from three all game — 29.3% on the night — but had their way with L.A. inside in the first half, scoring 32 points in the paint.
Even the wild free-throw disparity, which has been a nagging issue all year, but reached a fever pitch under the playoff spotlight of L.A.'s home court, was at one point even last night. It was a magnificent, well-played game on both ends for both teams. The Dubs took a lead late into the fourth.
Enter a Lakers' superstar: Lonnie Walker IV. (Seriously?)
Walker IV apparently made an impression during the garbage time of Game 3's blowout by the Lakers. Last night, he scored 15 points, all in the fourth quarter. The game was tied 96-96 with about three-and-a-half minutes left.
Klay Thompson hit a huge three-pointer (he had just nine points in his 41 minutes), then LeBron hit two free throws on the other end (L.A. was 20-20 from the line last night), and the shot clock ticked down to four seconds on the Warriors' next possession. Klay launched a 30-footer, no good, and Lonnie Walker hit a jumper on the other end to put the L.A. up 100-99.
With about 14 seconds on the shot clock, Klay put up another three-pointer when the Dubs headed back the other way. No good. Anointing myself coach, I decided it was bad shot selection and too early in the possession. It was more LeBron free throws on the other end, then a Steph Curry layup to make it 102-101 Lakers with about 45 seconds to work with.
Dribbling the ball across half court, you knew that Steph, who was working against Anthony Davis, was going to take the shot. His jumper from inside arc was no good, but Draymond got the offensive rebound and dished it back to Steph with just over 20 seconds left. Curry took a deep, step-back three, no good, and Lonnie Walker got the rebound and was fouled. (The last few Warriors' possessions felt a little like hero ball.) Fifteen seconds left, 104-101 Lakers, and one more chance for Golden State.
But they would never get a shot off.
Inbounding the ball with 15 seconds left, Draymond Green dribbled to the baseline, then essentially passed the ball to Anthony Davis. Klay and Wiggins managed to tie AD up for a jump ball.
Anthony Davis beat Wiggs on the jump, but the ball came to Steph Curry, who fell down, then sort of ejected the rock for fear (one presumes) of being tied up. The ball skipped out of bounds.
Before last nights' game, there were more than a few comparisons to last year's Finals against Boston, where the Dubs lost Game 1, won Game 2, were blow out in Game 3, then won Games 4 through 6. Now down 3-1 in, there's already a few fingers pointing to the 2016 Finals, where LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers came back from 3-1 down to beat the Warriors.
By the way: After 10 minutes and no points — and after a stellar postseason last year — Jordan Poole was essentially benched last night. Will he and the Dubs miraculously turn it around? Is it seven-game series all the way to the Finals, or is this weird, heartbreaker of a season about to come to its semi-logical heartbreaker of an end?
Top Image: Photo by Harry How/Getty Images