LOS ANGELES — Last season, when Stephen Curry went to the bench, the Warriors fell apart. It got ugly, particularly on offense.
It’s just one game, but things looked a lot better in Golden State’s season opener Tuesday. The Warriors were +3 against a formidable Lakers team when Curry was on the bench, sparked by 20 points and some key runs from the fearless Jordan Poole, and 15 from Nemanja Bjelica.
“It feels like five or six years ago when we just have guys up and down the roster who can play,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “I mean, we have guys who are injured who can play. I think we’re really deep.”
The result of that depth was a 121-114 opening night win for the Warriors on a night Curry had a 21 point, 10 rebound, 10 assist triple-double but said after the game he played like “trash.”
That “trash” came because the Lakers were aggressive and physical with Curry all night, playing strong defense and not letting the former MVP ever get comfortable and find a rhythm. Curry is unquestionably the head of the snake, and with him out of step the Warriors looked disjointed through most of the first three quarters. Curry finished the night 5-of-21 shooting overall and 2-of-8 from three.
Last season those numbers basically insured a loss for the Warriors. This season the Warriors have a deeper, higher IQ, more veteran roster that can find other ways to score.
“When Steph is on the bench and Jordan is out there making plays, we’re able to spread the floor and get the ball moving, and it’s really fun to watch,” Kerr said.
Bjelica’s ball movement and shooting fit perfectly with the Warriors style – the player movement of the championship era was back — and Poole provided unwavering confidence that he could get a bucket when they needed it. Damion Lee added 15 points and Andre Iguodala had a dozen. The Warriors also attacked the Lakers’ defense trying to chase them off the arc and scored 55 points in the paint, 26 more than Los Angeles.
The Lakers lacked that depth and it did them in.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis were brilliant. LeBron finished with 34 points on 13-of-23 shooting, he was 5-of-11 from 3 and had his jumper working plus mixed in 11 boards. Davis added 33 points and 11 rebounds of his own, plus was a defensive force for most of the game that intimidated Warriors shooters.
No other Laker scored in double digits.
That includes the team’s big acquisition of the offseason, Russell Westbrook, who finished the night with eight points on 4-of-13 shooting, five rebounds, four assists, and was a -23. All the concerns about spacing and Westbrook’s fit with LeBron and Davis (plus the lack of defense) showed up opening night.
The Lakers also didn’t exploit their size advantage on offense much of the night, often settling for jumpers. That was especially true in the fourth quarter, when the Warriors packed their defense back into the paint and the jumpers that had fallen for the Lakers much of the night no longer did. The Lakers’ halfcourt offense had an 86.3 net rating (stat via Cleaning the Glass), Los Angeles struggled to get buckets when they could not run.
It will not be like that every night for the Lakers, but this was a reminder of how much work Los Angeles has to do to live up to their best-in-the-West contender status.
For the Warriors, it was a good start to the marathon of a season.