It was supposed to be a perfect scenario for the Warriors to stamp their class: A Christmas Day match on national television and in front of the home crowd, with LeBron James as an opponent. And they were complete, too. Everybody was healthy, offensive fulcrum Steph Curry just had an outstanding shooting game to continue a hot streak, and Kevin Durant and Draymond Green appeared to be getting along well anew. In short, yet another triumph over the reeling Lakers looked to be in the offing.
To be sure, the Warriors were extremely motivated heading into the contest. Public pronouncements had them acknowledging its significance, indicating their awareness of its capacity to galvanize a campaign that had been rocked early by injuries and internal tumult. And the Lakers were, well, the Lakers; there could be no denying the appeal of upending the purple and gold, crosstown rivals with star power off the court regardless of status on it. The fact that James was around and leading a resurgence made the prospect of victory even sweeter.
Unfortunately, the Warriors found the flesh weak despite the spirit’s willingness. They fell behind early and practically spent the rest of the set-to staring at the Lakers’ backsides. Not even James’s departure early in the third quarter could steer momentum their way. After a brief rally that had them just two down near the end of the period, they again had shots missing the mark. And in bowing to the handicapped opposition, they might as well have been made up of fringe players instead of All-Stars.
Don’t tell the Warriors the development means anything more than a blip on the radar, though. For all the messages the blowout sends pundits, they remain confident of their capacity to defend their title. As far as they’re concerned, no one else in the league can take their measure at their best. And, yes, all and sundry can rest assured they will be at their best when the stakes are high. Curry and Durant will make beautiful music together, Green and Kay Thompson will find their shots, and the rest of the roster will ably fill in the gaps. Meanwhile, they’re forced to acknowledge that the questions will keep coming, some even from within.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is the Senior Vice-President and General Manager of Basic Energy Corp.