LOS ANGELES — The Golden State Warriors didn’t need Stephen Curry to save them as he returned from the left leg injury that held him out for 11 games.
Instead, they just wanted him to join them in the momentum they built over the past five games and help them take the next step in making the run they’ve been waiting for all season.
For much of their matinee game against the Los Angeles Lakers, it felt like a similar script to several of their recent games: fall behind early — by 20 on Sunday — then fight their way up and over the hump. But at Crypto.com Arena, they came up short, falling 113-105.
Curry’s night mirrored that of his team. He went scoreless in the first quarter before putting up eight points in the second. The goal early on was just to allow him to see the ball go through the hoop, but he missed his first two wide-open looks. He shot only 2-of-7 (1-of-5 from 3) on uncontested shots.
In the third period he again didn’t register a point, but then in the fourth he erupted for 19 — the most he’s scored in a fourth quarter this season.
“I felt like I got stronger as the game went on,” Curry said. He played 32 minutes, slightly over the 28 minutes the team was hoping to keep him around.
As much of a luxury as it would have been to simply add Curry — and Andre Iguodala — back into the mix and see the team’s level of play skyrocket from there, Golden State understands that’s not realistic.
There is still an adjustment period.
“The way the guys have been playing over the last five games and the stretch that we had at home, it’s a tough transition for everybody,” Curry said. “Just guys trying to keep their rhythm, keep their confidence. That’s our challenge as a team. We have to maintain trust in each other because we are all aiming to win at the highest level.”
Golden State can’t put a finger on exactly why it has been getting off to slow starts or why it has such a discrepancy performing on the road versus at home. The Warriors are 27-7 at home — tied for the second-most home wins — but just 7-24 elsewhere, tied for third-fewest wins on the road.
Against the Lakers, early fouling was an issue, something that plagued the Warriors earlier in the season. There were also key stretches throughout the game when the team got careless, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
“There’s a stretch … if we could have executed we could have gotten some good shots,” Kerr said. “We just didn’t execute. We never could quite get over the hump.”
Klay Thompson added 22 points on 8-of-18 shooting, including four 3-pointers, and three other Warriors finished in double figures. Kerr was pleased with the team’s overall defensive performance as well. But nothing could get the job done.
Anthony Davis finished with 39 points for the Lakers on 14-of-25 shooting, adding eight rebounds and six assists.
The Warriors’ success on the road moving forward will be pivotal to how they end their season. Ten of their final 17 games are away from home, and all but three of their matchups are against Western Conference opponents also battling for seeding.
This isn’t new territory for Golden State. And this time of year is usually one that sees the Warriors kick into high gear.
There are parallels between what the Warriors are experiencing now and what they went through last season as they made the final push into the playoffs.
Curry was coming off of an injury and the team was hoping it would have just enough time for everything to click. The Warriors had far less time last year, with Curry missing the last 11 games of the regular season and not returning until Game 1 of their first-round playoff series. This season, the Warriors still have 17 games left before the start of the postseason.
But last year they started 18-2 — a tangible piece of evidence of how good they can be at full strength. They haven’t shown that this season.
“We have an outside shot of getting home-court advantage,” Curry said. The Warriors currently sit in the 5-seed, two games behind the Suns and a half-game up on the Timberwolves.
Curry continued: “It’s weird to say, we’re still trying to win championships but we’re trying to avoid the play-in. Both can be true. … Until we get beat, we still feel we’re a tough matchup for anybody. That is the confidence we’ve got to have down the stretch.”