If you needed further proof besides the Larry O’Brien trophy, the parade and the banner raising that the Golden State Warriors have achieved top shelf status in the league, Tuesday’s season-opening coronation offered plenty to chew on.
Before the game even started, Andrew Bogut showed that he wasn’t joking about having his championship ring sized for his middle finger, and indeed owner Joe Lacob slipped the manhole-cover-sized piece of bling on the giant Australian’s defiant digit while NBA commissioner Adam Silver pretended not to notice. Normally league honchos are quite wary of showing or airing anything that can even remotely be interpreted as offensive, but when a champion does it, everyone looks the other way and Bogut gets treated as a lovable goof on par with New England Patriot Rob Gronkowski.
It was also around then that the Pelicans announced that starting point guard Jrue Holiday, still rehabbing from offseason surgery, would be held out so that he could play the next night at Portland. How often in the last 40 years would such a scenario play out that way as opposed to the reverse? We’ve all grown up watching a franchise so laughably inept and charitable on defense that people in casts would suit up against them, drooling at the thought of boosting their numbers. Now the Dubs are the beneficiaries of pragmatism, while the rebuilding Blazers are thought of as pigeons. (For what it’s worth, Portland routed the Pelicans too, with Holiday in the lineup.)
Once the pomp and ceremony ended and the season tipped off for real, the Warriors did what great teams in every sport do to show their greatness: They won decisively — 111-95 in this case — without playing even remotely well. Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala shot a combined 10-of-35 in the game. Add valuable reserves Leandro Barbosa and Marreese Speights into that mix and now we’re talking about 12-of-47, a brick above 25 percent.
It mattered not an iota because Bogut and Green held wunderkind Anthony Davis to a 4-of-20 night on the other end and more specifically because the Warriors still employ the game’s preeminent warlock in Stephen Curry, who was outscoring the Pelicans by himself for much of the first quarter while his teammates were still high on championship dust. Curry had 24 in the first period on the way to 40, the most points in a season-opener by the defending MVP since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — a fellow who bared very little physical resemblance to Curry — scored 41 against the Phoenix Suns in 1971-72, according to STATS.
For all the doom and gloom about how they were lucky last season and they’d have a target on their backs this time around and they’d miss Steve Kerr on the bench and that they were practically guaranteed to suffer injuries this season after being one of the healthiest teams in the league last year, the Warriors went out and stomped a 45-win playoff team and shut down the guy the league’s general managers overwhelmingly agreed they’d choose to start a franchise with.
And they did it playing what was, for them, C- basketball. What chance does anyone have against the Dubs when they’re on their A-game?
Of course there’s the alternate view, that everywhere you looked there were ominous signs.
Kerr revealed that he’s still not ready to return to the bench full time after enduring complications from two separate offseason back surgeries, though he was optimistic it’d be relatively soon. The Pelicans were hardly a worthy challenger, given they were missing not just Holiday but also their best wing in Tyreke Evans, starting center Omer Asik and pesky Norris Cole, who had some strong defensive stretches against Curry in the playoffs last year. Their emergency starter opposite Curry was Nate Robinson, whom they thought so much of that they’ve since waived.
Neither Green nor Thompson looked the part of top 20 players, doing little to dispel concerns that they played over their heads last season and would fall back down to earth after a summer of partying. Barnes got his contract drive off to a miserable start, and as long as he plays that way he’ll continue to be asked whether he regrets not accepting the reported four-year, $64 million offer and if that next deal is weighing on him.
Most distressing of all was that it took all of one game for the Warriors to suffer their first injury. Bogut, already playing with a broken nose after taking a stray elbow during the preseason, got cut above his right eye in a fourth quarter collision and suffered a concussion. He’ll be out until he’s symptom free, according to the league’s protocol, which means he’ll miss Friday night’s game at Houston against Dwight Howard and then the return engagement with Davis on Halloween.
There are games coming up with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph and the Memphis Grizzlies, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and the Los Angeles Clippers, DeMarcus Cousins and the Sacramento Kings, Andre Drummond and the Detroit Pistons and then the Grizzlies again over the next two weeks, so Bogut being out would be most ill-timed indeed, even with the understanding that there’s never a good time for a concussion.
One game down, 81 to go and we’ve already seen a microcosm of everything. There will be bumps and bruises, ups and downs, lucky breaks and bad breaks. Some opponents will be shorthanded against the Warriors and other times the Warriors will be the ones nursing wounds.
But as long as they have Curry tossing in threes for fun the Warriors will be alright, and Bogut, even if he’s in a suit on the bench, will be happy to show you his ring finger if you say otherwise.