The Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns were put on the two-game NBA Opening Night slate for a reason, and they delivered. After the defending-champion Denver Nuggets put a beatdown on the Los Angeles Lakers to kick off the 2023-24 season, the Dubs and Suns proved to be where the drama and excitement was.
But excitement doesn’t always lead to victory, and the Warriors will start the season with a losing record, falling 108-104 in a game that came down to the wire.
It was an exciting affair from the get-go, as the teams traded buckets and highlights in the opening minutes. At first the Warriors looked undersized, getting repeatedly cooked on the boards, and they showed some first-game nerves with the amount of open looks that they missed.
As such, Phoenix strung together early 10-0 and 7-0 runs, and jumped out to a 24-12 lead. But Golden State came roaring back into it behind a bench unit of Chris Paul, Gary Payton II, Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga, and Dario Šarić, which instantly proved to be better than any reserve group that the 2022-23 team put out. Moody was electric on both ends of the court, and a few steals and timely buckets pulled the Warriors to an even 28-28 after the first quarter.
The good times continued into the second quarter, as a 23-6 Warriors run that spanned the two frames gave them a 35-30 lead early in the second. But in a reversal of last year, the team struggled once they turned things back to the starters. Led by deadeye shooting from Devin Booker and endless hustle courtesy of Josh Okogie — plus some slick moves from our old friend Kevin Durant — the Suns ended the half on a 25-10 run, and carried a 15-point lead into the break.
But the third quarter Warriors showed up, as they so often do. The starters had new life, with Steph Curry in particular taking over. The team showed heart and hustle that were absent in the first half, and a swarming defense, as a 21-4 run turned a blowout deficit into a lead. Again the bench unit, led by Paul and Moody, stomped on the Suns’ reserves. CP3 took over to end the quarter, and the defensive effort, while not perfect, was extremely pesky.
A 40-19 victory in the quarter was a strong tell as to just how good this team can be, and it gave them a six-point lead going into the fourth.
But that’s where issues arose. Curry fell into his one poor habit, making silly fouls, and had to head to the bench early. The Suns rattled off 11 unanswered points, and quickly retook the lead. The teams went back and forth and back and forth as we neared an end.
When the NBA announced the schedule a few months back, this game was booked as a star showing. Paul, Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, and Andrew Wiggins for the Warriors; Booker, Durant, and Bradley Beal for the Suns. But as we neared the game, neither Green nor Beal was available to play, and we wondered which would fold first: Golden State’s defense without their quarterback, or Phoenix’s offense without the third head on their monster?
It turned out to be the former. The Warriors battled in the final minutes with offensive rebounds — including two huge ones by Jonathan Kuminga — and a big triple from Curry. But Booker, working the pick-and-roll with new center Jusuf Nurkić, became unguardable in the waning possessions.
The Dubs missed two looks from distance with a few seconds left which would have made it a one-point game. Instead, they’ll have to settle for an entertaining loss.
Curry led the way for the Warriors with 27 points, but he shot just 8-for-20 from the field and 4-for-14 from distance, as fouls limited him to 31 minutes. Paul showed off exactly why Golden State traded for him in his debut, as his nine assists to one turnover led to the type of ball-control game that Warriors fans simply aren’t used to; but Paul looked a step slow on defense, and missed all six of his three-point attempts.
Moody was sensational, with 11 points on 4-for-6 shooting, and it’s safe to say he’ll probably get more than 18 minutes in the team’s second game. Kuminga shook off a nervy start to finish with 12 points, six rebounds, two steals, and one block on efficient shooting, albeit with five fouls and two turnovers. Most telling, however, was that he was in the closing lineup over Wiggins, who had a deeply forgettable game.
The Warriors had a lot of positives to build on, and the general performance should excite and encourage you. Losing a nailbiter to an NBA contender when shooting 23.3% from three-point range — primarily on good looks — is frustrating but encouraging. They also had a lot of mistakes and issues that need fixing and shoring up, and they’ll need to find a way to address all of that sooner rather than later. Green will fix some of them, but they can’t just rely on that; there’s work to be done.
They now have two off days to get started on that work, before kicking off a three-game road trip on Friday night against the Sacramento Kings.