It was the first playoff matchup of Stephen Curry and LeBron James since 2018. This time, James came out on top.
LOS ANGELES — The reigning champion Golden State’s freewheeling, 3-point-centric style of play changed the N.B.A. and made Stephen Curry a household name. But on Friday night, the team couldn’t muster up one last overwhelming flurry of deep shots, bowing out to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games in the Western Conference semifinals.
The Lakers won Game 6, 122-101.
It was one of the most highly anticipated playoff matchups in years, pitting Curry against the Lakers star LeBron James for the first time since the 2018 N.B.A. finals, when James was on the Cleveland Cavaliers. But the series ultimately didn’t match the hype, with blowouts in Games 2, 3 and 5 after a thrilling Lakers win to open the series.
In Game 6, Golden State seemed out of sorts right from the start. The Lakers opened the game on a 24-9 run. Golden State’s Klay Thompson missed nine of his first 10 shots; Curry missed four of his first five. Then, just before halftime, a last-second desperation shot by Lakers guard Austin Reaves sent Crypto.com Arena into a frenzy and Los Angeles to the break with a 10-point lead. In the third quarter, James led the push to extend the lead to 19 and the Lakers were in firm control entering the fourth quarter. Golden State never recovered.
This means the Golden State dynasty — four championships since 2015 behind Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green — may be at an end or at least on its way to a makeover. With one of the most expensive rosters in the league, and a new collective bargaining agreement aimed at curbing heavy spenders, Golden State is likely to try to bring down costs. It could be a stark transition for the team, given that it went from a rudderless middle-of-the-road franchise to one of the most financially valuable ones with Curry at the helm over the past decade.
But this season was a slog for Golden State. It finished at 44-38 for the Western Conference’s sixth seed and had one of the worst road records in the league, at 11-30.
But there were moments when the team was able to dig for vintage performances.
Curry had one of the finest games of his career in the first round of the playoffs. Golden State faced the third-seeded Kings in Sacramento for a decisive Game 7. Curry scored 50 points — the most ever in a Game 7 — and hit seven 3-pointers. It was a reminder of the magic that had made his team so great.
In the conference semifinals, against the seventh-seeded Lakers, Golden State had home-court advantage. But losing Game 1 at home set the tone for the series. While Golden State looked dominant in Games 2 and 5, both at home, Game 4 was a series-turner: Golden State made several uncharacteristically sloppy mistakes down the stretch, dropping the team into a daunting 3-1 hole in the series.
It was ultimately too much for Golden State to overcome.
The series served as a reminder: It’s hard to stay on top for long.
Green, a four-time All-Star, has a player option for next year and is expected to test free agency. He had one of his better seasons this year but turns 34 next March, and Golden State may balk at offering him a maximum contract. Green has shown a penchant for impulsive behavior, like punching teammate Jordan Poole in training camp, and he had the second-most technical fouls in the league in the regular season.
Thompson, a five-time All-Star, still has moments when he looks like one of the best shooters in N.B.A. history, but at 33 years old and after two major injuries, he has noticeably slowed on defense. His contract expires after next season.
Golden State will also have to decide what to do with its young players, who the team has tried to develop while chasing a championship — a path criticized for placing too much of a load on the 35-year-old Curry. In particular, Poole, a 23-year-old guard, struggled mightily in the playoffs, a less than ideal scenario given that Golden State signed him to a four-year contract extension in October worth up to $140 million. Other young players, like Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, both 20, were in and out of the lineup all season.
In addition, the contract of Bob Myers, the team’s general manager for the last decade, ends this year. Carrying the dynasty into its next stage may fall to a different architect.