In their first game in 277 days, the Warriors were predictably disjointed but a revamped bench led the way in their 107-105 win against the Denver Nuggets at Chase Center Saturday night.
Here are a few takeaways from the game.
1. Short stints for the starters
Head coach Steve Kerr said the Warriors were not going to stick with their normal rotation in the first preseason game. That included not playing Stephen Curry the entire first quarter. Instead, he aimed to cap each player at 20 minutes.
The starting lineup (with Eric Paschall in Draymond Green’s place) played the first six minutes of the first quarter, last six minutes before halftime and the first six minutes of the third quarter.
Curry played 21 minutes, went 3 for 10 overall (2 for 7 on 3-pointers) and had three assists and three turnovers. The inefficiency was a factor of rust and lack of experience with his teammates. By creating space, Curry can make the game much easier for those he plays with, but it does take a while for new teammates to get used to how he relocates in the halfcourt.
“As soon as Steph gives up the ball, that’s when the action really starts,” Kerr said. “That’s the tricky part for guys to figure out.”
Only one of his shots – a made 3-pointer in transition in the third quarter – could have been considered a good look by the Warriors’ dynastic standards. Green’s return should lead to better shots for Curry, but there’s still much to iron out with his new-look supporting cast.
Fast breaks led by Steph hit different 💦 pic.twitter.com/u7akRfupbF
– Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) December 13, 2020
Highlighting the starters was Oubre, who the team acquired with the trade exception this offseason and faces the task of replacing Klay Thompson (Achilles tear) at shooting guard. Oubre wasn’t the most efficient, but he filled the box score with 10 points (4 for 10 shooting), four rebounds and two assists in 22 minutes, ran the floor and defended well.
All in all, the Warriors’ starting lineup kept pace with a Nuggets team that last played in the Western Conference finals less than three months ago, but it was a bench featuring newly-signed Kent Bazemore and Brad Wanamaker that extended the lead throughout the night .
In some ways, the bench displayed more chemistry than the starting lineup. Bazemore’s layup mid-way through the first quarter, assisted by Wanamaker after a steal and full-court pass, extended Golden State’s early lead. Later, Bazemore drove the lane and kicked out to Juan Toscano-Anderson, who swung the ball to Jordan Poole for a 3-pointer.
Wanamaker steal ➡️ Bazemore finish pic.twitter.com/pOSlCYg2mp
– Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) December 13, 2020
2. There was a lot of 3-point shooting
Last year, the Warriors took an average of 31.3 3-pointers per game. Tonight, they shot 40. Curry, Wiggins (2 of 6) and Oubre (1 of 6) accounted for nearly half of those shots, but converted on only 26%. As a team, the Warriors didn’t do much better and went 11 for 40. (Poole, Damion Lee and Mychal Mulder combined to shoot 6 of 7 from beyond the arc.) Without many elite 3-point shooters but the emphasis remaining on spacing, that could be by for the course.
“We’re just trying to get space behind the 3-point line a little bit better than we have in the past,” Kerr said. “And if we do that, we’re naturally going to fall into more 3s. So, I’m fine with it. ”
3. Finding the right balance of aggressiveness on defense
Keeping Denver’s high-scoring starters to 56 points on 35.7% shooting is a win for a group that is aiming to be a top-10 defense this season. But few teams, including the Warriors, have an answer for Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets’ quarterback of a center.
In the first half, Jokic beat the Warriors’ defense a handful of times with passes to teammates cutting backdoor. The Warriors wings lunged at Jokic too often, and the genius big man picked them apart en route to 26 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in 23 minutes.
“Where he beat us was with his passing,” Kerr said. “We got too ambitious in the passing lanes.”
Nikola’s absurd passes are very much BACK pic.twitter.com/pojyruXhdD
– Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) December 13, 2020
Getting Green back will help clean up a lot on defense, including those sort of reads, but not everything.
Kevon Looney’s health is also an important development. Looney played 18 minutes tonight, a mark he hit just four times last season, and looked as spry as ever. He earned the starting center job because he’s the best defender of the group, and he, Green and Curry will form an experienced trio. “He was a huge anchor tonight, directing traffic,” Curry said.
Among the perimeter players, Oubre was the most consistent man-to-man defender and recorded three blocks. “Kelly was amazing on the ball tonight,” Curry said.
4. Most impressive player on the fringe
After getting fouled on a layup attempt, Mulder’s two free throws with 9.4 seconds left gave the Warriors a two-point lead. A few seconds later, he grabbed the game-ending rebound. He finished with 10 points on 3 for 4 shooting.
It’s safe to say he’s earned the final spot on the 15-man roster, and may already be Golden State’s second-best 3-point shooter behind Curry.
“Mychal is a really, really good player,” Kerr said. “His shooting is important to us. We need as much shooting as we can get. ”
5. Strange times
Opening the preseason nearly nine months after the 2019-20 season was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, the Warriors took the court in an arena devoid of fans, coaches sat several feet apart on the sideline and spoke to players through masks.
Before tip off, Kerr said it wasn’t until he watched the first preseason games Friday that “it really hit home” they’d be playing without fans in attendance at the arena.
During the game, artificial crowd noise was pumped into the arena, coaches and players enjoyed more legroom on an extended sideline and owner Joe Lacob watched from his usual spot near halfcourt, but now wearing a mask, socially distanced and without the attention of a server .
This will be the scene at most arenas as the NBA pushes to start the 2020-21 season while the pandemic continues to affect the country. Already, more than 50 NBA players have tested positive for the coronavirus since teams started reporting for the season.
That includes two players for the Warriors: Wiseman and Green. Neither played Saturday – though Wiseman watched from behind the team’s bench while Green remained home. Both are unlikely to play in the final two preseason games in Sacramento.
Adding to the Warriors’ new reality was the fact that shoot around Saturday was delayed from 10 am to 3 pm due to late COVID-19 test results.
“We’re realizing quickly,” Kerr said, “that we’re going to have to be ready to call audibles every single day.”