The Golden State Warriors opened 2024 with a little bit of desperation. After finally finding some rhythm to the tune of a five-game winning streak, they had ended 2023 with an utterly deflating three-game losing streak, falling at home to a Miami Heat team missing Jimmy Butler and a Dallas Mavericks team missing Kyrie Irving. Things were bad enough that it led to a team meeting.
So with New Year’s resolutions in the air, the Dubs hoped to open 2024 on the right foot. But standing between them and that was the Orland Magic, an enormous and energetic team that has been one of the best stories of the season this year.
It wouldn’t be easy. And it wasn’t. But they won. And dare I say, they even looked good doing so.
The Dubs repeated Saturday’s new starting lineup, putting Chris Paul and Trayce Jackson-Davis in alongside Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Jonathan Kuminga. Not surprisingly, Orlando — the tallest team in the league — opened up by attacking the rim against the Dubs’ rookie center, and within a few minutes the Magic led 11-2. Not a great start.
But as happens so often these days, the bench came in and stabilized things. TJD stayed in with a few reserves and his athleticism and instincts on both ends started to play. Behind a 9-0 run, the Dubs second unit (which, admittedly, included Curry) quickly took the lead. The teams went back and forth, and a stepback three from Paul gave Golden State a two-point lead after the first frame.
The second quarter saw the Warriors continue to execute well, but they were getting destroyed on the glass. The Dubs couldn’t nab any offensive rebounds, and the Magic were living on second and third-chance opportunities. But towards the end of the quarter, Curry — who had a very quiet first — started to take over, at one point going on a 6-0 run all by himself. But as the did almost all night long, Orlando had a response, full of athleticism, offensive rebounds, and threes. The Magic turned a 45-40 deficit into a 52-48 lead, and once again the teams went back and forth.
Golden State nearly ended the half in iconic fashion. Going for a two-for-one, Paul made a stepback three, and the Dubs got a stop on the other end, punctuated by an emphatic glass-check block courtesy of Kuminga. Back on the other end, Curry drained his first triple of the game ... and got fouled, for a four-point play with just 3.5 seconds remaining. What followed was one of the worst defensive possessions of the season, letting Orlando go the length of the court for an uncontested three, which tied the game at the break.
At halftime one thing was clear: if the Warriors could figure out how to rebound, they would win. If they couldn’t, they probably wouldn’t.
As the third quarter got underway, Kuminga started to put the team on his back, with gritty defensive plays, excellent athleticism and hustle, and all kinds of instant offense. Suddenly the offense was really starting to click, with everyone making the extra pass.
It came at a cost. Late in the third, Gary Payton II — playing in just his second game since missing 13 consecutive contests with a right calf strain — injured his left hamstring and had to leave the game. It looks like he’ll be gone for a while, unfortunately.
But the Dubs rallied, and kept the ball movement and cutting going, this time adding some rebounds to the mix. They took a six-point lead into the fourth quarter.
It didn’t last long. The Magic made a pair of threes out of the gates to tie the game, and after they took the lead with 8:33 remaining, Steve Kerr needed a timeout.
From there on, the game flipped. In a reverse from what we’ve grown accustomed to seeing, the Warriors started making all the winning plays late. They made the extra pass. They grabbed the loose balls. They played smart. And as a result, they pushed the lead up to nine points with just over three minutes remaining.
They flirted with their old habits, with two turnovers shortly thereafter, but as if to admit their own mistakes, they bounced back with a beautiful sequence: Curry found Thompson for a backcut and an uncontested layup, the Dubs forced a turnover on the other end, and then pushed the ball up for an uncontested Kuminga transition dunk. The lead was nine with under two minutes remaining, and the outcome was sealed.
Orlando played the foul game to make it a respectable final score, with Golden State winning 121-115. They’re back in the win column, folks.
Curry led the way with a very efficient 36 points (even though he missed three free throws), and added four steals. Kuminga had 19 points, six rebounds, four assists, and two blocks, while Thompson bounced back with an efficient 15-point outing, as all the starters (plus two subs) reached double figures.
The Dubs will try and keep their undefeated 2024 alive on Thursday, when they host the defending-champion Denver Nuggets at 7:00 p.m. PT on TNT.