It’s foolhardy to make too much of one game in a long and winding season, but Thursday night’s home opener for the Golden State Warriors looked like a major wake-up call for the NBA’s most dominant team of the last decade.
Just ask Charles Barkley.
TNT’s outspoken analyst had spent the preseason on the Warriors bandwagon, dismissing the loss of Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson and predicting the team would still make the playoffs.
Well, the Warriors moved into the future – their new home, the Chase Center – looking discombobulated and out-gunned in a 141-122 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Western Conference’s burgeoning superpower.
“I was wrong before the game,” said Barkley. “I said they were going to be the 7-, 8-seed. They’re not going to make the playoffs, because they just can’t score enough.”
There has been a lot of anticipation, and speculation, about what the Warriors would look like and how they’d perform this season without Durant and Thompson, two pillars of their franchise.
“We f—ing sucked,” said Warriors forward Draymond Green, who played with an injured forearm. “And we gotta get better. I’m not a coach, so I’m not about to go watch a film and say, ‘Oh, well we can build on this.’ I really don’t give a damn about what we can build on. We sucked tonight, and we gotta get better overall. And that’s just what it is.”
After the game, Warriors coach Steve Kerr did not waste time glossing over the facts.
“This is not a one-off, this is the reality,” said Kerr. “There’s going to be nights like this year. You’ve got to play through it, you’ve got to keep fighting and keep getting better. That’s the plan.”
Too much talent remains on this team to call this a transitional or rebuilding year. The Warriors do not need to break down and build-up, like the Knicks have for the last 25 years.
They need to be patient with one of the league’s youngest teams – nine players 23 years old or younger – and wait for its personality to emerge. Of course, that’s not going to be easy for their fans or veteran players who have grown accustomed to peak performance and appearances in five straight NBA Finals.
“It doesn’t feel very good,” said Kerr. “Losing stinks. It’s no fun. This is more the reality of the NBA. … The last five years we’ve been living in a world that isn’t supposed to exist. Five years of, if I remember, the best record anybody’s ever had over five years. So this is reality, nine guys 23 or younger, and we’re starting over in many respects.”
The most vexing issue about the game was how easily the Warriors allowed the Clippers to score. They allowed 46 points in the third quarter. This may not be an isolated problem. Defensive insufficiencies clouded the preseason. The Clippers shot nearly 63 percent and made 18 three-pointers.
“The easy answer is it’s one of 82, but there is some glaring things that we need to correct if we’re going to win basketball games consistently,” said Warriors star Stephen Curry. “Credit the Clippers. They came off a pretty intense, hard-fought battle in L.A. in game one, so they were battle-tested in terms of being in that situation. They started the first six minutes with that same intensity.”
Curry scored 23 points, but had eight turnovers. D’Angelo Russell debuted by scoring 20 points for Warriors. But the Clippers raced to a 14-0 lead as the Warriors missed their first six shots, including four three-pointers.
“I’m sure the film session tomorrow (Friday) won’t be pretty,” said Curry.
Imagine how gratifying it all must have been for the Clippers, who were coming off their opening-night win over the Lakers. LA’s Patrick Beverley said their intent was to “kind of beat them [the Warriors] down.”
“We just kept putting bodies on them trying to make it as tough as possible.”
The Warriors understand that many pundits around the league will look at what happened on Thursday and see fissures. Even Thompson, who was appearing on the TNT set with Barkley admitted as such.
“Chuck has the right to be a little pessimistic,” Thompson said. “But I think these young guys are going to step up, man.”
On the bright side, Thompson said he’s been feeling better in the wake of his knee surgery. He even sounded optimistic about playing this season, something the Warriors have said they do not anticipate happening.
“I feel great,” Thompson said. “At this stage of the rehab, I started jogging, running, putting up a lot of jumpers — which are going in at a high rate, still, so that’s a good sign.”
If by some miracle Thompson does return, it will immediately make the Warriors exponentially better. But it seems clear, even after just one game, that this season is going to be more of a grind than a glide.