The defending champions are ready to ruin the league for a fifth season in a row.
However, they themselves almost got ruined by a depleted Oklahoma City Thunder team, courtesy of a lackluster third quarter, a period which they usually dominate. In the first five minutes of the third quarter, the Thunder outscored the Golden State Warriors 22-9, before the Warriors mitigated the damage and came out of the third quarter with a four-point lead. It seemed like the Warriors were ready to succumb to their usual opening night form — they were crushed by the San Antonio Spurs in 2016 by a score of 129-100, and lost by a hair to the Houston Rockets last season, 122-121.
Luckily, the Warriors had two MVPs on their team to save the day for them in the fourth quarter, in addition to a role player who played his role exquisitely. Let’s take a closer look.
Curry’s return at the 8:05 mark
Stephen Curry was subbed back in during the fourth quarter during a Jerami Grant free throw, with the Warriors leading by two. Grant missed both of his free throws, and Kevin Durant proceeded to bring the ball down:
Durant opts to go one-on-one with Grant. Notice the personnel the Warriors have in this possession — three of their four off-ball guys (Curry, Klay Thompson, and Jonas Jerebko) are floor spacers. This forces the Thunder to stretch their defense, and allows Durant more space to work with in isolation. The only person ready to help Grant is Steven Adams, but Kevon Looney is ready to receive the ball under the basket should Adams leave him. Grant is on his own, and Durant’s brilliant offense gets the better of Grant’s defense.
In the next possession, several off-ball screens eventually manage to get Durant a favorable matchup against Alex Abrines. Smelling blood, Durant goes one-on-one again:
With Durant easily blowing by Abrines — and no one else able to provide decent help due to shooters roaming on the perimeter — Adams is forced to step up. Durant gets the floater up, and a good contest by Adams bothers it enough to miss. But Looney is all alone under the basket, and with Adams’ interior presence all but gone, Looney cleans up Durant’s miss in true custodian fashion.
Looney shuts down penetration
In the following possession, the Thunder opt to a run a high pick-and-roll with Dennis Schröder and Adams. Thompson tries to cut off Schröder from Adams’ screen and funnels him toward Looney— otherwise known as the ICE pick-and-roll defense:
Thompson gets hung up on Adams’ screen, but Schröder gets funneled toward Looney anyway. Despite Schröder’s speed, Looney manages to stay in front of him, and gets up to say “No soup for you, Schröder!”
Looney and Durant’s defense leads to Curry’s offense
After a missed Curry jumper, the Thunder haul in the rebound, and George tries to push and blow by straight to the basket, but Durant stays in front of him. Having been denied a lane of penetration, George goes into a pick-and-roll with Adams.
Looney steps up to contest George’s jumper, while Durant and Adams battle for position under the rim. It seemed like Adams was about to get the offensive board, but from out of nowhere, Jerebko rises up and snatches the ball away from Adams’ clutches:
This leads to Curry on the other end performing his usual wizardry, penetrating towards the basket for a beautiful off-the-glass finish. Nothing new, yet always breathtaking.
Looney rises up for the dunk
Looney and Grant contest a jumpball, which Looney wins. Durant saves the ball from going out-of-bounds, and he goes one-on-one against George. In classic Durant fashion, he gets the best of George, and gets close enough to pull up for what seems like a routine, uncontested jumper. He misses...
...but the Thunder seem to forget that Russell Westbrook isn’t there to rebound, forget to box out, and allow Looney to go up uncontested for the putback dunk.
Looney locks down Paul George
In the next possession, the Thunder screen away from the ball to get George switched onto Looney, which seems like a favorable matchup on paper. George receives the ball and isolates up top against Looney:
George readies his dribble, thinking that he might be able to style all over his man. Looney dispels any notion of that by poking away the ball. George recovers, and drives to his right. Looney stays in front of him with deceptive foot speed, denies George a straight path to the basket, and forces him to pull up — but not before the 24-second shot clock expires.
George obviously did not watch enough of this:
Curry and-one with two minutes to go
With just under two minutes to go in the game — and only leading by two points — the Warriors desperately needed to pull away. Looney comes back in after being subbed out for a short rest. The Warriors run a pick-and-roll with Looney and Curry, intending to switch Adams onto Curry. The Thunder opt to ICE it:
Curry gets funneled toward Adams, and Schröder trails behind Curry, who immediately stops and pulls up for a jumper. Schröder drifts into Curry’s space and gets whistled for the foul, while Curry makes the basket for the shimmy and the and-one opportunity.
Durant closes the show
Up by five with around thirty seconds to go, the Warriors try to burn a few seconds off the clock. The Warriors go into a Curry and Durant pick-and-roll to switch Schröder onto Durant:
Durant receives the ball and immediately beats Schröder off the dribble. Adams shifts over to contest, but Durant’s floater finds its way into the basket, with Durant’s reward being an opening night victory for his team, as well as an incoming sore shoulder the next morning.
While Curry finished with 32 points, 8 rebounds, 9 assists, and a plus/minus of +15 — and Durant finished with 27 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, and a plus/minus of +14 — it was actually Looney who led the team in the plus/minus category, with a +23 for the night. He posted a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds, with 2 assists, 1 steal, and 2 blocks. Most importantly, of those 10 rebounds, 8 were on the offensive glass — a category that he managed to beat Steven Adams in, who only had 4 offensive rebounds.
Looney certainly proved that he is a high-quality role player for the Warriors, and he will continue to be of high quality as the season progresses. Damian Jones — who did a reasonably good job as the starting center against the Thunder — will continue to be the starting center for the next couple of games. But Looney will be there to provide quality back up minutes, and maybe even quality minutes during the final stretches of games. With Draymond Green still not up to par in terms of conditioning, it’s also important that Looney take a bit of pressure and load off of Green.
Meanwhile, Curry and Durant continued to show why they are arguably the greatest duo in the history of the NBA. With two MVPs on the team to serve as one heck of an insurance policy, the Warriors will be tough to defeat down the stretch.
One down, 81 more to go.
Stay Golden, Dub Nation.