Season brings new reality along with new arena for Warriors
SAN FRANCISCO - The prevailing feeling has been one of newness for the Warriors. New season. New arena. New city. And even a new roster, or at least one that has undergone a significant makeover since the team stuffed its championship banners into moving vans and made its way across the Bay Bridge from Oakland a few months ago.
Before the Warriors opened their season against the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night and played their first regular-season game in San Francisco since 1971, coach Steve Kerr was still trying to acclimate himself to his new digs at Chase Center, a gleaming colossus along the waterfront. Kerr said he had already locked himself out of his office twice.
“We’re slowly but surely figuring those things out,” he said before the game.
Even Stephen Curry, the franchise’s most familiar face, is adjusting to life with fresh teammates - and to his new environs. In the old days, back when the team played at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Curry would close his pregame routine by tossing up a 45-footer from a courtside tunnel. But because the tunnels at Chase Center are situated well behind the baseline, Curry has found that he needs to heave a prayer over the backboard. The degree of difficulty is absurd. Before Thursday’s game, he missed on his attempt - badly.
The remainder of the Warriors’ evening was just as bleak. Their 141-122 loss to the Clippers was a reminder that this is a new era for Golden State, one that will require patience, work and incremental progress - and a new one for the Clippers, too, who are good at basketball. After defeating the Lakers on Tuesday, the Clippers christened Chase Center by putting on a clinic.
“Losing stinks,” Kerr said. “It’s no fun. But 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.”
The last five years, the Warriors went to five straight NBA Finals and won three championships. The last five years, Curry had a cast of high-octane teammates who could draw defensive pressure and open the floor for his scoring pyrotechnics. The last five years, the Warriors never had to use the phrases “growing pains,” “baby steps” or “taking our lumps.”
The landscape has shifted, of course, especially in the Western Conference. In fairness to the Warriors, perhaps going up against the Clippers in their season opener was an unfair litmus test. The Clippers will demolish their share of opponents. Curry was a realist after the game when he was asked his assessment.
“The easy answer is, it’s one of 82,” he said, referring to the length of the season, “but there are some glaring things we need to correct if we’re going to win basketball games consistently.”
For the first time in a long time, the Warriors are not championship contenders. Some pundits have even predicted that they will miss the playoffs entirely. (Charles Barkley said so during Thursday’s broadcast.) Kevin Durant left for the Brooklyn Nets, and Klay Thompson could miss the season as he recovers from the knee injury that he sustained in last season’s finals.
On Thursday, newcomers ?D’Angelo Russell and Glenn Robinson III joined Curry, Draymond Green and Kevon Looney in the Warriors’ starting lineup. The Clippers promptly scored the first 14 points of the game. It was not the best sign that the crowd seemed enthusiastic when the Warriors trailed by just 11 at the half.
Things deteriorated from there. The smart fans were still milling about on the concourse as the Clippers spent the third quarter assembling a 31-point lead. Large patches of expensive seats were empty by the start of the fourth.
“This was bad,” Kerr said.
“We just got crushed,” Green said.
“Our margin for error,” Curry said, “is really slim.”
Russell is a terrific offensive talent, but Curry will face an enormous amount of defensive pressure this season. It was nearly impossible for opponents to trap him when he shared the court with Durant and Thompson. On Thursday, the Clippers sent double-teams in his direction whenever they could. Curry wound up scoring 23 points but shot 8 of 20 from the field and committed eight turnovers.
“He’s definitely going to get more attention,” Kerr said. “You think about who he’s lost alongside him.”
The larger problem for the Warriors, though, is their defense, which has the consistency of a pasta strainer. Not so long ago, they were one of the top defensive teams in the league - an often overshadowed facet of their championship formula. But Golden State, as currently constructed, is not brimming with top-notch defenders. For the game, the Clippers shot 62.5% from the field and 56.3% from 3-point range.
“Over the course of the season, we’re going to score enough points because we have some talent on that end of the floor,” Curry said. “It’s just a matter of how bad we want it on the other end.”
Green was more blunt: “Our defense was atrocious.”
Lest anyone forget, Paul George, one of the league’s best players last season, has yet to make his debut for the Clippers as he nears a return from shoulder surgery. The point being: It could have been even worse for the Warriors.
It was a jarring evening for a proud franchise as the Clippers illustrated the gulf between the Warriors of old and the Warriors of now.