So about that first game — you know, the one that was supposed to joyously ring in the KD-era Warriors with a resounding victory. Yeah, that didn’t exactly turn out as planned. Instead of a three-point splash party culminating in a win over the geezery Tim Duncan-less Spurs, the Warriors took a devastating bludgeoning on the head that had them looking like the last living Asian guy in a zombie apocalypse. What the hell happened on opening night?
For starters, the Warriors were sloppy with the ball (16 turnovers), and when they weren’t carelessly ceding possessions, they played like five dudes who had just met on the black top. Call it “needing to gel” or call it “first game jitters” but whatever the case, all those giveaways stalled any chance of a sustained run to get back into the contest; it’s an issue that has plagued these Warriors under Steve Kerr even before the addition of KD. The offense ran in fits and starts, not doing nearly enough to mitigate the giveaways. Although the Dubs shot a respectable 46% from the field, they connected on a paltry 7-of-22 from distance. Add in that the Spurs inexplicably shot like a team of Splash Relatives — hitting half of their 24 three-point attempts — and the 29-point home beat-down starts to make more sense.
But the biggest culprit of the nationally televised clobberfest was the Warriors’ leaky interior defense. With former centers Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli plying their shot-blocking and layup-altering trade in Dallas and Portland, Golden State is heavily reliant on Zaza Pachulia, 36-year-old David West, whatever is left of Javale McGee and Anderson Varejao’s floppy hair to deter shooters in the paint. Pachulia doesn’t have the lateral quickness to stick with guards on the roll, nor does he have the arm-length or leg-springyness to block shots when beat. Neither does the 6’9″ West, who has spent most of his career as a forward. In theory, McGee could do both those things, but he’s working his way back into the league after getting waived twice in the last 24 months, and whenever “Javale McGee” is the answer to your championship question, you might want to look for a better solution.
Many of the defense’s troubles would have been lessened had the Warriors made their three-point baskets at a clip closer to average, and had the Spurs missed a few more, but the worries from the preseason about the Warriors lack of rim protection are real. LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard combined for 61 points and 19 rebounds, bullying the Dubs’ front line like Deebo on a Friday. San Antonio amassed 50 points in the paint and grabbed 21 offensive rebounds. The Warriors were either too slow or too small to keep the Spurs’ trees out of the paint. Heck, even David Lee came off the bench for six points and six boards in 11 minutes.
Perhaps the pre-season game where Damian Lillard was able to repeatedly gore Golden State’s paint defense for easy buckets should have been a clue. The Warriors will have real concerns going forward on how they protect the meaty part of the court. But it’s not all doom and gloom. They have a team of plus-rebounders; Draymond Green will slide to center for longer durations in the playoffs; the coaching staff is smart and innovative; and, of course, there are those four All-NBA players to contend with.
Championships aren’t won in one game in October. Lebron’s Heat, which went to four consecutive Finals, started off their era with a 9-8 record. Golden State is 0-1, but there are 81 games remaining to patch the hole in the middle and stop the sky from falling.