LOS ANGELES — The Golden State Warriors followed a familiar flow chart through almost all of last season’s up-and-down campaign that resulted in a second straight year without a playoff appearance. If star guard Stephen Curry shot well, the Warriors had a chance to win. If he didn’t — they didn’t. Even when the 33-year-old sat on the bench for his usual rest in games, the team looked like a shell of itself, unsure how to function without his brilliance.
During an impressive second-half comeback in Tuesday night’s 121-114 season-opening win over the Los Angeles Lakers, the Warriors appeared to turn over a new leaf. Curry still managed to register a triple-double with 21 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, but the fact that the Warriors were able to win with him going just 5-for-21 from the field showed signs of growth and promise at the start of an unpredictable season.
“It’s a huge lift,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “We’ve relied on him so much, and we’re still going to rely on him a lot. When he can have a night like he did tonight, not get it going, we still come out with a win, that’s great. He still continued to do everything else. Still continued to draw the double, rebounded the ball, he did everything he needed to do to help us win except what we’re accustomed to, which is making shots. But I don’t know, that will happen.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr pointed out after the game that even though Curry wasn’t hitting shots like usual, he was impacting the game in other ways, especially by dragging defenders around the floor and creating space for his teammates. Curry seemed impressed by the fact that his teammates were able to pick up the slack when he wasn’t able to get things going from the field.
“It means a lot to know that you can make the right play, see the attention, and whether it’s a double-team, triple-team, get rid of it,” Curry said. “And everybody is either a threat to shoot or is going to make the right play, move the ball, high IQ, it’s huge. … I think we always talk about the strength-in-numbers mentality, and how we play and try to create offense is predicated on me drawing attention, moving the ball. If everybody buys into the fact we don’t know who it’s going to be every night, we don’t know [whether] it’s going to be their game, but everybody is going to contribute to that style, it should be a good season.”
The Warriors came into their debut with optimism because they believe the depth on this roster is stronger than it was a year ago — and that’s without former All-Star Klay Thompson (ACL and Achilles rehab) and 2020 No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman (meniscus rehab), who are expected to be back at some point in the next couple of months.
The veteran depth of players such as Andre Iguodala, Nemanja Bjelica and Damion Lee, and the inspired play of a potential breakout candidate, third-year guard Jordan Poole, helped lift the Warriors to a win that likely wouldn’t have occurred last season with a similar Curry performance. The Warriors’ bench outscored the Lakers’ bench 55-29, paced by an unexpected 15 points each from Bjelica and Lee.
“I think we have a really good trust factor with our team,” Poole said. “And it’s not even group-oriented, it’s just us as a whole. We trust everybody who is out there. No matter what the lineup is, no matter what the group is.”
It’s a trust that Kerr could see coming together during an undefeated preseason in which the Warriors were meshing with a rhythm they didn’t see much of a year ago.
“I think we were building confidence in the preseason,” Kerr said. “Obviously we go 5-0 in the preseason and all that goes out the window because records don’t matter. But we felt in the preseason — I really like this team. But you still have to go out and prove it, and I think when you go out there for the first time every year opening night, there’s just some nerves and you got to get over that hump.
“The first half I did not recognize the team I was watching. They were not the team I’ve watched the last three weeks in camp. The second half, that’s who we are — floor spacing, ball movement, hitting singles, nothing crazy, solid defense, so a really good win.”
A good win made even more impressive by the fact that they did it with Curry having an unexpected off night. Curry came into the game averaging just 20.4 points a game against the Lakers at Staples Center, which is the second-worst mark against any team in his career, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Curry couldn’t help but smile a little when asked whether he had an explanation for his struggles in the building through the years.
“No idea,” Curry said. “If you have any ideas, please let me know because I still ain’t figured it out. I like to learn those lessons [in] winning, though. That helps.”