The Warriors eschewed the usual banner raising Tuesday night at Oracle Arena for something a little different. In their last season opener at their Oakland home before moving across the bridge, their 2017-18 championship rings were lowered from the rafters.
Those same rafters, which at one point sat mostly empty — save for the one lonely banner that Joe Lacob talked about in the speech he gave after taking over the team.
Now brimming with championship banners, the Warriors started their quest for one more with a 108-100 opening night win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Stephen Curry said he remembers the old days so it’s extra special to hang another banner up:
“I remember looking up there and there was only a Philadelphia Warriors banner. So to come into Oracle every night and in our practice facility and look up in the rafters and see three championship banners that we brought back to the Bay, it’s amazing… It’s really hard to put it all in perspective, but nights like tonight are when you really sit back and feel really proud in what we’ve accomplished.”
It’s been a rough go for the Warriors on opening night the last few years. Houston spoiled the ring ceremony last year with a one-point win, and the year before that the Spurs embarrassed them in Kevin Durant’s Golden State debut.
But this opener had a different feel.
Golden State started the game fast and loose, not with the usual sluggish feel after interrupting their pregame routines for a 30-minute celebration — that didn’t come until after halftime.
Curry effortlessly poured in 19 points on nine shots before the first-half buzzer, and the team showed what looked like a team that could potentially lead the NBA in defense and offense.
But then the Warriors came out of the tunnel with the energy of their usual ceremony hangovers.
Steve Kerr said he felt like the team thought it had the game in the bag at the half:
“I think we let our guard down. I think we went into halftime knowing we should have been up 15, 18, 20 points. But we just turned the ball over and didn’t rebound. They caught fire, 22 points in the first five minutes and we weren’t ready to play.”
George led the way, hitting his first five shots of the third and with that the Warriors’ effort waned. At one point an uncontested rebound bounced toward Curry and Damian Jones with both of them essentially refusing to grab it before the Thunder raced over to get a second-chance opportunity.
Kerr felt conditioning was a big part of their problems:
“We’re not in shape yet. I don’t think that’s going out on a limb. People were tired out there, on both teams I thought. It’s just how it goes in the first game.”
Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant both had suboptimal nights, with Durant netting 27 points on 9-of-21 shooting. Thompson fared even worse with 14 on 5-of-20 shooting, including two bad misses on potential game-icing 3’s.
But the Warriors were able to do just enough to squeak out a win, thanks to Curry and their tandem of young centers.
Curry led the way with 32 points, eight rebounds and nine assists and was almost the only starter to look in regular-season form.
Jones was the other and, getting his first career start, showed glimpses of promise. He had a career high 12 points, on almost all lobs or putbacks and tossed in three blocks. But his activity level was what he really showed off, consistently sprinting on both ends of the court and creating chances with his hustle.
Durant was impressed with what Jones was able to show in his first start:
“DJ was great tonight. There’s so much being thrown at him from everyone. His development has to be a little accelerated right now especially with Boogie out. So he’s coming in, learning the schemes and just learning the little tricks of the game that you don’t really get unless you play.”
Kevon Looney drew most of the backup minutes and looked like the best big on the Warriors not named DeMarcus Cousins. He put up a double-double with 10 points, 10 rebounds, two assists and two blocks in his 18 minutes and finished a game high plus-22.
His defense on the perimeter continues to be key for the Warriors switching defense and will almost certainly allow the young big to close most games.
It was an uneven performance, but that’s something everyone has come to expect from this team — especially on opening night. But gutting out a win is the most important stat, and just keep in mind that the last time they won their first game, they ripped off 24 straight wins.
The Warriors follow their last season opener at Oracle with a quick trip to the Mountain Time zone, where they’ll take on the Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz Friday. They’ll finish up the short two-game road trip with a visit to Denver Sunday.
David West returned to Oracle to get his championship ring Tuesday after retiring before the 2018-19 season. However the only other Warriors championship player not currently on NBA roster Patrick McCaw declined his invitation. … Andre Iguodala left the game after the first quarter with left calf tightness and didn’t return. He wasn’t ruled out for the game though, so the injury doesn’t appear to be serious. But expect the team to be extra cautious with the 34-year old.