BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Bruised, battered and struggling at the end of the regular season, the Golden State Warriors opened defense of their NBA Championship with a workman like 113-92 wire to wire victory in the first game of their opening round Western Conference playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs at Oracle Arena Saturday afternoon.
Struggling to find a rhythm after going thru a period where all four of their All-Stars were sidelined with injuries going down the stretch, the Warriors took the floor against the same San Antonio franchise that they swept in last years Conference Finals, albeit a vastly different team as they’ve played all but nine games this season without their best player, Kawhi Leonard.
Golden State was dominant in last years playoffs. The Warriors won their first 15 games before being denied a clean sweep of the post-season by Cleveland in Game 4 of the NBA Finals. Their 16-1 record set a new standard that is unlikely to be broken. Unlike last years dominance, the road to a third title in four seasons promises to be highly challenging at the very least.
Taking the floor without two-time MVP Steph Curry, who missed 31 games this season and has been out of the line-up for all but one game since March 8th with a knee injury, Golden State raced out to a 28-17 lead after the first quarter and never looked back, leading wire to wire. Coach Steve Kerr set the tone by surprising many with an unexpected change to the Warriors starting lineup. Kerr started JaVale McGee at center in addition to Andre Iguodala over Quinn Cook at the guard position and the new quintet stifled the Spurs with their defensive effort. McGee was a huge spark, contributing nine points and three rebounds in the first quarter, and 15 points on the day.
But it was an 11-1 run late in the second quarter to push the lead to 57-41 at the half that signaled an end to any true competition. The Warriors extended their advantage to 86-63 at the end of the third and it was basically garbage time the rest of the way.
The quality of Golden State’s defense amplified the difference between the teams. The Warriors had a dominating 51-30 edge on the boards, their biggest differential of the season. The Spurs finished the game with only three offensive rebounds, none of which resulted in any put back points.
Klay Thompson led all scorers with 27 on 11-13 shooting, including 5-6 from beyond the arc. Kevin Durant added 24 to go along with 8 rebounds and 7 assists. Rudy Gay led the Spurs with 15 points off the bench while LaMarcus Aldridge and Bryn Forbes chipped in 14 each.
Kerr praised the defensive effort after the game, ” We finally got back to defending the way we have, the way this team has, for many years, even before I got here. You know, they were one of the top five defensive teams in the league. So you have to be able to count on that foundation, and I thought our defense was great, and that set the tone. Just wanted to put our best defensive lineup on the floor from the beginning. I think the whole point of these games here early in this series is to reestablish our defense. I think you guys know, over the last month or so, our defense has been sub-par.”
Asked about keeping McGee in the starting lineup, Kerr responded “Probably. He was great. JaVale was great. He’s got obviously a lot of length and shot-blocking ability and mobility. I like his speed. So he was great. Yeah, there’s no reason to take him out.”
The teams return to the Oracle Arena court for Game 2 on Monday night at 7:30 before heading to San Antonio for games on Thursday and Sunday.