OAKLAND, California -- If there really is such thing as a playoff switch, the Warriors just flipped it so hard they nearly broke the darn thing off the wall.
From the opening whistle of their 113-92 win in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs, Golden State played harder, faster and smarter than it did over the lethargic last two months of the regular season -- a stretch that caused some fans and analysts to have serious doubts about the champs' ability to make a fourth straight NBA Finals appearance, particularly without Stephen Curry on the floor.
But on Saturday, the Oracle crowd exploded after a Kevin Durant-to-JaVale McGee alley-oop less than four minutes into the game, and it was clear that this was a focused, refreshed Golden State squad.
"We did not end the season on a high note," Warriors guard Klay Thompson said after the game. "We kind of hobbled into the playoffs, but we know how talented we are and how good we are. We have been here before in the postseason and know what it takes to win."
Against a Spurs team which has excelled in execution and effort since Gregg Popovich took over as head coach two decades ago, it was clear that getting off to a fast start was a point of emphasis for the Warriors. It's why Steve Kerr decided to surprise everyone and go with Andre Iguodala as the starting point guard, which meant Golden State began the game with a lineup that had logged exactly zero minutes together all season long -- Iguodala, Klay Thompson, Durant, Draymond Green and McGee.
Did we say McGee? Because if you judged by the first quarter, you might have mistaken him for a young Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
McGee dominated early, putting up nine points, three rebounds, a steal and a block in the first quarter alone, all while playing harassing defense on Spurs All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge. The insertion of Iguodala and McGee into the starting lineup allowed the Warriors to bring the defensive energy and tenacity to put the clamps on the already feeble Spurs offense. Golden State led 28-17 after the first quarter, and the rest of Game 1 was pure semantics.
"I thought it was important to reestablish our defense, one way or the other; win or lose," Kerr said. "We had to bring the effort at the defensive end because that's the only way you can have success in the playoffs. And that's the reason this is a championship team."
It makes us wonder what we were all worried about in the first place.
Throughout the season, Kerr continually talked about how hard it would be for the team to stay focused for a potential fourth consecutive Finals run. Before Game 1, Kerr compared this year's Warriors to the 1998 Bulls team he played on, which battled similar injury and "weariness" issues en route to their third straight NBA title.
But even after their 10-10 finish to the season (no NBA team in the last 20 years has won the title after winning fewer than 11 of its last 20 regular season games), the prevailing sentiment from the Warriors was that they were ready to turn it on in the playoffs.
However, that didn't keep us from falling into the same trap, picking apart the Warriors' flaws: You can't just flip the switch! They're not the same without Curry! Draymond's not the same guy! Their defense has gone way downhill!
And yes, eventually those things could end up becoming issues. But they certainly weren't in Game 1. The Warriors moved the ball, they limited their turnovers, they defended hard and they got spectacular performances from their three All-Stars. Add that up, and it spells a handy victory over one of the most well-disciplined, albeit relatively untalented, teams that they'll see in the playoffs this season.
Golden State may not go on a 16-1 march through the NBA playoffs like they did last season, but if Game 1 is any indication, it won't be from a lack of focus.
"It was a different level of play than what we've seen from the past month, which I expected," Kerr said after the game. "But now we've got to keep doing it. You know, that's the thing. One game I remember last year, Houston beat the Spurs by 30 in San Antonio in Game 1. The Spurs went and beat them four out of the next five.
"It's one game. That's all."