Despite playing the final 19:51 of the game without superstar forward LeBron James, the Lakers (20-14) earned an impressive 127-101 road victory over the defending champion Warriors (23-12) for their first win in ORACLE Arena in over six years (Dec. 22, 2012).
From James' impact early on to the team's ability to finish strong in his absence, here are four takeaways from LA's impressive return.
The LeBron James Effect
Prior to this meeting, the Los Angeles Lakers had lost seven straight games to the Warriors and were 4-16 against their divisional foe over the past five seasons.
While the first of the seven straight losses was a 43-point blowout, two of LA's losses to Golden State last season came in overtime by a combined six points. The Lakers were on the cusp of defeating the Warriors but were in need of a closer to get them over the hump.
Enter LeBron James.
It should come as no surprise that a four-time league MVP would immediately make a team better, and this impact was on full display on Christmas. In a game cut short by injury, LeBron recorded an impressive stat line of 17 points (on 6-for-11 shooting), 13 rebounds and five assists in just 21 minutes of action.
LeBron James does it all in the 1st half, posting 17 PTS, 10 REB, 5 AST for the @Lakers! #NBAXmas #LakeShow- NBA (@NBA) December 26, 2018
WATCH the 2nd half on ABC/ESPN pic.twitter.com/gQO3MOagr3
James' aggression on the offensive end was infectious and opened the team's offence for his teammates; including James, seven Lakers finished scoring in double-figures and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was not far behind with nine points.
Just as LeBron is what the Lakers were missing, their supporting cast is what he was missing. LeBron snapped a personal losing streak of seven games as his last win over Golden State came in Game 4 of the 2017 NBA Finals.
Subpar 3-point shooting for the Warriors
Golden State is an elite 3-point shooting team as it is tied for fifth in the league in 3-pointers made per game (12.1) and fourth in the league in 3-point percentage (38.4). The Lakers' rate of hitting 10.7 3-pointers per game at a 34.5 percent clip pales in comparison.
In their 26-point loss, the Warriors were 9-for-36 (25 percent) from deep, while the Lakers were 13-for-33 (39.4 percent) from beyond the arc. It was an uncharacteristic night for the defending champs, and much of it appeared to be by design as LA's defence had a hand in Golden State's percentages.
While Kevin Durant (3-for-8), Stephen Curry (2-for-8) and Klay Thompson (1-for-3) combined to shoot 6-for-19 (31.5 percent), the Lakers appeared to dare a number of Warriors to shoot the deep ball, namely Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Jonas Jerebko. While Iguodala's 3-for-5 shooting from deep led to his season-high 23 points, Jerebko and Green combined to shoot 0-for-7 on what would otherwise be high-quality looks.
The slight spike from LA combined with a slight decrease from Golden State wasn't the difference but it was certainly a big aspect of the somewhat surprising outcome.
Curry, Durant and Thompson
It was a struggle for the Warriors' prolific All-Star trio as they combined to score 41 points on 12-for-37 shooting from the field.
Fresh off of a 42-point performance in which he shot 6-for-15 from deep, Steph Curry did not hit his first 3-pointer of the game until the 4:48 mark of the third quarter. The two-time MVP sank another three on the next possession and did not hit another field goal for the remainder of the game.
In addition to Curry's off game, Durant finished with a team-high 21 points, but it was uncharacteristically inefficient, as the back-to-back Finals MVP shot 5-for-17 from the field and 2-for-8 from beyond the arc.
Thompson, who is often the team's safety valve in games like these, failed to get going as his 2-for-7 shooting night resulted in a season-low five points.
Off games happen, but the fact that it came for all three at the same time proved to be too much for the Warriors to overcome.
Rajon Rondo and the Final 19:51
When LeBron James hobbled to the locker room with 7:51 remaining in the third quarter, Los Angeles held a 71-57 lead over Golden State; the injury signified an imminent change in momentum as the Lakers were forced to find a way without their leader.
Things got shaky fast.
The Warriors went on one of their infamous runs over the next five minutes, outscoring the Lakers 19-7 to cut the deficit to two points with 2:48 remaining in the third. While it would seem LA couldn't get it done without James, the team responded in a major way.
The Lakers closed out the quarter on a 13-4 run to take a nine-point lead into the fourth quarter and never really looked back.
Free agent Rajon Rondo showed exactly why the team brought him in over the offseason as he scored 13 points and dished out five assists in the final 20 minutes of the game. Along with veteran Tyson Chandler, Rondo led by example and the young Lakers followed suit.
👀 The @Lakers go into Oracle Arena and top GSW behind @RajonRondo (15 PTS, 10 AST), and @ivicazubac (18 PTS, 11 REB, 9-10 FGM)! #NBAXmas #LakeShow pic.twitter.com/d5jjDKNIBv- NBA (@NBA) December 26, 2018
After LeBron went down, Kyle Kuzma scored nine of his team-high 19 points while Ivica Zubac impressed with eight points on 4-for-4 shooting in that same span.
While James' status is certainly a point of concern moving forward, there is plenty to be taken away from the Lakers' veteran presence and the fearlessness of their young players to step up to the challenge.