The Golden State Warriors have been the NBA’s biggest story for the past few years, but excitement surrounding the team reached new levels when Kevin Durant joined the record-setting and championship-losing club on July 4. One of the most impressive collections of talent the league has ever seen has inspired all kinds of reactions. Will the Warriors set another record for wins? How will they bounce back from last June’s collapse against the Cleveland Cavaliers? And can the NBA survive a team that looks so dominant?
One game will not answer so many complicated questions, but the result of Tuesday’s season opener at Oracle Arena will surely remind everyone that the Warriors remain a work in progress. The visiting San Antonio Spurs dominated Golden State 129-100, winning their first game without Tim Duncan on the roster in 20 seasons. It’s far too early to glean much from this result, but it at least proves that the Warriors are not going to win the championship in the season’s first week. It’s going to take time for this favorite to jell.
Durant can take solace in knowing that he was not the problem on Tuesday. The 2014 MVP led the Warriors with 27 points (11-of-18 FG, 1-of-3 3FG, 5-of-6 FT) in 37 minutes, looking very much like his Oklahoma City Thunder self with the threat to score from anywhere on the court. KD did not throw off the Warriors’ much-praised ball movement and spacing — if anything, he fits better than could have been expected after only a month of training camp. For that matter, Durant made plays on the glass (10 rebounds), as a playmaker (four assists), and on defense (two steals and two blocks) in displaying the all-around skills that should get more attention in his new home.
Unfortunately, the Warriors as a whole were a hot mess. That was especially true at the defensive end, where the Spurs encountered little resistance in the paint (20 offensive rebounds) and plenty of open looks from the perimeter (12-of-24 from deep). New Warriors Zaza Pachulia and David West combined for a horrendous two points, five rebounds, and seven turnovers in 31 minutes in performances that had many Warriors fans pining for former starter Andrew Bogut, one of several players made expendable after the acquisition of Durant. Golden State clearly needs lots of work at this end of the floor. A team that has often liked to gamble for steals will probably have to learn to stay home more often.
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The new-look Spurs had no such struggles. Big offseason addition Pau Gasol was quiet with just two points and four rebounds in 18 minutes, but San Antonio did not appear to miss a beat despite the absence of the legendary Duncan. Gregg Popovich’s team looked like its steady self, answering various Warriors mini-runs with key buckets and timeouts to ensure they never lost control. The Spurs closed the first quarter on a 19-4 run and led by double digits for the final 25 minutes. The lead reached as many as 28 points early in the fourth quarter, keeping Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson on the bench for an atypical late-game rest. The Warriors made the result more respectable in garbage time, but there was no hiding the shape of the contest.
The hype around the Warriors ensures that they will grab the night’s headlines, but the Spurs deserve lots of credit for a terrific win. Kawhi Leonard announced himself as a top-level MVP candidate again with a career-high 35 points on perfect 15-of-15 shooting from the line, five rebounds, five steals, and three assists. Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge was excellent, as well, putting up 26 points and 14 rebounds (eight offensive) as the chief bully to Golden State’s lacking big men.
Yet it was the San Antonio bench that surprised most. The Spurs reserves out-scored the Warriors’ bench 54-16 in a final tally that looks better for the hosts because of extended garbage time. San Antonio seized control of the game any time the Warriors sat two members of their fearsome foursome and had the better five-man lineups throughout the night.
Three players scored in double figures, but the clear standout performer was 27-year-old wing Jonathon Simmons. The one-time journeyman made the Spurs’ roster in 2015 after a stellar Las Vegas Summer League and looks set to take on a bigger role this season as an athletic scorer off the bench. He was electric on Tuesday, making his first six shots to finish with 20 points on 8-of-13 from the field.
The Warriors did not appear to take this blowout loss too hard, although head coach Steve Kerr did not wave away the struggles:
Steve Kerr: “Anyone got any good jokes?”
— Erik Malinowski (@erikmal) October 26, 2016
Kerr said he didn't have team ready: "We weren't energized to start the game. We took for granted that things would go well."
— Marcus Thompson (@ThompsonScribe) October 26, 2016
To be fair to Golden State, the game could have gone much differently if early open looks had fallen. Although Durant and Curry (18 points on 5-of-9 FG in the first half) looked good, the other Warriors went 0-of-10 from 3-point range before the break. Klay Thompson had a particularly rough start, making just one of his first seven attempts from the field. Add in a relatively poor start for Draymond Green, and it’s easy to see why one of the greatest collections of offensive talent ever only managed 44 points in the first half. It might take a while for the Warriors to fire on all cylinders, but they can play far better than this even at half-speed.
Their next opportunity comes Friday night at the New Orleans Pelicans. Blowout loss or not, there were enough thrilling moments for Durant and the Warriors to make that game appointment television, as well. We can’t crown Golden State, but we also shouldn’t count them out just yet.
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