The most visible difference between the Warriors who slumbered through their first two games and the team that took the floor Monday night against New Orleans can be distilled into a single word:
They had plenty of it in a tip-to-buzzer 134-123 win over the Pelicans after rarely summoning any while losing games to the Clippers and Thunder.
Most of the new faces on the Warriors, so languid in lopsided losses to LA and Oklahoma City, took their cues from Draymond Green and matched his ferocious pace. It worked splendidly, allowing the Warriors to build leads as high as 29 while posting their first win of the season.
Green played with an urgency that suggested his paycheck was on the line, ringing up his 23rd career triple-double: 16 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists. Fellow veteran Stephen Curry delivered his most impressive performance thus far, with a team-high 26 points on 9-of-17 shooting (4-of-10 from deep), 11 assists, three steals and only one turnover.
Green’s energy, however, was even more contagious than Curry’s sheer efficiency.
“The first couple nights, we didn’t compete at a level to be in an NBA game,” Green told NBC Sports Bay Area's Kerith Burke. “Guys got fed up and came out and played with some energy and the result was different for us.
“In the first two games I didn’t set a good tempo,” Green added later. "We have a lot of young guys, and you have to ... lead them, and that can go either way. The first couple of games I led them the wrong way and I have to be better. Tonight, I was better.”
To be fair, the Pelicans are a decent team but were missing two starters. Guard Jrue Holiday was out with a left knee sprain and big man Derrick Favors was idle with right knee soreness.
The Warriors had to exploit that, and they did. Coach Steve Kerr started a small lineup, matching up with New Orleans, and the quick start seemed to push the Warriors through most of the game.
“There was a level of intensity that we got to tonight, a level of energy, that we hadn’t seen the first two games,” Kerr told reporters at Smoothie King Center.
The result was a radically different group of Warriors for the better part of 48 minutes.
There was Omari Spellman, all 6-foot-8, 270 pounds of him, bouncing up for a spike-tip, bringing Curry out of his seat on the bench gyrating and waving a towel. Spellman produced seven points, eight rebounds and immeasurable vitality.
There was Green flipping a 45-foot lob that Glenn Robinson III, with his back to the hoop, jammed through during a game-changing 23-7 run in the second quarter. Robinson, so abused on defense on Sunday, was wide awake on Monday, moving his feet and holding up.
D’Angelo Russell was typically aggressive on offense, with 24 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. Moreover, though, he also was more engaged on defense, using his hands and going after the ball with more effort than in the first two games.
This was the kind of night the new Warriors needed, not only to know the feeling of victory but also to get a sense of their potential.
“I know this team has a lot of improving to do, and we plan on doing that,” Green said. “But right now, we’re not a very good team. That’s just the fact of the matter.
“We probably have seven guys with under three years of experience. So, getting those guys experience under their belt (is essential), and as the leaders of this team, we continue to try and bring it every night and give them something to follow. And we’ll win some games.”
If they consistently play with the effort on display in the Big Easy, they more often than not will have a reasonable chance to succeed. They won’t always win, but they’ll feel better about themselves.
If they snooze, well, we know how that usually turns out. As do they.