LOS ANGELES — For most of the Warriors' 124-118 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday, it looked as if Golden State would pull off the improbable again.
The Warriors had the defending NBA champions on the ropes at Staples Center and had thoughts of another upset after beating Boston on Monday and Phoenix on Saturday. But a few factors thwarted the Warriors' chances at a three-game winning streak.
They were on the road.
Their marquee player, guard Monta Ellis, was having an off night — though 22 points on 10-for-23 shooting with seven assists qualifies as a great game for some.
Oh, and some dude named Kobe Bryant.
Bryant finished with 44 points and 11 assists. He scored 17 points in the fourth quarter to help keep the Warriors (9-22) at arm's length.
"That guy is amazing," Warriors coach Don Nelson said. "To be able to shoot like he did with the finger problems that he has on his shooting hand, that guy is amazing. I love watching him play and it's always a pleasure to coach against him."
What hurt the Warriors almost as much as Bryant was their five fourth-quarter turnovers. And the missed free throws. But not even those, nor the fact they finished December 3-12, could taint the positive vibes in the locker room after good showings against three elite teams.
"I'm excited about how we played," Ellis said. "We fought all the way to the end. ... Everybody's playing well, everybody's playing together."
Undoubtedly, it's a feat for the Warriors to be down two points entering the fourth quarter on the Lakers' home court. But when the Warriors found themselves in that position, it didn't feel like an upset was brewing, instead more like a missed opportunity.
Golden State not only had seen its 15-point lead erased, but Bryant was on a roll.
The teams traded baskets and momentum most of the fourth quarter.
Two Bryant free throws put the Lakers ahead 111-108, but Warriors guard Anthony Morrow answered with a pull-up jumper. Lakers forward Lamar Odom got free for a layup, but Morrow answered with another jumper.
Bryant found Jordan Farmar for an open 3, giving the Lakers a 116-112 lead. The Warriors answered with three free throws, one for a Bryant technical foul and the other two resulting from a Corey Maggette drive.
But Odom converted a putback and, after Turiaf missed two free throws, Bryant drew another foul and knocked down the two free throws, putting the Warriors down 120-115 with just over a minute left.
Golden State didn't score again until a meaningless C.J. Watson 3-pointer in the final seconds.
"We played a pretty decent game," said Maggette, who had 25 points. "We just missed some shots and had careless turnovers. They kind of cost us, being these are the defending champs."