OAKLAND, Calif. — The Golden State Warriors had something to prove all right: Oh yes, they plan to stay on top in these playoffs despite a disappointing finish to the regular season.
Kevin Durant helped the defending champions get defensive in a hurry, finishing with 24 points, eight rebounds and seven assists and the Warriors returned to their old dominant selves at playoff time to beat the cold-shooting San Antonio Spurs 113-92 on Saturday.
“Absolutely,” Klay Thompson said about playing a memorable, statement-making Game 1. “We did not end the season on a high note, we kind of hobbled into the playoffs. We know how talented we are. We know how good we are. We have been here before in the postseason and know what it takes to win.”
And they still know how to win in impressive fashion on the NBA’s big stage.
Durant, Thompson and Draymond Green took charge in Game 1 of the first-round series to elevate the Warriors’ intensity at last playing without fellow All-Star and injured two-time MVP Stephen Curry, sidelined since March 23 with a sprained left knee.
Thompson found his shooting touch and scored 27 points, making 11 of 13 shots, while 7-footer JaVale McGee started in Steve Kerr’s center-by-committee approach and contributed 15 points, four rebounds and two blocked shots in 16 minutes. Green contributed 12 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds.
Rudy Gay led the Spurs with 15 points off the bench as leading scorer LaMarcus Aldridge was limited to 14 points on 5-for-12 shooting.
“The first quarter we looked like deer in the headlights,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.
Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is Monday night at Oracle Arena.
The Warriors looked unbeatable again. And that was without the do-everything Curry.
Golden State said all week it’s a new season, then went out and showed it. The Warriors have plans for nothing short of a repeat title.
“We’re a championship ballclub. We know what it takes this time a year to win,” Green said. “… We’re primed for this. A lot of people tend to forget what we’re capable of. We know.”
Golden State came with the kind of swarming defense it is so used to playing but hadn’t exhibited much lately as rotations were mixed and matched because of injuries and illness.
San Antonio couldn’t keep up from the opening tip.
“We were just very overly excited, overzealous,” San Antonio’s Danny Green said. “Overreacting to a lot of things because we are so excited that we’re in the playoffs and playing, obviously, the best team in the world.”
Beat up and missing its four All-Stars at times, Golden State endured a stretch losing seven of 10 last month.
Golden State swept San Antonio in the Western Conference Finals a year ago on the way to a second championship in three seasons and an astonishing, record-setting 16-1 postseason run.
Kerr always said his team would be ready when these playoffs came around.
The Warriors were determined to pick up their defense, and they did just that.
Green, Durant and the others quickly closed on shooters and got hands up to alter shots.
2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodala moved into the starting lineup for the 2018 edition of that “Strength In Numbers” mantra — and all those bright yellow T-shirts through the arena are there to back it.
Iguodala, who started just seven games all season before Saturday, had missed four of the final five regular-season games with a sore left knee.
Kerr went with his best defensive unit.
“I thought it was important to re-establish our defense, one way or another, win or lose,” Kerr said. “That’s the reason this is a championship team. It’s the defense that has been the key for this team for years.” (AP)Photo by HeelSports