Panic at your own peril over Warriors' opening-night loss to Rockets

Panic at your own peril over Warriors' opening-night loss to Rockets

Well, there’s a nice stomp on the ring finger.

The Golden State Warriors, Team Invulnerable, are already last in the Western Conference after a 122-121 loss to the Houston Rockets, and with only 98 percent of the season left . . .

Oh, who’s kidding whom? It’s an opening night, and opening nights are often liars.

But it was a more comforting lie for the Rockets, who spent most of the night chasing Warriors leads and didn’t actually catch one until P.J. Tucker’s two free throws with 44 seconds to play survived a post-buzzer jumper by Kevin Durant. The Rockets walked off the court when referee Scott Foster properly waved off the Durant basket, and new Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta jumped about the floor like he’d just finished a fire ant-encrusted brisket.

And for a team that still has much to iron out with Chris Paul and James Harden, those free throws gave the Rockets a sense that they can run with the king – and therefore would make a fine prince regent.

True, it would be better to be the king, but nobody will take this game and declare the Warriors no longer prohibitive favorites. True, they needed an effervescent shooting night from new item on the menu Nick Young to just be close as it turned out, but one game is exactly one game and no more.

In other words, panic at your own peril.

Golden State’s defense was spotty throughout (Draymond Green got a half a coach’s per diem for his work with rookie Jordan Bell alone), and the rotations in particular were often sluggish by their standards. Giving up 34 points in the fourth quarter in a non-garbage-time situation will be a topic of discussion Wednesday, to be sure.

They were also cavalier with possessions (Kevin Durant had eight of the team’s 17 turnovers alone), and in many respects looked first-game disjointed.

Steve Kerr worked hard not to blame the ring ceremony and not because of the ravages of the China trip, or the lack of normal rest between seasons or any of the rest of it. But it is the price to be paid by the endlessly desirable – if there is money to be squeezed from this particular ATM, it will be, and those are just the conditions that prevail.

Besides, if the team’s conditioning is an issue, it should not be one by November 1. And if it is, then there are much larger concerns than getting winded. The first of those might be Green’s sore left knee, which will be examined on Wednesday but is not expected to reveal anything significant.

Then again, the Rockets did not look any sharper or different, and they skipped getting rings or Asia. They remained very Harden-centric, and Paul’s debut was hampered by a very balky left knee that reduced him in most practical ways to an adjunct to the typical Harden show.

But they were also a tough out, as they normally are. Head coach Mike D’Antoni said two days ago that his team wouldn’t stop the Warriors and that the Warriors wouldn’t stop him, and he was right both times. We said opening nights are liars, but that doesn’t mean people talking about opening nights necessarily are.

If you want the shiny bauble in the fish-shaped Jell-O mold, it is that the Warriors were light years worse in their last opener against San Antonio, when they lost, 129-100, and deserved to be beaten by more.

In addition, nothing they did or didn’t do is a difficult repair, and they don’t want to do anything at all to Young, who was easily the showiest of show-stoppers on a night that peaked very early and ended with a buzzer-beating.

One which Kerr said they richly deserved. So there’s that – with only 81 more games to fix the Western Conference’s worst team for one night.

Film room: Assigning responsibility for Mirotic's six 3-pointers vs Warriors on April 7

Film room: Assigning responsibility for Mirotic's six 3-pointers vs Warriors on April 7

The Warriors vanquished the Spurs on Tuesday night, which means it's officially time to start looking ahead to the Pelicans.

Remember when Golden State lost to New Orleans on April 7 at Oracle? (it feels like forever ago).

Well, Nikola Mirotic roasted the Warriors, scoring 28 points on 10-for-18 overall and 6-for-11 from deep.

After rewatching the game, one thing stood out -- it wasn't just one guy's fault for allowing Mirotic to go off.

Let's analyze the six 3-pointers Mirotic made:

1) About a minute into the game, the Warriors are getting back on defense after a missed shot. Draymond Green is matched up against Mirotic, but he doesn't have a sense of urgency to make sure he's pressed up against Mirotic on the catch. Draymond flies at the pump fake, and Mirotic takes one dribble before drilling the triple.

2) Kevon Looney is matched up against Mirotic in a half court set. Looney takes one step towards the paint to help on a diving Anthony Davis (he didn't really need to as Kevin Durant smartly dropped off of Rajon Rondo), so Mirotic pops out to the left wing and Looney is late to contest:

3) Draymond is guarding Mirotic but is forced to switch when he cuts backdoor. After standing around for a couple of seconds, Mirotic slowly relocates to the left wing and David West is a little slow to challenge (although this is one where you kind of just have to tip your cap...)

4) This one is on Draymond, who abandons Mirotic in an attempt to trap Rondo in the corner. Iguodala is forced to leave Darius Miller (another great shooter), but Mirotic has plenty of time and space to shoot over Iguodala's outstretched arm:

5) It starts with Rondo driving baseline past Quinn Cook and kicking it to the corner to E'Twaun Moore, who promptly swings it to Mirotic. Looney scrambles and flies past Mirotic, who calmly takes one dribble and has all day to line up his fifth triple of the game:

6) Draymond's lob attempt to Durant is intercepted and the Pelicans push the other way. Looney get sucked beneath the 3-point line and Mirotic cans it from deep to essentially end the game (live ball turnovers are deadly):

The Pelicans acquired Mirotic on Feb. 1, and he's making New Orleans' front office look great right now:

-First 25 games (6 starts) -- 12.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 30 percent from deep
-Last five regular season games (5 starts) -- 25.8 points, 12.0 rebounds, 46.5 percent from deep
-First round vs Blazers -- 18.3 points, 9.5 rebounds, 46 percent from deep

The Warriors could go several directions when it comes to matching up against Anthony Davis and Mirotic.

Whichever route they choose... they will have their hands full.

Drew Shiller is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders. Follow him on Twitter @DrewShiller

In a bizarre year, the Pelicans present a more difficult, intriguing matchup for Warriors


In a bizarre year, the Pelicans present a more difficult, intriguing matchup for Warriors

And so ends another episode of Warriors Angst. With a fresh boatload of torture to remind the audience that there is more to come in the next exciting installment.

While there may be some local consternation over Dwyane Wade describing the Philadelphia 76ers as “the future of the NBA,” its present reminded itself and its various nations just how easy it is to retain its hold on the driver’s seat. By first smothering and then desperately repelling the San Antonio Spurs, 99-91, to finish this Western Conference quarterfinal series, the Golden States demonstrated that a devotion to defense solves all other issues, including offense, boredom, weariness, neuritis, neuralgia and excessive stress caused by trumped-up worry.

In other words, they did what needed to be done, albeit disjointedly, thus setting up a second-round match with the New Orleans Pelicans that will be more difficult, more intriguing, and with this level of defensive intent, perhaps more decisively.

That’s how the Warriors work, after all. When they engage defensively, their offense raises itself (at least, when they’re not shooting 18.5 percent from three), their energy regenerates, and people don’t wonder if they lack focus.

Plus, the Spurs shot miserably themselves, couldn’t run their offense coherently on either side of the arc, were desperately outmatched until their desperate fourth quarter charge that cut a 16-point lead to two before expiring breathlessly. In short, they finally ran out of ways to cheat the inevitable.

But this wasn’t about San Antonio, except maybe to San Antonio, Theirs was a lost season and a doomed series from the moment Kawhi Leonard left the lineup for good, and the death of Erin Popovich, Gregg’s wife, reduced the players and coaches to fumes. It was not, in the end, a terribly fair fight, though they get full credit and glory for refusing to bend the knee until the last possible moment.

But for Golden State, the exemplaries were less in the box score and more in the sweat equity. They opened the game with a conviction never evidenced in Game 4, and certainly not to this extent in Games 1, 2 or 3, never allowing San Antonio to create a rhythm until the Warriors’ offense found theirs – albeit a rhythm developed inside the arc (32-of-56, 57 percent) rather than outside it. In addition they committed only 10 turnovers, their fifth fewest all year, and Klay Thompson’s shooting (24 points on 22 shots), Draymond Green’s rebounding (five offensive, 14 defensive) and just enough help from everyone else made a game that was too close for comfort still exactly the way they will need over the next two weeks.

So it is now the Pelicans who obstruct their view, a bizarre choice in a bizarre year in which the Western Conference was so narrowly settled that it had more six-seeds than playoff berths.

The Warriors are still not completely convincing as the Season Of Being Less Warrior-y continues. But just as New Orleans rises into view, so does Stephen Curry, and the dreams of a team that isn’t ready to watch someone else be the future by ceding the present remain sufficiently buoyant.

In other words, the Warriors avoided an embarrassing defeat by remembering that there is strength in stinginess, and will have to show that very virtue again and again, even after Curry returns. We said four months ago this would be the hardest title to win, and they’ve already bled to get a quarter of the way there.