What if I told you that Lakers LeBron James and Anthony Davis would combine for 67 points in the season opener against the Warriors? And that LeBron would make as many threes (5) as Steph Curry would make shots? And that because of foul trouble to Andrew Wiggins, Damion Lee would play 29 minutes? Oh, and Curry and Draymond Green would combine for nine turnovers? You’d probably think, sounds like a Warriors win.
That’s exactly what happened in the season opener, as the new-look Golden State Warriors triumphed over the even-newer-look Los Angeles Lakers, 121-114 at the Staples Center. The Lakers led by ten with two-and-a-half minutes left in the 3rd, but Golden State outscored them 47-30 the rest of the way, including a 38-point 4th quarter. Curry shot only 5-21, but added 10 rebounds and 10 assists for his first triple-double since 2016.
The team survived a huge game by two-thirds of the Lake Show’s new Big Three. AD had 33 points on 15-26 shooting, while LeBron was red-hot from outside, hitting five three-pointers on the way to 34 points. Both also had eleven rebounds. But Russell Westbrook, the team’s third max contract superstar, had as many turnovers as made shots, giving the ball away four times and scoring just eight points. He was -23 on the game.
The game had a familiar pattern. The Lakers would stretch out their lead throughout the quarter - the Warriors never led for a 33-minute stretch - and the Warriors would close the gap. This was thanks in part to the lineup that closed the first and third quarters: Curry, Damion Lee, Andre Iguodala (welcome back!), Juan Toscano-Anderson, and Nemanja Bjelica. In their six minutes playing together, the quintet put up an offensive rating of 153.3 points per 100 possessions and kept the game close until the Warriors surged in the 4th quarter.
Bjelica, one of the Warriors veteran signings, was a standout in his first regular-season game with the team. He put up 15 points and 11 rebounds, but the revelation was his passing. Bjelica had four assists, cutting and moving the ball like a 6’10” Serbian David Lee. He was a team-high +20 in his 26 minutes off the bench.
Wiggins’ three gave the Warriors a 12-point lead with 2:34 remaining, effectively icing the game.
The other D. Lee also added 15 points and played 29 minutes, more than he’d played in all but one of his games last season. Lee was a steadying presence, something you couldn’t always say about him, and got himself to the line six times.
While the game showcased the best of the Warriors’ passing (the team notched 30 assists), it also showcased the worst, with both Curry and Green throwing sloppy passes to the other team, or occasionally, no one at all.
But most of all, this was a vintage Strength In Numbers performance for a team that finally had a Number higher than seven. Jordan Poole was an excellent wingman to Curry, scoring 20 and repeatedly taking his man off the dribble and firing away from outside with no hesitation.
Poole also fell victim to a monster block by LeBron James, which is honestly a rite of passage for a young Warrior.
Eleven different players scored, and eight different players hit three-pointers. Despite a massive size disadvantage in the frontcourt, the Warriors outrebounded the Lakers, 50-45. Rookie Moses Moody acquitted himself in six minutes, and even the newest Warrior, Gary Payton II, forced a turnover in his 7.3 seconds of playing time. And with Curry on the bench to start the 4th, a lineup of Jordan Poole + reserves outscored the Lakers by six points.
As for the Lakers, Davis and James were the only two to score in double figures. Their only spark late came from recent Warriors training camp cut Avery Bradley, who came in to knock down two huge threes in the 4th quarter, the last one cutting the Dubs’ lead to 103-101 with 5:05 remaining.
But Bjelica immediately answered with a three of his own off a nice pass from Green. Wiggins made a jumper, and then Steve Kerr successfully challenged an out-of-bounds call off LeBron that led to two Bjelica free throws and a nine-point lead. The Lakers never got closer than seven points down the rest of the way.
The other big difference in the game came at the free throw line, where the Warriors shot 25-30 (totals inflated by late-game fouling), and the Lakers made just 9-19, with Davis going 2-7. Also, Carmelo Anthony pump-faked a free throw.
Carmelo Anthony pump faked at the free throw line pic.twitter.com/9vSI8vHolf— KNBR (@KNBR) October 20, 2021
Ultimately, it was a promising game for the Warriors, and kept the dream of an 82-0 season alive. This is a team that hasn’t lost a game in over five months! They’ll try to complete their Los Angeles mini-sweep on Thursday, when the Clippers come to the Chase Center.