ORLANDO, Fla. -- On one hand, the Warriors could pop their collar for getting up big on a top-tier team such as Orlando. On the other, they could be disappointed for falling apart in the third quarter and blowing a double-digit lead.
After Monday's 110-90 loss to the Magic, the players in the Warriors locker room seemed to be leaning toward the latter.
"One half doesn't really mean anything," guard Monta Ellis said after totaling 20 points and seven rebounds. "That's why it's a 48-minute game. We've got to play smarter down the stretch. We've got to come out with more energy in the third quarter and continue to grind it out as a team and continue to grow."
The Warriors were not only playing a superior team, they were doing it without their star power forward. David Lee was inactive with a bruised tailbone, an injury he suffered in a fall during Saturday's loss at Miami. Lee could hardly walk after that game, but his injury improved significantly on the off-day. He said he is hoping to return Wednesday at New Orleans.
Golden State certainly could have used him Monday, as Orlando outscored the Warriors 35-18 in the third quarter, erasing Golden State's 11-point first-half lead. The Warriors squandered a 20-point first-half advantage in Miami. In their last two games, the Warriors have been outscored 60-30 in the third quarter.
Early in the season, the Warriors had a habit of starting slow and going on a third-quarter run to get back in the game, often unsuccessfully. The last two games, that trend has reversed. They've figured out a way to start better, jumping out to early leads and going into the locker room with sizable advantages. But in the third quarter, which once was their strength, the Warriors have been left in the dust.
Monday, the Warriors led 53-44 at the half, as small forward Dorell Wright scored 12 of his 17 in the first two quarters. Golden State's defense had Orlando bottled up. The Magic shot 39.5 percent with 10 turnovers and was out-rebounded 25-17.
"We're playing good basketball right now and that shows in the first half," said point guard Stephen Curry, who totaled 15 points, six rebounds, five assists and five turnovers. "They're good teams. You have to play at your best to come on the road and beat them in their home arena. So if you have a big lead, you have to play above the level that you did in the first half to keep the lead, because they're going to bring it with everything they have."
As the Heat did against the Warriors on New Year's Day, Orlando turned it up a notch in the second half. It took the Magic two minutes, 12 seconds to go on a 9-0 run to tie the game at 53.
What happened? The Magic got hot from behind the arc as Orlando started funneling the offense through center Dwight Howard. And the Warriors offense fell apart.
Former Warriors guard Jason Richardson, who finished with 20 points, started Orlando's run with a 3-pointer. Moments later, guard Jameer Nelson nailed one of his own and forced coach Keith Smart to call a timeout to stop the bleeding.
The game was tied at 67 after a jumper by Ellis at the 3:41 mark. Golden State went 1 for 6 the rest of the third. Orlando turned the dry spell into a 12-4 run, capped by a 3-pointer by Gilbert Arenas just before the buzzer.
Orlando was 6 of 8 from 3-point range in the third quarter and knocked down 12 3s in the second half. (The Magic was 3 for 11 from behind the arc in the first half.) Conversely, the Warriors were ice cold: 6 for 21 (28.6 percent) from the field in the third quarter.
And if the 79-71 lead entering the fourth quarter wasn't enough, Orlando scored the first five points of the fourth quarter. By the time Howard threw it down with two hands at the 6:25 mark, the Warriors' deficit was 97-79.
"You gotta play a full 48 minutes," Wright said. "It does us no good if we play only one half well and come out sluggish in the second half. We know we can go out and compete with the better teams. We've just got to finish the whole game."
Warriors at New Orleans, 5 p.m., CSNBA