Warriors fade on opening night thanks to fatigue, absence of key defensive players
Golden State led by 17 on ring night, but they missed Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala in crunch time
OAKLAND, Calif. -- The storybook ending had already been written. The narrative had already been told -- not merely for opening night, for the whole season.
The Warriors were unstoppable, unbeatable, the best team ever assembled. But at the end of the night, it was their heads that were looking toward the floor as they walked off the court. It was their players who had to explain how they're going to learn from the loss. It was their locker room that had the joy and pride of the pregame championship ring and banner ceremony dampened by having to swallow a gut-wrenching 122-121 defeat.
A thoroughly dominant first half by Golden State was taken to levels of absurdity by one of the team's newest members. Nick Young, perhaps better known by his alter ego, Swaggy P, put on a show for his new fans, hitting five of his six 3-point tries in the first half.
The ball was moving, the shots were falling, a Klay Thompson lookalike was getting screen time on the Jumbotron, the fans had revised the traditional "M-V-P" chant with their own brand new lyrics: "Swag-Gy-P."
Life was good in Warrior land.
"Nick was great," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "I was thrilled with his play. It's what we brought him here for."
Fast forward 24 minutes, after Kevin Durant's potential game-winning shot was a fingernail too late, and the Warriors walked off the court in front of a silent, stunned crowd, the night not necessarily spoiled, but certainly more somber.
There's no single reason for the Warriors blowing a 17-point lead -- and losing their second successive opening-night loss (they were blown out by 29 points against San Antonio Spurs to start last season) -- but there are certainly a few factors.
The turning point came in the fourth quarter, not coincidentally after it was announced that Draymond Green, who was already a point shy of a triple-double (9 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists) would not return due to a knee injury.
"[Green] was our best player tonight," Kerr said after the game. "He was the guy who was bringing the energy and the life. When we're lacking conditioning, like we are right now, you have to have your high-energy guys out there. As soon as he went out of the game, things went south for us. We just couldn't get any traction."
Already without defensive stalwart Andre Iguodala, the loss of Green was a blow from which the Warriors defense simply couldn't recover.
It was a newcomer who helped spark the Rockets comeback, but probably not the one most expected. With Chris Paul sidelined during the final minutes due to a knee ailment, PJ Tucker defended and knocked down 3s in his first game with the Rockets.
Meanwhile, James Harden and Eric Gordon repeatedly got to the rim, effectively erasing the Warriors' lead.
"Yeah P.J. Tucker [was great], defensively, offensively, making big shots," Harden said.
Kerr harped on the team's lack of conditioning during his postgame comments, saying that a drop in the energy level was apparent in the second half.
"We started dragging," Kerr said. "Nobody was cutting to the rim. We were isolating. We weren't playing our style of basketball."
Durant reluctantly admitted that the team may have "burnt out a little bit" following the adrenaline rush they received before the game and during the opening minutes, but he pointed to another reason for the Warriors' ultimate demise.
"We fouled them early. I think that took us out of rhythm," Durant said. "Myself getting three fouls early and Steph getting three fouls -- those fouls could have been avoided by just keeping our hands up, so we've got to be better."
Curry noticed the stretch that might have ultimately doomed the Warriors.
"There were probably four possessions on the defensive end where we didn't rotate and gave guys an eternity to shoot wide open 3s," Curry said. "Maybe we were a little gassed in those particular moments."
Overall, while the night wasn't completely ruined, Durant admitted that the night that he received his first championship ring lost some luster due to the result.
"We definitely would have loved to win, but what happened before the game was very, very special," Durant said. "I don't think anything can take away from that. But we'd have loved to win the game."
Curry felt a similar sense of disappointment in the way the game finished, but ended with a positive, if not obvious statement.
"It is kind of somber with all that happened before the game to leave with a loss," Curry said. "But we'll be all right."
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