Who said the 2015-16 Los Angeles Lakers' season was only about the Kobe Bryant retirement tour?
The 13-51 Lakers pulled off a stunning upset Sunday with a 112-95 victory over the 55-6 Golden State Warriors at Staples Center and may have even done their part to prevent Stephen Curry's team from eventually eclipsing the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls' all-time record of 72 wins in a season.
Suffice to say, everyone was surprised with the result:
Before tonight:— Bleacher Report UK (@br_uk) March 6, 2016
Golden State Warriors: Won 55, Lost 5
LA Lakers: Won 12, Lost 51
Final: Lakers 112-95 Warriors pic.twitter.com/iPSEy0Fq9U
Jordan Clarkson and D'Angelo Russell did their best Splash Brothers impersonation and combined to make seven three-pointers in the victory. Clarkson led the way with 25 points, while Russell added 21 points, five assists and four steals. Bryant chipped in 12 points but was only 4-of-14 from the field.
As for the actual Splash Brothers, Curry and Klay Thompson combined to shoot an abysmal 1-of-18 from three-point territory. ESPN Stats & Info highlighted just how poor their shooting was Sunday:
Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson had their worst combined 3-pt shooting game as teammates pic.twitter.com/1SblRnowg2— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 6, 2016
Even with those totals, Curry (18 points) and Thompson (15 points) were the only Warriors to score in double figures. The team as a whole was only 4-of-30 from three-point range and committed 20 turnovers, seven of which came from Draymond Green.
With the offense in such a funk, Golden State etched its name into the record books for an unfortunate reason. Baxter Holmes of ESPN quantified the performance:
In terms of difference in winning percentage between two teams (min. 25 games into season), today marks the biggest upset in NBA history.— Baxter Holmes (@BaxterHolmes) March 6, 2016
NBC Sports Radio echoed similar sentiments:
Outside of the fact this victory was against the Warriors, the realization the Lakers beat a quality team was also surprising in this lost campaign. Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated pointed out why that's the case:
This will be the Lakers' first win over a playoff team since 12/30/2015 (Celtics).— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) March 6, 2016
Now questions will naturally turn to how Golden State measures up to that Bulls squad that set the all-time record for wins. ESPN Stats & Info implied fans hoping to see history this season should not give up just yet:
61st game of season— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 6, 2016
1995-96 Bulls entered 54-6, lost at Knicks by 32
2015-16 Warriors entered 55-5, lost at Lakers by 17
Max Rappaport linked the star of that Chicago squad, Michael Jordan, to the Warriors in a different way Sunday:
The Lakers wasted little time dispatching their status as overmatched underdogs for at least a day Sunday, controlling the first half and taking a 60-49 lead into the locker room. They maintained that momentum in the third quarter and held an 84-73 advantage heading into the final 12 minutes.
Part of Golden State's problem was L.A.'s Clarkson, who scored 23 points in the first three quarters. Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News commented on the second-year youngster's play:
I know the Lakers aren't trading him, but if I'm a West rival I do whatever I can this summer to get Clarkson just to play him vs. GSWs.— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) March 6, 2016
It was hard to describe the first three quarters between the typically dominant Warriors and usually terrible Lakers as anything but strange, and ESPN.com's J.A. Adande noticed the unexpectedness even extended to the food-based promotions:
Hard to believe, but free tacos in play for Lakers fans today (Laker W, opp. < 100 points). These would have to be most unlikely tacos ever— J.A. Adande (@jadande) March 6, 2016
Bobby Big Wheel thought the Warriors may have been playing with an ulterior motive:
This is all part of the Warriors' master plan to get Byron Scott an extension— Bobby Big Wheel (@BobbyBigWheel) March 6, 2016
Los Angeles extended its lead to 91-75 in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter when Nick Young drilled two three-pointers. Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com tweeted what nearly everyone was thinking:
Kawakami realized Lakers fans may not get to see much more of the defending MVP again for an unexpected reason:
Curry might not play another fourth quarter vs. the Lakers.— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) March 6, 2016
Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle said these type of games between the Warriors and Lakers actually have a historical precedent:
Lakers 91, #Warriors 75 (9:24, 3rd) The Warriors are usually good for at least one L.A. clunker a season. Haven't swept Lakers since 1993-94— Rusty Simmons (@Rusty_SFChron) March 6, 2016
The Lakers put the makings of an upset into statistical perspective during the fourth quarter:
Jordan Clarkson, D'Angelo Russell and Nick Young have combined to shoot 9-of-14 on 3-pointers. The Warriors are 3-of-28.— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) March 6, 2016
Golden State hung around for a stretch, but things looked particularly bleak when Marcelo Huertas hit Larry Nance Jr. for an electrifying alley-oop with just over six minutes remaining to put the Lakers up, 99-81.
Golliver reacted to the developments:
The world has finally found an answer to the Warriors' small ball lineup. Of course it was Marcelo Huertas...— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) March 6, 2016
Chicago Bulls play-by-play announcer Chuck Swirsky recognized even Jordan's 72-win team had a shocking loss during its record-breaking season:
Lowly Lakers beating GST- .....March 24th, 1996 the Raptors (21-61) handed the Bulls their 8th loss in a record setting 72-10 season.— chuck swirsky (@ctsbulls) March 6, 2016
Still, Huertas was running circles around the defending champions Sunday, and former Grantland writer and New York Times bestselling author Shea Serrano posed an interesting question:
it's time we start seriously having the Is Huertas Better Than Magic Johnson? conversation— Shea Serrano (@SheaSerrano) March 6, 2016
Golden State essentially emptied its bench with less than five minutes left and trailing, 102-83. Adande responded to the move:
We're used to Warriors closing with their Death Lineup or their mop-up unit. this is the White Flag Lineup— J.A. Adande (@jadande) March 6, 2016
From there, Los Angeles closed out the victory with Curry, Green and Thompson on the bench. Kawakami credited the Lakers for their execution and pointed out the victory could give future opponents something of a blueprint to beating this seemingly unbeatable machine:
Just one game, but the Lakers did what you have to vs. Warriors: Attack the GSW switches and just keep attacking. And trap Curry.— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) March 6, 2016
Ethan Strauss of ESPN tried to fault someone for Golden State's performance, but it was hard to do Sunday:
This Warriors loss was so bad that it's hard to pin it on anyone. Collective awfulness— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) March 6, 2016
Many expected a blowout during Sunday's contest. They just didn't think it would be the Lakers walking away with a double-digit victory.
It is easy to look at this as just a blip on the radar of what could become the best season in NBA history, but the Warriors are only three games ahead of the San Antonio Spurs in the loss column in the race for the Western Conference's No. 1 seed.
What’s more, the two juggernauts play each other three more times before the playoffs. Don’t automatically assume Curry will be defending the title from the No. 1 perch just yet.
Fortunately for Golden State, the immediate future is not exactly challenging. It faces the Orlando Magic, Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers, Phoenix Suns, New Orleans Pelicans and New York Knicks in the next six contests, and only Portland is above .500 from that group. That Portland squad also entered Sunday’s game against the Detroit Pistons with two straight losses.
Still, the Lakers were not supposed to be a challenge, either. The Warriors need to take care of business against these winnable opponents to keep space between themselves and the Spurs before those head-to-head showdowns in the stretch run of the season.
On the other side, this is a memorable moment in an otherwise lost season for Los Angeles and could help build some momentum for its young playmakers. There is nothing like a victory over the Warriors to instill confidence in foundational pieces such as Clarkson, Russell and Julius Randle that will ideally allow the franchise to revisit its past glory in the upcoming years.
There is also an immediate opportunity for the Lakers to perhaps get in the habit of winning with matchups against the Magic, Suns, Knicks and Sacramento Kings all within the upcoming five games. None of those teams is even five games below .500, let alone sporting a winning record.
Bryant will continue to dominate the headlines in Los Angeles as he rides off into the NBA sunset, but fans can take solace in knowing the young talent shined brightly Sunday.
Lakers coach Byron Scott was pleased with his team’s effort level Sunday, per Holmes: “Our guys played about as hard as they have all season long.”
Scott also noted the Warriors are still the league’s best team and simply said, “They were missing a lot of shots,” per Holmes.
While Clarkson and Russell filled up the box score, Huertas scored 10 points and dished out nine assists off the bench. Scott said, per Holmes, “Marcelo was probably MVP tonight.”
Bryant also shared his thoughts on the win, via NBA TV:
As for the Warriors, Lindsey Thiry of the Los Angeles Times shared an update from coach Steve Kerr: “[Kerr] says he jokes with [Curry] that this team is the millennials—and we all know millennials can't focus. Today, it happened.”
Kerr also said he glad for the Lakers because “they’ve been on the tough end,” recently, per Thiry.
That may be true, but the Warriors learned what life is like on that end Sunday.