The reigning champion Golden State Warriors entered the playoffs playing poorly without Stephen Curry, leaving some to wonder whether they would flip the proverbial switch when the games began to really matter.
Consider the switch flipped.
The Warriors began their title defense by overwhelming the Kawhi Leonard-less San Antonio Spurs 113-92 in Game 1 at Oracle Arena. Golden State never trailed and led by as many as 28 points.
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr opted to go with JaVale McGee and Andre Iguodala in the starting lineup, and the gambit worked beautifully as McGee played one of his finest games of the year. The bouncy big man scored a season-high 15 points in just 16 minutes and did an admirable job manning up against LaMarcus Aldridge, even viciously packing one of Aldridge’s shot attempts right back in his face.
McGee and Iguodala gave Golden State’s starting lineup a ton of length and athleticism, and that plus the increased intensity level made life hell for San Antonio’s offense. The Warriors played apathetic defense for much of the regular season, but this was a good reminder of how lethal they are when they’re locked in on that end, even if the Spurs are a limited group without Leonard.
On the other end, Golden State’s offense hummed along outside of a few bad turnovers and ambitious Draymond Green shots. Klay Thompson had a quiet start, but he came alive as the game went on and finished with a game-high 27 points. Thompson barely touched rim with his beautiful jumper, going 11 of 13 from the field and 5 of 6 from long range.
Kevin Durant was his typically terrific self, going for 24 points, eight rebounds and seven steals. With no Leonard and the Spurs doing a lot of switching, Durant found himself matched up against smaller defenders time and time again, which allowed him to simply shoot over the top with ease.
The Warriors shot 54.3 percent for the game, including 10 of 22 from 3. They racked up 32 assists in the process.
It was evident from the opening tip that the Spurs would have trouble scoring against the Warriors’ frenetic defense. Without Leonard, San Antonio doesn’t have enough shot creators to put stress on opponents, and Golden State is one of the best teams in the league at making teams pay for playing offensive liabilities extended minutes.
Kyle Anderson was a complete disaster and was replaced by Rudy Gay to start the second half, while the Danny Green, Patty Mills and Dejounte Murray guard triumvirate doesn’t scare Golden State. Making matters worse was a complete dud of a performance from Tony Parker, who was barely guarded and barely close on his eight shot attempts, with only one finding the bottom of the net.
The Spurs need Aldridge to be superhuman to have a chance, and he was only ordinary (putting it nicely) on Saturday afternoon. 14 points on 5-of-12 shooting and two rebounds isn’t going to cut it. The Warriors were physical with him and he didn’t step up to the challenge. Golden State manhandled San Antonio down low all game, earning a 51-30 rebound advantage, 15-0 second-chance points advantage and 34-22 points in the paint advantage.
The Spurs hung around for a bit by shooting well from deep, but the margin was never closer than six points after it was 30-24 early in the second quarter. It’s easy to see the rest of this series play out in similar fashion, though Gregg Popovich surely has some tricks up his sleeve.
Still, this game showed how much of an uphill battle San Antonio faces without Leonard. Game 2 is on Monday night at 10:30 p.m. ET on TNT.
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