Everyone remembers how the Warriors’ 2016-17 NBA season ended—with them hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy after knocking off the Cavaliers 4-1 in the NBA Finals. But what some people might not remember is that the Warriors started the season last October in just about the worst way possible. After all of the hype surrounding their addition of Kevin Durant in the summer of 2016, Golden State came out and laid a complete egg against the Spurs on opening night. They got destroyed by San Antonio by 29 points and didn’t exactly look like the same team that set an NBA record by winning 73 regular-season games the year prior.
On Tuesday night, the Warriors were determined not to start off this season the same way last season began. They received their 2017 championship rings prior to the game, and they came out of the gate swinging against the new-look Rockets, a team that added Chris Paul in the offseason and could be in contention for a title themselves this season. Golden State seized a double-digit lead within just a few minutes of the game tipping off, and it appeared as though they were going to avenge their opening game loss from last season with an easy win over Houston.
That isn’t the way things worked out, though. At one point in the game, the Warriors jumped out to a 17-point lead, due in large part to the sharpshooting of Warriors newcomer Nick Young, who scored a game-high 23 points for Golden State. But after getting outclassed for much of the first half, Houston turned things around in the second half and, in particular, in the fourth quarter. They got 27 points, 6 rebounds, and 10 assists from James Harden in addition to 24 points off the bench from Eric Gordon, and while CP3 was held to just 4 points during the game, due in part to a knee injury he sustained, the Rockets rebounded to snatch a 122-121 win.
The game ended with Durant—who tallied 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 7 assists—sinking what looked like a game-winning shot to give Golden State a victory, but it was ultimately called off after the referees took a look at the replay and saw that the ball wasn’t out of KD’s hand before the final buzzer.
After the game, the Warriors players and coaches weren’t nearly as shell-shocked as they were last season after getting blown out by the Spurs. But there was obviously some disappointment in the Golden State locker room as everyone tried to explain what happened against the Rockets. Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said he doesn’t think his team’s conditioning is where it needs to be just yet.
"I just thought we looked tired," Kerr said. "I don’t think we are in good enough shape yet to play a 48-minute game against a great team."
Durant said he didn’t necessarily agree with what Kerr said. He admitted the Warriors players got a little tired towards the end of the game, but he said he thought it had more to do with the circumstances surrounding the contest.
"The energy in the building was really, really high and our adrenaline was pumping way before the game," KD said. "We kind of burned out a little bit, but I think overall, our conditioning is pretty good. We definitely can get better, but it was just a tough loss."
Steph Curry, who finished with 22 points and who missed a three-pointer right before KD’s final shot, dug a little bit deeper than that. He explained why the Warriors gave up a few uncontested threes during the game that came back to bite them.
"There were probably four possessions on the defensive end where we didn’t rotate and gave guys like an eternity to shoot wide-open 3s," he said. "That’s not characteristic of us, so you got to point to something that was an issue with that. Maybe we were a little gassed in those particular moments, but I think over the course of 48 minutes, we had a lot of energy, played with a lot of determination down the stretch, and just tried to get some stops and figure it out."
It’s worth noting that the Warriors were without the services of Andre Iguodala, who missed the game with a back strain. They also played the entire fourth quarter—and blew a 13-point lead heading into it—without Draymond Green, who strained his left knee in the third quarter. Kerr said that Green’s loss played a big role in Golden State falling apart in the game’s final frame.
"As soon as he went out of the game, things went south for us," Kerr said. "We just couldn’t get any traction."
But Green told reporters that he would be "fine" after the game, suggesting that his knee injury won’t turn into a lingering problem. And Curry told reporters that, despite losing an opening night game for the second straight season, the Warriors aren’t going to let that turn into a lingering problem, either. He even joked with reporters about the "improvement" the Warriors made between last October and this October.
"I don’t want to overreact to one game. I like our chances as we go forward to figure it out," Curry said. "Coach joked that we lost by 30 or something, 25 last year. Only one this year. So that’s improvement."
After what happened at the start of last season, it’s hard to get too worked up over the Warriors’ loss. But this was obviously a huge win for Houston and proved that, if they can get everything going their way during games against the Warriors, they might (might) be able to give Golden State a series in the playoffs.
The Warriors return to the court on Friday night with a road game against the Pelicans, while the Rockets will get back to action on Wednesday night with a road game against the Kings.