A year after they steamrolled to their second National Basketball Association title in three seasons, the Warriors are no longer the prohibitive championship favorites entering Game 1 of the first round Saturday against San Antonio. But hey, it worked. The team came out in game one with a high level of intensity on both ends of the court, but specifically on defense.
From the opening tip Saturday Golden State played with energy on defense, moved the ball on offense, and exploited their considerable athleticism advantage over San Antonio. The Houston Rockets surpassed them for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and with Stephen Curry out until at least the second round, Golden State seemed vulnerable in that was utterly unfamiliar.
"I have no idea", Warriors coach Steve Kerr said in his pregame press conference on Saturday. Most notably, center JaVale McGee dominated the initial frame, posting nine points, two rebounds and one steal within the first seven minutes.
Reserve Rudy Gay led the Spurs with 15 points while LaMarcus Aldridge and Bryn Forbes each added 14 for San Antonio.
San Antonio's success is due to its elite defense and bench production.
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Beat up and missing its four All-Stars at times, Golden State endured a stretch losing seven of 10 last month.
"When he's ready, he's ready but he's making progress, which is a good sign", Kerr said. San Antonio has enough weapons to keep games close, but the Warriors' stellar outside shooting and the defensive and rebounding presence of Draymond Green should do enough to prevent the Spurs from winning more than a game.
"With the last month, having so many injuries, we've had so many funky lineups that we don't usually practice or they aren't ideal lineups just because of the circumstances this past month", Cook said.
Golden State has a few new players to throw at teams in the 2018 playoffs.
It is generally accepted that the Warriors will perspire some, feel a degree of burn in their lungs, receive an urgency slap in the face and get pushed toward the edge of their defending championship throne once they play a team from Texas. The Spurs, meanwhile, once again will be without Kawhi Leonard, who still is suffering from a calf injury.
Game 2 is at 9:30 p.m. Monday at the Oracle. They play at the league's third-slowest pace and grind teams down on the offensive end with their mid-range and post-heavy attack. The Warriors are clearly the better team and should be able to overpower the Spurs.