It wasn't supposed to be like this. Sure, the Miami Heat struggled to start their run in 2010. And, yeah, the Lakers completely imploded from the get-go with their hopes of a dynasty in 2012. But this team wasn't that team. They have a culture and a system. They were just adding a new piece and a different supporting cast. Even if they lost more games than last year, they would be better. They would certainly be dominant in the opener.
Surely, the Golden State Warriors would be brilliant from the get-go against the San Antonio Spurs on opening night.
Spurs 129, Warriors 100.
Let the shock sink in, and we'll go over some takeaways.
1. OK, the requisite call for sanity is important here. It's just one game. The Warriors play 81 more this season, and they're going to win way more than they will lose. It was assumed they would lose more than they did last season, and if you were betting on the kind of team that would beat them, San Antonio is exactly that kind of team. It doesn't change how much talent is on this Golden State squad. You have to believe they will be fine.
(Note: We said this exact thing about the 2012-13 Lakers.)
2. They were not fine on Tuesday night. Particularly, if you want to really look at the Warriors' disaster, you start with the defense. The Spurs crossed the 100 mark early in the fourth quarter, and it wasn't a product of pace. The Spurs shot 48 percent from the field, 50 percent from deep and outscored the Warriors from 3-point range by 15. San Antonio outscored Golden State by four in fast-break points, for the super-speedy Warriors that's a disaster that hearkens back to how the Thunder disrupted them in the Western Conference finals. The size issues for Golden State were apparent; the Spurs outscored them on second-chance points, 26-4.
3. Golden State took a beating by Jonathon Simmons. The Warriors' defensive problems were all over the place. They lost assignments. They struggled to contain. They clearly had not read the scouting report on Jonathon Simmons, the second-year man who went off for 20 points, four rebounds and three assists.
Oh, and did this, by the way:
And this, for good measure. (Or unnecessarily, depending on your view.)
The exclamation point by Jonathon Simmons https://t.co/uiupSiKWwy— The Cauldron (ICYMI) (@CauldronICYMI) October 26, 2016
4. The Warriors' got great offense by the stars. Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry combined for 53 points on 36 shots, which is great. Draymond Green had 18 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and five steals. Curry looked back to his old self. But the defense was abysmal. They overpassed and were sloppy on offense, especially when Curry and Durant weren't on the floor together. Curry had a great game, Durant had a great game. They still got hosed.
5. We haven't talked enough about it yet, so here goes: the Spurs were awesome. Ball movement, game plan, execution, schemes, this was a "slap in the face" as Kevin Durant described it, but not just to the Warriors. It was a reminder to everyone that the Spurs are still the Spurs, with or without Tim Duncan, and that Gregg Popovich will always have a plan. Sometimes those plans aren't enough (like in the OKC series), but there's a plan. His staff coached up Jonathon Simmons, a guy who literally got his break by attending a D-League workout, into a guy who came in and smacked the Western Conference champs in the mouth. They managed to hide Tony Parker effectively on defense, ran the ball down the Warriors throat (we'll come back to this later), and the Warrior's smallball skill with constant size.
There's an old joke that goes "Death, Taxes, Spurs." Everyone got a reminder of that punchline Tuesday.
6. Zaza Pachulia looked like Dallas Zaza and not Milwaukee Zaza. The Warriors' new starting center was considered to be a huge steal in free agency, but there was a little concern. He didn't look himself in Dallas, not the shut-down center he was in Milwaukee, at least. He was even benched by Rick Carlisle in the playoffs for younger legs. Pachulia really struggled as the Spurs abandoned him to send help, and then when the ball came, he would fumble it out of bounds. Andrew Bogut was considered a weak spot, but there's always one player considered a weak spot on this team. The Warriors should hope it's not Pachulia.
(In related news, the Warriors' "megadeath" lineup of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green was outscored by the Spurs when they were on the floor.)
7. This game was everything Draymond Green. Green hit some big 3s, sliced for layups, missed bunnies, had bad turnovers, was yelled at by Steve Kerr for not getting back on defense, made great passes, was dared to beat the Spurs with his shot and couldn't, dunked, picked up a technical for taunting, and generally looked all over the place. His numbers were good but he still didn't feel like an impactful guy, which he has to with this much firepower on the court.
In the wake of the ESPN article which questioned whether the good outweighed the bad with Green's behavior, it was an inauspicious start to his season, while also showing all the positives that come with him. At least no one was kicked in the groin.
8. Not to nitpick the Spurs, but let's talk Pau Gasol. The combo of Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge was outscored by 13 points Tuesday. Aldridge overall was plus-10. So the Spurs, with Aldridge on the floor and Gasol off, were 23 points better than the Warriors. Gasol was constantly attacked. When the Spurs would switch everything and stifle Golden State, the Warriors would just find whoever Gasol was guarding, no matter who it was, and attack with him. He couldn't contain, get out to contest 3s, rotate over on clear help, anything.
The Spurs were phenomenal tonight, and they deserve all the credit in the world. But Gasol was so bad defensively that even in such a dominant performance it stood out. Something to watch going forward.
9. Depth matters ... in the regular season. Jonathon Simmons came off the bench for 20 points. The Warriors' entire bench had 16 points. In the regular season, you have to maintain minutes, especially if you're trying to play into late June. Instead, the Warriors' bench was a disaster. Ian Clark led the bench with five points. Five! Manu Ginobili, at age 39, had 10 on his own. The playoffs are all about starters playing heavy minutes. But to get there, your bench has to save you every now and again. It was a bad start for the Warriors' revamped bench which lost Mo Speights and Leandro Barbosa this summer.
10. Kawhi Leonard is an MVP candidate. Don't care that it's the first game. Leonard was absolutely the best player on the floor. He was his usual insane defensive self, swiping for five steals, snatching rebounds with his freakish tentacle hands, and his offensive game was masterful. He attacked in transition, found his mid-range jumper working, and overall buried everything, while getting to the line for 15 free throws, hitting all of them.
Leonard was better than Kevin Durant on Tuesday, and put himself back on the radar as one of the best players in the league.
11. The good news for Golden State is ... there's another game Friday. They play the Pelicans, who are very much not the Spurs. They will practice, they will get a better vibe, they will put this game behind them and they will go out to start fresh. Yes, this was a disaster, but it was a one-day disaster. In the morning, they start anew. That's the benefit of an 82-game season. The Warriors have nothing but time to figure this out.