After three games under new head coach Steve Kerr, the Golden State Warriors are off to a hot start.
Posting a perfect record of 3-0 for the first time since the 94-95 season, the Warriors lead the Pacific Division. Expectations are high in the bay this season, although most experts may not be as optimistic. With the season well underway, here are a couple takeaways from the first week in basketball:
Coach Kerr’s debut; Big defense, small offense
The expected growing pains are evident, as the players and new coaching staff work to build a rapport, but this team has the look of seasoned veterans.
The Warriors started slow in the opener against the Kings, down by two at the half, but stormed out after the break to build a 10 point lead by the fourth quarter and never looked back. A major factor in the win was the Warriors’ defense. Third in the league a year ago in points allowed per possession, the Warriors held the Kings to 30.8% shooting and 16.7% from deep.
The Kings game planned around their big man and pounded the Warriors front court with DeMarcus Cousins, who went to the line 18 times for 12 of his 20 points. Andrew Bogut was nauseous with food poisoning but the Warriors gave Boogie all he could handle with Draymond Green and the return of Festus Ezeli. On offense, Ezeli looked solid as he went 2-of-2 for four points while demonstrating a strong post move we haven’t seen before, as well as good chemistry, receiving a pass from Marreese Speights for an easy dunk. If he can stay healthy, Ezeli would be a fantastic backup to Bogut and may even push for starters minutes with the Warriors trying to keep their veterans fresh for the postseason.
Complementing that big defensive outing, the Warriors sparked the offense in the third quarter by going small and posting a 19-2 run with Harrison Barnes and Green in the front court. Outrunning the Kings not only alleviated some of the Warriors’ shooting woes but also helped keep Cousins from settling in and dominating on offense. By going small, the Warriors won the decisive third quarter by 12 and put the game out of reach.
Steve Kerr’s coaching debut wasn’t perfect, but smart in-game adjustments led to his first win and was a great sign to the start of the season.
41 points for the $70 million man
The undermanned Lakers have showed tremendous confidence and seem to forget that everyone has them pegged as a lottery team every time they step onto the hardwood. Coming in as 14 point underdogs, the Lakers scorched the Warriors for 35 points on 62.5% shooting in the first quarter. The Warriors showed off their offensive potency by keeping pace with 29 points on 50% shooting to keep it a one possession game after the first quarter before blowing the game wide open.
News of Klay Thompson’s new contract extension broke on Halloween and Klay celebrated with a 41-point performance in the Warriors’ home opener. At $70 million over four years, Thompson is now one of the top-15 highest paid players in the NBA. I may be in the minority when I say that Thompson is completely worth his new contract. Thompson is no longer the one-dimensional, oversized two-guard he was his rookie year, and the game against the Kings is a perfect example of how his game continues to develop and become more well rounded. On a night when he shot only 28% from the field and 25% from three, Klay continued to attack the basket and make great passes, going to the charity stripe 10 times and picking up six assists. On defense, he held Ben McLemore scoreless on 0-of-5 shooting. Against the Lakers, Thompson went toe-to-toe against Kobe in the third and came out swinging. Thompson ended his night with 41 points on 18 shots, and he did it shooting treys, driving down the lane, drawing fouls and almost every other possible way. While the Warriors’ offense will depend on Curry and the defense will rely on Bogut, Klay is easily the best all-around player on the team. Thompson will soon make Warriors fans forget that he held up a deal that would’ve landed them Kevin Love.
After the defensive domination in Sacramento, the Warriors splashed their way to 127 points, 11 treys on 55.4% shooting and demonstrated that they are more than capable of scoring with the best.
Grinding and finishing
Coming off two blowout wins against nonplayoff teams from last year, the Warriors faced a challenging test against the Portland Trail Blazers in their third straight game without David Lee.
In a back-and-forth game between two really good Western Conference teams, the Warriors showed discipline and forced the mistakes to win the game after the Trail Blazers looked poised to send the Warriors home with their first loss. After Iguodala missed his second free throw and the chance to tie the game with 26 seconds left, the Warriors forced three crucial turnovers to seal the victory at the free-throw line. In a back-to-back road game, the Warriors exhibited tremendous poise to finish the performance strong and hold on to a win that could’ve easily been lost.
With Jermaine O’Neal retired, Marreese Speights has clearly taken over the second unit, racking up 16 points on 13 shots against the Kings.
His ability to create his own shot in the post as well as his pick and roll game and underrated passing makes him a strong focal point for the second unit to play off of. Bench scoring is still an issue, but Speights has proven to be a reliable option.
In the absence of Lee, Green has been a crucial contributor on both sides of the ball for the Warriors. Doing everything from guarding Cousins and LaMarcus Aldridge to running fast breaks and knocking down treys, Green picked up right where he left off since last season’s playoff performance against the Clippers. The Warriors may have the most depth of any current roster in the NBA and a lot of it is due to Draymond Green.
Fish out of water
Although Green has quickly become a fan favorite, the oft-forgotten first round pick in the same year, Harrison Barnes, continues to search for a role on this team.
In Sacramento, Barnes still showed his ability to cut and finish at the rim from a fantastic pass by Iguodala on the fast break, but also revealed his half court game still needs a lot of work. On defense, he has done a solid job hustling and diving for loose balls, helping limit Rudy Gay to 14 points on 15 shots. Seemingly putting the bad performance in Sacramento behind him, Barnes looked visibly more confident against the Lakers, shooting 5-of-6 from the field and even netting a trey. If he can keep up his defensive intensity, I hope the Warriors allow Barnes to stay on the court with the starters so he can continue to develop his offense, something Mark Jackson often neglected.