After all the preseason hype, all the talk of high expectations, many presumed the Warriors to come out and struggled. Especially after the Lakers thumped the much-ballyhooed Clippers on opening night, a let down wouldn’t have been surprising.
But that didn’t come close to happening Wednesday night.
The Warriors, instead, made an emphatic statement, beating the Lakers125-94 at Oracle on Wednesday. Was the statement that Golden State is for real? Or was it that the Kobe Bryant-less Lakers are really bad?
Perhaps it’s too early to answer that definitively. But it certainly looked different.
These Warriors smelled blood and pounced. They went for the jugular of a vulnerable team — playing without Steve Nash on the second night of a back-to-back — like you’d expect from a legit contender.
Maybe it was the energy of the season opener. Or maybe they fed off the passion in the arena whenever the Lakers come to town. Or maybe this is just who they are.
“We understand we’re going to have to have a lot of energy at home,” Andre Iguodala said. “I’ve been in a situation where I’ve won a lot of home games. (Last year with Denver, we) had the best home record in the NBA. Still, you’ve got to take care of business on the road. Energy gets you wins at home, but its how you go on the road, compete against the top-tier teams.”
The Warriors will have a chance to do that tonight against the host Los Angeles Clippers.
Before then, here’s the season debut of the game rewind …
GAME BALL GOES TO …
Klay Thompson. It wasn’t just that he was on fire, scoring 38 points on 15 of 19 shooting. Certainly, that alone is worthy. But Thompson’s performance suggested a certain maturity to his game. He milked his advantages and looked for shots in rhythm. He drove the lane when it was open. He made the extra pass. On defense, he teamed up with Andre Iguodala to create a long-arms wall that Lakers guards had the hardest time getting around. Save for his last shot, when it looked as if he was going for 40, Thompson always looked under control. It could be that he was in a zone and everything was clicking. But if you’re Warriors fan, you have to wonder if it’s a sign that Thompson is evolving.
He worked all summer on getting to the basket and doing more off the dribble. He looks more comfortable and determined to get to the rim. And he that baseline jumper, especially off one foot, fading back so the defender can’t block it, has become a go-to shot for him. It takes some maturity as a player to develop a reliable shot. Thompson has a place to go when he needs a bucket. Any time opponents put a smaller guard on him, Thompson can make them pay.
This is why I always thought Thompson should start. It not only gives you a second shooter who other teams must defend, from the outset, but he and Curry together is a unique nightmare. Curry/Iguodala/Barnes would be good. Curry/Thompson/Iguodala gives opponents fits.
REPORT TO COACH’S OFFICE …
Marreese Speights. It’s fine that the fifth-year forward hangs his hat on his midrange jumper. But if you’re going to take as many shots as Stephen Curry, and more than Andre Iguodala, you’re going to have to do better than 2 for 10. He’s going to have to develop other parts of his game. The expectations are high since he’s replacing Landry. To his credit, most of Speights misses came during a rocky start. He was not only chucking and bricking with no conscience, but he missed a couple of defensive assignments too, one leading to a three-point play. But that’s no big deal. It was his first game with his new team and, as an emotional player, being too pumped early was a distinct possibility.
KEY MOMENT 1
The Warriors led by 11 after a Lakers’ guard Jody Meeks drilled a 3-pointer. But Toney Douglas answered with a 3-pointer to push the lead back to 14. The starters checked back in and ran off five straight, getting a Thompson jumper, a stop, and a Curry 3. The lead was up to 44-25.
Moments later, Lee scored on three consecutive possessions, pushing the Warriors’ advantage to 50-26.
TELLING STAT …
The Warriors finished with 25 fast-break points, converting 10 of 13 field goals in transition. They also had 34 assists on 46 made baskets. Golden State was 5-1 last season when they registered at least 30 assists.
WHAT WAS THAT??? …
You’ve got to love Nemanja Nedovic. He seems to just take everything in stride, as was on display during the live practice when he — while donning a Fergie beanie and a One Direction backpack — went all boy band during his rookie hazing.
With four minutes left in the already-decided game, Nedovic took his first good look at the basket and hoisted after a step back. Of course, he was 26 feet from the basket. He missed wide left. I asked him, ‘What was that???’ His response was in keeping with his first impressions.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, trying to fight off his smile. “I didn’t even play tonight.”
AT LEAST WE LEARNED …
That Toney Douglas is alive. After a preseason showing that had the Bay Area missing Jarrett Jack, Douglas showed some life Wednesday. He finished with 13 points, four assits and four rebounds.
“It’s no secret that Toney Douglas was struggling during the preseason. He wasn’t playing his best basketball. But he showed up when the lights came on. He impacted the game defensively. He did a great job running the team, something he struggled with in the preseason.”
Douglas first minutes of the game looked like a continuation of the preseason. He looked jittery and a little confused. But Jackson had him playing off the ball, first with Iguodala running the point then with Klay Thompson running the point.
But then with just under 8 minutes left in the second quarter, Douglas moved to point. Lee, who had just checked in, was posting on the left low block and Douglas was trying to get it to him. But his man sagged off to prevent the pass to Lee, so Douglas hoisted the 27 footer. Bucket.
He came out 10 seconds later, but when he checked back in, he gave off a much more confident vibe. For the rest of the game, he seemed under control, comfortable when he shot and made his presence felt on the court.
“We don’t want him to be Jarrett Jack,” Jackson said. “That would be unfair to ask him to be Jarrett Jack. Be Toney Douglas. That’s why we went and got you.”
KEY MOMENT 2 …
After Lakers guard Jody Meeks missed a driving layup, Andre Iguodala scooped up the rebound and took off the other way. The Warriors had numbers on the fast break, as Iguodala had a teammate filling the lanes on either side of him.
He whipped an around-the-back pass to Lee on the left. With the defense shifting toward him, Lee sent a touch pass right back to Iguodala, who rolled in the layup.
It was the signature play of Iguodala’s Warriors’ debut. In one sequence he illustrated what he brings. His defense. His rebounding. His ability to fuel the Warriors’ transition game. His vision and passing ability. His finishing. His athleticism, which allowed him to do all that in a six-second span.
“When you look at him as a basketball player and you appreciate everything he does on the floor … He doesn’t care if he shoots and he doesn’t care about touches. He’s a guy with a high IQ and impacts the game without scoring. I don’t think you look at his numbers and try to justify why we got him or how much he is making. It doesn’t do him any justice to look at him that way.”
COACH’S CORNER …
* With no Harrison Barnes, it was surprising to see Jackson bring in three subs. With the way the bench had looked during the preseason, figured he would go with the one reserve at a time approach. Two max.
But Jermaine O’Neal was first off the bench. Not a full minute later, Draymond Green was in the game, followed by Speights 29 seconds later. Jackson left Curry and Thompson on the court with them for a minute, then brought in Douglas. Four reserves on the court.
Jackson started the second quarter with those four and Iguodala. The starting five wasn’t reunited until 7:17 left in the first quarter.
Golden State had a double-digit lead, so it was a pretty smart move to try to develop some bench chemistry while in control of the game. They certainly need the leeway.
* As much as they like to talk about feeding the hot man, it doesn’t always happen. Just ask Harrison Barnes. But Jacksons aid he didn’t have to tell Curry & Co. to feed Klay. Nor did he ice Klay with a long stint on the bench or untimely post-ups with Lee.
“The way he started out the first six minutes, you knew it was going to be one of those nights,” Curry said. “(Finding him) in transition and some of the play-calling we did to highlight him was definitely useful tonight. He definitely made them pay for some of the matchups.”
* I haven’t gotten a chance to re-watch the game yet, but I think I noticed a tweak in a popular play. You know the one where Curry and Thompson are off the ball and they crisscross through screens on the baseline. If I remember correctly, the play used to have both of them coming off hard and the facilitator would have the option. But it looks like now one is deemed the primary option, he comes off hard (Wednesday it was Klay). The other delays a bit before eventually emerging as option two.
I couldn’t tell live if Iguodala was leaning towards option one because that was the play call or because Klay was hot. (Jack used to stand in the middle and survey both as they come off screens). Nor could I tell if Curry delayed to try to pick off a defender to help free Klay before bursting to the wing.
But both times, Curry ended up open. The ball went to Klay, but the weakside presented an open look. I could see Iguodala dribbling towards option 1 as a misdirection, then zipping the pass across the defense to the second option. Iguodala, because of his size, can get that angle.
WHAT HE SAID …
“We’re like wild animals right now. We’ve been caged, forced to feed on each other. Basically just biting on each other. So it was good to go after another team. Getting an opportunity to play in real games. Not even the preseason (was enough). Not everyone gets up for preseason. I personally don’t like the preseason. So this was more like we’ve got to send a statement to teams we should beat. What you saw tonight was what we see in practice. It’s very difficult to score in practice.” — Jermaine O’Neal
TRENDING TOPIC …
The tone was set early. The Warriors, amped by the start of the season, suffocated the Lakers from the outset. The Lakers managed just 16 points on 7 of 25 shooting (28 percent) in the first quarter.
At first, it looked as if the Lakers might be cold. They chucked a lot of bad shots, going 1 of 6 from 3. But eventually it became clear t was no fluke. Iguodala covers so much ground, he impacts the entire perimeter sometimes. And with Bogut at the rim, that’s two places opponents can turn to for points.
What that did — which we’re not sure will work yet against better teams — was embolden Curry and Lee. Curry especially had active hands (sometimes too active, as he failed to move his feet and picked up cheap fouls). He and Thompson were able to dig aggressively when the ball got in the paint. That havoc-creating, turnover-producing defense is possible because Iguodala covers so much ground he is almost always able to help on the perimeter and Bogut is lively and angry at the rim.
Through three quarters, Golden State had built a 33-point lead. The Warriors had limited the Lakers to 32.6 percent shooting.
BEFORE YOU GO …
Kent Bazemore was 2-for-2 from 3-point range. That’s six in his last two preseason games. None of them came during meaningful action, but his jumper is definitely better.