NEW ORLEANS – One thing was clear early when the Golden State Warriors took the court Friday night against the New Orleans Pelicans in the season’s second game: the Warriors weren’t going to play soft.
“You could tell, right?” center Zaza Pachulia said shortly after the Warriors evened their record at 1-1 with a 122-114 win. “We expected to see a better effort.”
Pachulia meant a better effort than the two-time defending Western Conference champion Warriors had turned in in the season opener, a loss to the San Antonio Spurs in which Golden State got pushed around under the boards. The Spurs had 21 offensive rebounds that night while amassing a commanding 55-35 rebounding edge.
“We got embarrassed (in the season opener),” acknowledged Golden State forward Kevon Looney. “It’s something we talked about a whole lot after the last game, because it’s more of an effort thing.”
The “effort thing,” as Looney called it, was much on the mind of the post-game Warriors. With the off-season acquisition of forward Kevin Durant, the team is more formidable offensively than ever, but questions remain about how physical Golden State might be over the NBA’s longhaul season. That’s because to get Durant, the Warriors moved some key pieces from their recent successful lineup, including Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes, and what the team gained in firepower it may have lost in defensive presence.
Several Warriors said the team didn’t have to overhaul its scheme going forward from the Spurs loss. Following that disappointing opener, coach Steve Kerr did not draw up anything different for Golden State defensively. Instead, the Warriors said, the emphasis was on the mental side and a return to fundamentals.
“It’s about wanting it and doing the right thing fundamentally: boxing out,” Pachulia said. “Every night, it’s rebound first.”
Durant said he has no problem with becoming more of a rebounding force. With forward Draymond Green absorbing a lot of the defensive pressure against opposing big men, Durant said he is free to knife to the backboard, playing a game of angles and anticipation that suits him.
“We just didn’t want to get outrebounded,” Durant said afterward. “(Kerr) told me I could lead the team in rebounds and help on the glass and I think our ‘D’ was good.”
Despite draping him in double teams much of the night, Golden State never did corral the Pelicans’ star Anthony Davis, who followed up his 50-point season opener with another 45 points. If a guy is going to make shots even when well guarded, you simply have to tip your hat, Durant noted.
“I mean, if Anthony Davis is going to hit over double teams all night, you have to live with that,” Durant said.
Indeed, Golden State guard Stephen Curry said he felt like the Warriors actually did a good job against Davis. Given Davis’ supporting cast in New Orleans, the game often felt like a 5-against-1 mismatch, and with both Curry’s and guard Klay Thompson’s long-range jump shots hitting in the second half, Davis could do little more than bring the Pelicans close from time to time before Golden State pulled away.
Golden State got sloppy in the game’s final minutes, Curry acknowledged. Consequently, while he, Thompson and Durant combined to score 81 points, it was a defensive stop in the last minute that clinched the affair. With Golden State nursing a six-point lead, Curry shot off on what felt like another big Warriors bucket. Instead, he turned it over just before midcourt and the Pelicans got the ball to Davis at the top of the key. But Durant, timing his jump perfectly, blocked Davis shot, gathered in the loose ball as it ricocheted toward the New Orleans basket, and sprinted down for an emphatic dunk that made it 118-110.
“We understand we’re going to get a lot better as we go along,” Curry said. “And we were better tonight than we were against San Antonio.”