SAN FRANCISCO — Five takeaways from the Warriors’ 123-109 victory over the Lakers at Chase Center during NBA opening night on Tuesday.
1. A ring night to remember
The Warriors will likely remember plenty about ring night nearly four months after winning their fourth NBA title in the past eight seasons.
“I was very intentional and tried to take it all in from start to finish,” Stephen Curry said.
The Warriors saluted luminaries from past NBA championship teams, recognizing Paul Arizin (1956), Al Attles (1975), Marreese Speights (2015), Zaza Pachulia (2017) and Shaun Livingston (2018). NBA Commissioner Adam Silver then praised the team’s talent and resiliency, followed by Warriors general manager Bob Myers, guard Klay Thompson and Curry taking turns at the microphone.
“This is a very special night,” Curry said. “It was a long, long journey.”
Put It In The Louvre pic.twitter.com/vnOdWXkmXE
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) October 19, 2022
That’s because the Warriors won an NBA title after finishing with the league’s worst record (2019-20) and losing in the Play-In Tournament (2020-21). After the Warriors won three NBA titles in five Finals appearances (2015-19), Kevin Durant left via free agency and Thompson nursed two consecutive season-ending injuries.
“I really do feel like we’ve won the title last [season] not in spite of the previous two years, but I think because of the previous two years,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr before praising a key trade acquisition (Andrew Wiggins), a young player (Jordan Poole) and a role player (Kevon Looney). “That was a long haul, but that was all part of the journey. That makes it really special.”
Before the Warriors unveiled their first title banner at Chase Center, the players received rings that the team said featured 16 carats of yellow and white diamonds to represent the team’s playoff wins.
“It felt amazing,” Wiggins said. “I need to add some more.”
2. Curry sticks with it, burns Lakers
Only one of his first seven shots dropped into the basket. His first five 3-point attempts fell short. But since when does Curry allow a poor shooting start to dictate his performance? Rarely.
No surprise then that Curry eventually finished with 33 points while improving his shooting marks in the second quarter (4-for-6), third (2-for-4) and fourth (3-for-5). Curry also went 9-for-9 from the free-throw line.
“Just being aggressive,” Curry said. “I’m going to shoot a lot of 3s. Everybody knows that. But if they’re not falling, I try to get to the free-throw line and get some easy ones. I try to keep the ball moving. And I try not to stop moving, so you’re always a threat even if you don’t have a ball.”
Kerr observed Curry has perfected that approach because of his smarts and strength.
“Get to the rim, draw more contact, get to the line, finish better — he’s improved in all those areas,” Kerr said.
3. Warriors lean on their depth
Kerr anticipated the Warriors would initially look sluggish for two reasons.
The first? “Ring night is never an easy game,” Kerr said.
The second? “I don’t think we’re ready to have our top five or six guys play 30-plus minutes a night,” he said.
The Warriors appeared sloppy in the first quarter with their shooting (29.2%) and ball handling (six turnovers). They shot better in the second (53.8%), third (50%) and fourth (48%) quarters. That coincided with Kerr doling out playing time to 12 players, including 10 logging double-digit minutes. Thompson (20 minutes) and Draymond Green (25 minutes) played restricted minutes because of limited training camps.
“We’ve got a lot of depth and we want to use it,” Kerr said, “so we’ve got to be able to rely on it here tonight and the first couple weeks of the season.”
The early returns seem promising. Wiggins (20 points, six rebounds, four assists) assumed his role as a reliable second option. Looney again provided energy plays (seven points, six rebounds) and although he struggled with his shot (4-for-15), Poole offered secondary scoring (12 points) and playmaking (seven assists). Second-year players James Wiseman (eight points in 17 minutes) and Jonathan Kuminga (two points in 13 minutes) played most of their minutes together. Donte DiVincenzo, a key free-agent addition, steadily managed the second unit (eight points, two assists).
“This reminds me a lot of the ’14-15 [team],” Kerr said. “It reminds me a lot of the talent level. That team had veterans, and this team has young guys. But the talent is very obvious.”
4. Westbrook starts … for now
Russell Westbrook didn’t mince words on whether his reserve role in the Lakers’ preseason finale led to his left hamstring injury.
“Absolutely,” Westbrook said. “I’ve been doing the same thing for 14 years straight. I honestly didn’t know what to do pregame. I was trying to figure it out with how to stay warm and loose.”
Westbrook healed enough to start in the Lakers’ season opener and finished with a mixed performance. Westbrook had 19 points and 11 rebounds, but he recorded more turnovers (four) than assists (three). He also air-balled a jumper and collected a technical foul.
"I've been tested my whole life. Making it to the NBA is a blessing, and I don't take it for granted." – Russell Westbrook talks about Charles Barkley's comments and his thoughts on outside noise. pic.twitter.com/dY4FPxDSGT
— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) October 19, 2022
“A couple possessions I wish I can get back, but overall I thought he was solid,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said.
Nonetheless, it appears unclear how many games Westbrook will start this season. Ham plans to have a definitive starting lineup and stressed “we won’t chase matchups” in most cases. But when asked how much of a sample size he would allow before changing starters, Ham called himself “a day-by-day guy.”
Still, Ham has prepped Westbrook about fluctuating roles since the offseason.
“‘You’re definitely going to play, but however we play you is definitely going to be what’s best for the team,’” Ham recalled telling Westbrook. “You can’t look at it as a demotion.”
Westbrook maintained he won’t view his role that way.
“Just making sure I prepare mentally or physically for whatever comes my way,” Westbrook said. “Whatever is asked of me here, I try to do to the best of my ability.”
5. The Lakers remain a work in progress
Just like last season, the Lakers struggled with health and chemistry in their first game.
Center Thomas Bryant (left thumb) and guard Dennis Schröder (right thumb) are out for at least the next three weeks after having surgeries to repair their thumbs. Guard Troy Brown Jr. has yet to return after missing all of training camp with a back injury. While the Lakers’ three main players played on opening night, LeBron James (sore left foot), Anthony Davis (sore lower back) and Westbrook (sore left hamstring) have also nursed various ailments.
As for their play? After finishing 28th in points allowed last season (115.1), the Lakers struggled with defending the star-studded Warriors. After finishing 22nd last season in 3-point shooting (34.7%), the Lakers shot only 10-for-40 from deep against Golden State.
“We’re not a team that’s constructed of great shooting,” said James, who had 31 points while shooting 12-for-25 overall and 3-for-10 from beyond the arc. “It’s not like we’re sitting here with a lot of lasers on our team. But that doesn’t deter us from still trying to get great shots.”
The Lakers believed they addressed their roster construction issues by replacing all of their veteran free agents with younger players (Bryant, Brown, Lonnie Walker IV, Damian Jones, Juan Toscano-Anderson). The Lakers also contended they would fare better with a healthier and effective Davis, who had 27 points on 10-for-22 shooting and 14 rebounds. As Ham said, “we need him to do that night in and night out.” Regardless, the Lakers need more than just Davis’ expected dominance.
“Chemistry is not like oatmeal. It’s not instant,” Ham said. “You don’t just throw it in the microwave. That’s something that has to be baked over a course of time. We’ll get there.”
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