"The guy is a winner," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said of Nash, who he also coached with the Suns. "There was a difference before the game. He changes everything. He changes the whole perspective."
The Lakers handed Golden State its most lopsided-loss of the season on Nov. 9, a 101-77 rout in Los Angeles. In the past two months, the Lakers had continued to slide while the Warriors had become surprising winners.
The matchup Saturday marked the first time the Warriors faced the Lakers with a better record through at least 25 games since April 23, 1994.
D'Antoni said before the game that Nash's return could be a fresh start for the franchise, especially with more difficult matchups looming, including one against the New York Knicks (19-7) on Christmas. He said the lineup with Nash is what he envisioned when the Lakers called him in November to replace Mike Brown, who was fired after a 1-4 start to his second season.
With Nash anchoring D'Antoni's fast-paced system, the Lakers had no problem settling in offensively.
They scored 15 points off 10 turnovers in the opening quarter to take a 31-27 lead. Dwight Howard was in foul trouble throughout, and the center's absence hurt Los Angeles on the other end, with the Warriors moving in and around the paint almost unchallenged.
At one point, Jack juked Nash and every other defender Los Angeles threw his way. He scored 15 points in the second quarter, sparking a 14-0 run that helped put Golden State ahead 61-53 at halftime.
The up-and-down pace had everybody winded. Curry had to ask Jackson to come out for a moment in the third quarter as Golden State played its fourth game in five nights. After a brief rest, Curry keyed another surge to give the Warriors an 88-74 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Bryant practically willed the Lakers back by himself — with Nash's help, this time — as he has done so often in his illustrious career. He finished an alley-oop from Nash on the next play with two hands, sliced Golden State's lead to 90-88 when he dunked after a give-and-go bounce pass from Howard midway through the fourth, and tied the game at 95 with a 3-pointer in the face of Harrison Barnes minutes later to set up the frantic finish.
"It was the collective energy we're playing with, and that's the most important thing," Bryant said, "the fact we're fighting together as a group through adversity."
NOTES: Darius Morris started at shooting guard for the Lakers ahead of World Peace, who had 20 points and seven rebounds in 37 minutes. D'Antoni said he likes World Peace's energy off the bench, but he will still make some starts depending on the matchup. ... The Lakers have swept the Warriors in three of the last four seasons, including all four during the 2011-12 campaign. They have two more games against each other this season. ... Carl Landry's put-back layup at the halftime buzzer was waved off after officials reviewed television replays.