David Lee sat on a bench in the Warriors locker room Wednesday night, trying to process the just-completed 2½ hours. The New Orleans Hornets ambushed the Warriors from the opening tip and registered a 112-103 victory in front of 18,108 at Oracle Arena, a score that wasn't nearly indicative of the game's lopsided nature.
After staring off into the distance for a few minutes, Lee declined an interview request and hit the showers. When he returned, he lamented a performance that had coach Keith Smart questioning the team's toughness and one that couldn't match a 110-103 victory in New Orleans less than a month ago.
"I was just disappointed," said Lee, who had 16 points and 10 rebounds but also five turnovers. "I didn't play the type of first half that I wanted to play. It put us in a hole to start the second half. Everybody has nights like that. It's just frustrating. I want to go out there and dominate. It just didn't happen. I didn't have my best night tonight in the first half."
If it's any consolation for Lee, he had a lot of company. The Warriors began the game by playing one of their worst quarters of the season. They committed seven turnovers and allowed the Hornets to shoot 65 percent from the floor. New Orleans already led by 13 points midway through the first quarter and stretched its advantage to 25 points early in the fourth quarter before the Warriors made the score respectable.
After a season-high four game win streak, the Warriors (19-26) have now dropped three straight. After losing to the NBA's best team, the San Antonio Spurs, on Monday night, they fell to the league's hottest team Wednesday. The win was the Hornets' 10th in a row.
"The NBA takes two things -- effort and toughness," Smart said. "You have effort and you have toughness, you're going to have a chance to play against any team in the NBA. If you don't show any of that against a good team, they're going to force their will. We didn't force our will to start the game off. If you don't do that against a good team, you're going to have a quarter where you start the game off very, very flat."
The Hornets (31-16) ended up shooting 62.2 percent from the field, the highest percentage the Warriors have allowed this season. Golden State also committed 21 turnovers, one short of a season high.
Warriors players agreed that they have work to do in the toughness department.
"We have to be tougher than those guys," said forward Dorell Wright, who had 25 points. "Those guys were being aggressive. We're looking at the refs. We have to man-up and play hard and not worry about anything else. We have to be more aggressive and take it to the other team."
The Warriors played arguably their best quarter of the season on Jan. 5 in New Orleans, outscoring the Hornets 38-21 in the final 12 minutes to come back from a 10-point deficit. Smart was so pleased with the way his team played he has been using that quarter as a visual aid ever since.
But when the Hornets took a 104-79 lead midway through the fourth quarter, returning to that level of play seemed laughable.
"We have to get away from being safe. We play safe too much," Smart said.
The Warriors made two runs to try to make the game competitive. With Hornets star point guard Chris Paul getting a breather on the bench in the first half, Golden State scored 12 unanswered points to cut New Orleans' lead to 38-35. But Paul returned, and the Hornets extended their lead to 61-49 at halftime.
The Warriors scored eight straight points early in the third quarter to trim the deficit to 65-61, but that's as close as they would get.
Paul finished with 18 points and 17 assists, the 48th time in his career he's dished out at least 15 assists in a game. Monta Ellis led the Warriors with 26 points.
Charlotte (19-25) at Warriors (19-26), 7:30 p.m., CSNBA
Guard Stephen Curry shakes off his ankle pain, is able to play. Page 3