OAKLAND – The first quarter unfolded like something out of a Warriors fantasy. Passes were crisp and accurate, shots were falling at an astonishing rate and the defense was suffocating the explosive Toronto Raptors.
“Incredible,” Draymond Green said.
“The first quarter was amazing,” Stephen Curry said.
“That first quarter was about as good a quarter as anybody will ever play,” coach Steve Kerr said.
The opening 12 minutes, during which the Warriors built a 25-point lead, launched them to a 121-111 victory Wednesday night that once again defined them as a spectacularly talented team with very specific flaws that can leave them vulnerable.
The Warriors rinsed away the sour taste of their Christmas Day loss at Cleveland, during which they blew a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter, only to revisit some of the same issues that hurt them in that game.
Committing 20 turnovers, off which Toronto scored 26 points, didn’t cost the Warriors this game, but they surely allowed the Raptors to come back and make it close enough to rattle the nerves of the sellout crowd (19,596) at Oracle Arena.
“Some of them were careless,” Kerr said. “We will go back and look at the tape, but 20 is just too many. We had zero with two minutes left in the first quarter. We had nine assists and zero turnovers. We had two careless ones at the end of the quarter, and then the first part of the second quarter was kind of a mess.
“We weren’t ready to play, and that seemed to snowball on us a little bit. We have to clean that up.”
Cleaning up the errors has been the mantra from Day 1 of training camp. It’s widely understood and accepted that turnovers may be the biggest threat to the Warriors chances to win a championship. And, indeed, they may be able to win it all despite occasionally keeping opponents in the game.
But that’s a risky formula.
“We were just overpassing, to be honest,” said Kevin Durant. “I was the worst. I just threw the ball away when I had a wide-open 3. Just dropping the ball. It’s stuff that we can control. It’s not like they’re getting into us and turning us over. We’re doing a lot of overpassing and getting into the lane and trying to make the second and third pass when we’ve got a layup on the first or second one.”
Durant, as much as anyone in a Warriors jersey, ensured the hefty lead would not be lost. He scored 22 points and tied his season-high with 17 rebounds while also ringing up seven assists and five blocks.
Durant became, according to Elias Sports Bureau, the first Warrior to post at least 20 points, 15 rebounds, five assists and five blocks in the same game. The blocks were particularly impactful, particularly the one on which Durant turned away Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan’s drive to the rim with 1:32 to play.
“He’s so long, athletic and bouncy off his feet that when he’s in the paint and people are driving, he’s a major challenge to get a shot over the top of,” Kerr said. “A big part of his game tonight was his rim protection.”
Though all four Warriors All-Stars played solid games, all four also noted at least a modicum of dissatisfaction with the turnover issue.
“It’s just about focus and making the easy play,” Klay Thompson said.
Durant acknowledged that maybe having such a reliable defense might affect the team’s attitude on offense. Knowing they can lock down an opponent when it matters grants them enough comfort to take a few chances with the ball.
“You take note of the positives and try to build on those and appreciate those,” Green said. “At the same time, you’ve got to look at the fact that we had 20 turnovers, nine of them coming in the second quarter. We’ve got to be better with that. We’ve got to rebound the ball better.
“So there are some things that we look at and say, ‘Alright,’ and we need to do those things better.”
Winning, however, is the great panacea. The successful result doesn’t obscure the flaws, but it makes them easier to tolerate.