OAKLAND – The shots sank into the net nearly anytime Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson released the ball. Draymond Green let out a roar after making countless defensive stops. And the Warriors relied on an athletic center JaVale McGee as its trump card to spark both more offensive energy and defensive intensity.
After laboring with complacency and injuries during a 2018-19 regular season that ended with 10 losses in their last 17 games, the Warriors did not just flip a switch in a 113-92 Game 1 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday at Oracle Arena. They turned on the whole power grid. And, boy, did the Warriors shine pretty brightly.
So, the Warriors are without Stephen Curry for the first round with a Grade 2 sprained MCL tear in his left knee. So what?
The Warriors still have three other healthy All-Stars in Thompson (27 points), Durant (24) and Green (12 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds). Thompson only needed a few seconds to hold the ball before making most of his points on catch-and-shoot opportunities. Durant blended a mix of efficiency (9-fo-17) and passing (seven assists) along with eight rebounds. And Green covered 94 feet with his scoring, playmaking and defense. As for San Antonio? They did not have enough depth with Spurs star Kawhi Leonard still sidelined with a quadriceps injury that has kept him out for all but nine games.
So, the Warriors do not have a definitive center to counter the Spurs’ size. So what?
For at least game, Warriors coach Steve Kerr chose JaVale McGee as his starting center. And as the Spurs decided to go small, McGee went big with 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting, four rebounds and lots of defensive hustle in 16 minutes. Though it might change for Kevon Looney to assume a secondary role over Jordan Bell while Zaza Pachulia has a healthy scratch, McGee stated his case for countering the Spurs’ size in LaMarcus Aldridge (14 points on 5-of-12 shooting).
So, the Warriors lacked enough defensive effort to close out the 2017-18 with a top-five ranking. So what?
The Warriors showed all the ingredients in Game 1 that they have wanted, and often lacked, all season. Green and Andre Iguodala, who surprisingly started over Quinn Cook at point guard, set an example with their effort and attention to rotations. McGee (two blocks) and Green (one) disrupted opponents at the rim. And Looney frequently chased loose balls.
Add it all up, and the Warriors have a commanding 1-0 series lead over San Antonio for the same reasons the Warriors swept the Spurs in the 2017 NBA Western Conference Finals. The Spurs did not have enough to counter the Warriors’ depth, though. And unlike last year, the Warriors did not need to overcome a 25-point deficit in Game 1 following Leonard’s injury. His availability has been in doubt for a while now.
Spurs forward Rudy Gay had 15 points albeit on only 5-of-12 shooting. The Spurs had only 20 points in the paint and 0 second-chance points. San Antonio also shot only 39.2 percent from the field. Once the Warriors held a 24-14 lead with 1:50 left in the first quarter, they maintained a double-digit lead for the rest of the game.