If the Warriors have a fatal flaw, the Spurs exposed it with 'a slap in the face'

Ball Don't Lie

The over/under for Golden State Warriors wins this season is 66.5, and they were favored by 8.5 points in the opener against a San Antonio Spurs team with the next-highest expected win total (56.5), so few outsiders saw Tuesday’s blowout loss coming. Or if they did, they made themselves some money.

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But it seems the Warriors, “light-years ahead” of everybody else and all, saw it coming. Maybe not by 29 points, but Golden State was well aware of the weaknesses San Antonio exposed — rebounding and rim protection, especially — entering Game 1. In fact, according to Bay Area News Group columnist Marcus Thompson, the “embarrassed” Warriors even welcomed the “slap in the face.”

It makes sense. The Warriors started last season 24-0, and suddenly 2015-16 became more about making history than repeating as NBA champions. But after an historic collapse in the Finals, Golden State can’t afford another embarrassment, not after adding Kevin Durant to the roster, not if they want to remain the league’s gold standard, and so maybe some early slaps in the face could help.

“We just didn’t play with the juice we usually play with, and it sucks right now, but in the long run, I really believe this loss will help us,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson told reporters after the game, “just because everyone’s anointing us, whatever, expectations are crazy, but you’ve still got to play really good teams, go out there and win the game, so in the long run, I really believe this will help us.”

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What doesn’t make sense is that a Steve Kerr-coached team with two of the game’s three best players and four of the league’s top 20 talents could come out so flat at home, in the season opener, after the way last season ended, amid all the lofty expectations set for them this summer — and lose by 29?

“I think our guys were embarrassed tonight,” said Kerr. “I know I was.”

“It’s a slap in the face,” added Durant. “It woke us up a bit.”

“It’s a nice little slap in the face,” concluded Warriors point guard Stephen Curry. “The first game, you want to come out and protect your home court and have that energy of the home opener kind of live throughout the game, and we didn’t do anything to let that happen.”

If you can’t get hyped about the unveiling of a new super team at Oracle Arena, then when will you? Thompson reminded everyone, “It’s only Oct. 25,” Durant did the same — “It’s Game 1 of 82” — and rightfully so, “but at the same time,” as Draymond Green said, “it just shows us, No. 1, which we knew, that we need to get better, No. 2, we need to compete at a higher level, and we have to defend.”

Maybe we all should’ve seen this coming, then. Maybe it does take time. Maybe it does make sense. Maybe the last super team in Miami offers a blueprint, as the Heat started 2009-10 with a 9-8 record before winning 21 of their next 22 on their way to a 58-win season and the first of four straight Finals.

“There’s going to be so much written about our team and so much exposure,” added Kerr. “Obviously, it’ll be mostly bad — all bad — tomorrow. We’ll probably win a few games in a row and everybody will say, ‘Wow, they look great and they’re going to win the rest of their games this season.’ Then we’ll get killed again and just play this game all season.”

But something felt different about the 2010-11 Heat’s opening-night loss to a Boston Celtics team coming off its own second Finals showing in three years and the 2016-17 Warriors’ 29-point defeat at the hands of an always stellar Spurs squad. Both teams lacked depth behind superstars, but Miami’s early offensive asymmetry seemed more solvable than Golden State’s defensive chemistry issues.

Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge finished with 26 points and 14 rebounds against the Warriors. (Getty Images)
Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge finished with 26 points and 14 rebounds against the Warriors. (Getty Images)

The Warriors got out-rebounded by 20, allowed 21 offensive rebounds and gave up 26 second-chance points. Is there a chance a cast of Zaza Pachulia, David West, Anderson Varejao and JaVale McGee in the frontcourt can’t match the glass-cleaning and rim-protecting prowess of the since departed Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli? There sure is. On Tuesday, Pachulia, West, Varejao and McGee had 19 rebound chances, defined as being with 3.5 feet of a rebound, and they grabbed five combined. That quartet contested 10 shots at the rim, and the Spurs made seven of them. (As a team, the Warriors corralled just 35 of 82 rebound chances and let the Spurs shoot 61.8 percent on 34 shots at the rim.)

So, a factor that killed the Warriors in the Finals — offensive rebounds and second-chance points — might actually be worse. Of course, there are things Golden State can do to improve overall defensively. With Thompson and Durant on the wings, they should be able to tighten up a perimeter defense that allowed 20 open or wide-open 3-point attempts (for 30 San Antonio points) on Tuesday, but that puts an added onus on Green and Big Man B to clean up any misses. The Warriors can also better set their halfcourt defense and limit rebounding opportunities by connecting on more than 21.2 percent of their 33 attempts from 3, a solution Kerr understood by looking at the box score.

In one breath after 48 minutes of regular-season basketball, Kerr said, “We can’t be a team that’s mistake-prone. We’re going to be explosive, we’re going to score a lot of points, but we’ve got to be sharp with our execution and help our defense by playing good offense, by playing solid offense.”

And in another breath, Kerr added, “I never worry about missed shots. It’s more about loose balls and second effort, third effort. We’d make a stop, and then they’d get an offensive rebound, and then we’d kind of lose our energy a little bit. … That’s a great team. It’s a team that exposed some of our weaknesses. We cannot get out-rebounded like that and lose the turnover battle and get beat at the free throw line. Those are all things that are going to kill us if we do that every game, so we know it’s going to take some time. That was obvious tonight.”

So, Kerr has some things to figure out, namely rebounding and rim protection. They can’t just expect to roll the ball out to their four All-Stars and win with ease against good teams, that much we learned on Oct. 25 in Game 1 of 82, and the Warriors seem to understand that. Nobody outside Oakland saw Tuesday’s 29-point loss coming, but the issues that led to it won’t take anybody by surprise again.

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Whether they’re fixable is another matter. Sure, it’s only one game — and the Warriors will have their fair share of blowout victories over the course of the next 81 — but if there is a weakness on a roster that features Curry, Thompson, Durant and Green, it’s the other frontcourt spot in that lineup. Now, let’s see if they can solve it against Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night.

But if not, there will be a whole lot of people regretting they didn’t take the under on those 66.5 wins.

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don’t Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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