The Golden State Warriors opened the NBA season with a championship ring ceremony for the third time in four years and reminded everyone of their place atop the league’s pecking order Tuesday with a 108-100 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder at Oracle Arena.
Paul George (27 points, five assists and four steals) led a Thunder team playing without Russell Westbrook after he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery, while Stephen Curry (32 points, nine assists and eight rebounds) and Kevin Durant (27 points, eight rebounds and six assists) spearheaded Golden State’s attack.
Oklahoma City pulled within two with less than two minutes remaining, but an and-1 from Curry and a late basket from Durant clinched the win.
The Thunder weren’t supposed to stay close Tuesday with Westbrook and Andre Roberson sidelined and Steven Adams dealing with a back issue, per Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area.
Oklahoma City not only hung with a historically great team without its MVP candidate and premier defender, it quickly erased a double-digit deficit and built a second-half lead. It also hinted at what’s to come when all the pieces of a new-look team playing without Carmelo Anthony’s ball-stopping ways are together.
There was too much standing and waiting for Westbrook or Anthony to do something last season. According to NBA.com, Westbrook was fourth in the league in number of isolation possessions among players who appeared in at least 50 games, while Anthony was 13th.
It was one thing for the explosive Westbrook to blow past defenders in isolation, but Anthony doesn’t have that quickness at this point and routinely settled for contested jumpers.
He is now on the Houston Rockets, which elevates George’s importance on the offense as a five-time All-Star who can capitalize on openings created by Westbrook’s penetration after hitting 40.1 percent of his three-pointers last season. George went into takeover mode for stretches Tuesday and hit his first five second-half shots on his way to 15 third-quarter points as the Thunder seized the lead.
The role players fed off his energy, as Dennis Schroder (21 points, nine rebounds and six assists) and Adams (17 points and 11 boards) got out in transition and battled for boards.
The pieces fit together more smoothly without Anthony, and the wing defense will be much improved with George and Roberson together. George is a three-time All-Defensive selection who can defend the opponent’s best player while carrying the offense, and Roberson was a defensive force in 2017-18.
I’m so eager to see how Roberson looks once he comes back. Really think he’ll end up determining whether OKC turns out to be a contender. Defense is scary w a healthy version of him in the mix
When people said last year the Thunder couldn’t blame being kind of crummy at times on losing Roberson because, y’know, he’s only Andre Roberson, I was like, “Yeah, but also, he’s their best dude on defense?”
Oklahoma City’s defensive rating was 96.6 when he was on the floor and 108.4 when he was off it, per NBA.com. By comparison, it was 105.6 when Anthony was on it and improved to 102.3 when he was off.
Don’t dwell on one shorthanded loss to the league’s best team—the Thunder are primed for an impressive season.
It becomes a matter of nitpicking when looking for weaknesses on a team coming off four straight NBA Finals appearances. Golden State even addressed potential frontcourt concerns by adding one of the elite centers in the league in DeMarcus Cousins this offseason.
In a perfect world, Golden State will take all that talent and accumulate blowouts throughout the season so it can rest Curry, Durant, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Cousins when he returns from his Achilles injury. The Warriors’ best chance at a three-peat is keeping that fivesome fresh before May and June.
The Warriors appeared well on their way to a blowout when they built a double-digit lead in the first half with ball movement right out of the gate.
It was basketball poetry as Curry darted through off-ball screens to unleash automatic threes, Green (13 rebounds and five assists) facilitated from the high post and Durant left Jerami Grant grasping at air with a silky smooth crossover.
However, 20 turnovers and lackluster effort out of the halftime locker room allowed Oklahoma City to take the lead as the Warriors appeared to go through the motions against an overmatched opponent. That pressed head coach Steve Kerr into playing his regulars in crunch time for what could have been unnecessary minutes.
The lack of rest for the key pieces is a first-world problem for the league’s modern dynasty, and it is human nature after playing for so many titles for the players to take their collective foot off the gas in the regular season. Still, the core playmakers have plenty of miles on their legs after playing well into June four straight years.
Those minutes will add up by the playoffs if Tuesday’s sleepwalking becomes a habit
Neither team plays again until Friday when the Warriors are at the Utah Jazz and the Thunder are at the Los Angeles Clippers.