Klay Thompson called it, a good eight hours before tipoff.
“I think it’s very important to start tonight off right,” Thompson, the Warriors’ shooting guard, said after the morning shootaround on Thursday morning. “We’ve been getting off to terrible first quarters. It might have been just the sluggishness, but tonight is gonna be a whole different story. We’re fresh, and we have no excuses.”
He was right about all of it. The Warriors are, indeed, well rested after the NBA All-Star break. Sure, four of them played in the All-Star Game in Los Angeles on Sunday, but even they got to mentally punch out from the daily grind for a few days. Therefore, as Thompson said, the Warriors are out of excuses. Another awful start, and they would have only their own brains to blame.
And he got this right, too: “Tonight is gonna be a whole different story.”
It was. The team that has been treating the first quarter like an extended layup drill all season turned it around in a 134-127 barnburner against the Los Angeles Clippers at Oracle Arena. And so what if they nearly got caught from behind by the determined visitors? All in all, this was a necessary correction.
“It’s not like we’re just gonna wave a magic wand and be on top of our game again,” coach Steve Kerr said after the game. “But I liked our start. For the most part, took care of the ball pretty well. I thought we had a stretch there in the second half where we lost focus and that allowed the Clippers to get back in the game. …We shot 63 percent at home, and the game came down to the wire. So it wasn’t perfect. But there were a lot of good things that we can build on, and I think we’re turning in the right direction.”
Even before the pregame introductions on Thursday, you could sense a ripple in the atmosphere. The Warriors are a confident team, but they are not delusional. They know they underperformed for much of the season’s first 58 games, and especially in February. They had been sloppy, even lazy at times. No one got too worked up. The NBA season is long, and these guys are proven winners.
At some point, though, they needed to tighten the gears. That point has arrived. Everyone knew it, and this week the Warriors have been acknowledging it publicly.
“This isn’t something that we can afford to wait another 10 games, another 15 games, another 20 games and try to turn it on,” Stephen Curry said at shootaround. “We know we’re talented, we know we have the winning mentality, we have the experience. But there’s certain details around how we’re playing that we need to correct, and tonight’s the first opportunity to get back to that. So we want to start off the game right, something the starting lineup hasn’t done in a while.”
Curry wasn’t lying. The Warriors have been mysteriously dreadful in the first quarter in 2017-18. Entering the Clippers game, they had outscored the opposition by an average of 8.4 points per game in quarters 2 through 4. In the first period, they had been outscored by .4 point per contest. So they had basically been the Warriors for 36 minutes a game, and the Detroit Pistons for the other 12.