VANCOUVER, B.C. — The basketball world finally got its first glimpse of the new Warriors on Saturday night. Golden State took the court against the Toronto Raptors in front of a sold-out crowd of 19,000 inside Rogers Arena, the preseason debut of Kevin Durant in a Warriors jersey for his first game action since opting to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder as a free in July. Not surprisingly, just about everyone looked initially uncomfortable in what eventually wound up being a 95-93 Raptors win in a game where all of Golden State’s key players were done working by halftime.
Other than Klay Thompson — who, in typical fashion, fired up 13 shots in 19 minutes — the Warriors’ main performers looked like a group trying to feel itself out while not stepping on anyone’s toes. Considering the team only began practicing Tuesday morning, none of that is exactly surprising.
“We’ve barely put anything in offensively,” Warriors Coach Steve Kerr said before the game. “We’ve put in one sideline out of bounds and one underneath out of bounds [play]. Most of the first few days has just been about getting our legs underneath us, getting to know one another, and trying to get our conditioning right.”
Even super teams need practice time, apparently. Still, there were flashes of brilliance. One came late in the first half, when Draymond Green fired a bullet pass the length of the court to a streaking Stephen Curry, who then promptly flipped the ball up in the direction of the rim as Andre Iguodala soared into the air, caught it and threw down a massive two-handed slam.
It was a brief reminder of what these Warriors looked like over the past two years when they were at their best (which, to be fair, was most of the time). And, once Durant — and, to a lesser extent, new starting center Zaza Pachulia and lead reserve David West — become acclimated to their new teammates, those moments should become more common.
The shots are clearly going to be there; although Durant went 2-for-9 and Curry 2-for-6, both had several open looks that simply didn’t fall. But there is a natural adjustment period when trying to get a feel for a new set of teammates, and it was always going to take more than a handful of practices and one half of a meaningless preseason game to work all of the kinks out.
“Absolutely,” said Shaun Livingston, who added it would likely last into the regular season before that adjustment period fades away. “It’s hard to just throw guys out there and say, ‘All right, win.’ It’s going to take some time to gel, and, again, the big word for us this year is process. We have to respect it.”
For his part, Durant seemed relaxed and at ease with the experience, both before and after the game. The crowd — one with significant support for both the Raptors and Warriors dispersed throughout — mostly cheered everything it saw, the lone exception coming whenever Durant was isolated with the ball. Then, the boos would briefly arrive, until he either shot it or moved it along.
Durant brushed the booing off postgame, saying he heard more cheers in the crowd, while Curry said it reinforced a narrative about Durant’s decision that he couldn’t follow.
“It’s just funny,” Curry said. “I highly doubt anyone in this arena was affected by that, so it’s just funny. They’re just buying into a narrative that doesn’t really make sense to me. It probably won’t be the last time, but he handles it well, and at the end of the day, it’s about playing basketball.”
Before the game, Durant went out of his way to point out how relaxed the atmosphere is around the Warriors — particularly in comparison to life with the Thunder. Although he acknowledged Golden State will be a “hot ticket” this season after his acquisition, he made it clear he’s quite happy with his new environment.
“I’m used to getting up and going to practice and having it be a certain way,” Durant said. “These guys here are loose and disciplined at the same time. It’s a fun brand … they make basketball more fun that it already is. That’s something I didn’t realize coming in. Everybody is super focused, but they realize that we’re playing a game and you’re supposed to enjoy it, and everybody here does that.
“It’s great for me. I’m just used to always being a drill sergeant. To relax a little bit has definitely been fun.”
There will be plenty of days ahead that are far more stressful for Durant and the Warriors than this, a Saturday afternoon preseason game in front of a (mostly) friendly crowd and with all of the key participants spending a good chunk of the day watching from the sidelines.
But, at least so far, it appears the Warriors are ready for whatever gets thrown at them. And that, more than how they looked in their opening few minutes of preseason action with months of games ahead of them, will mean far more as this traveling circus picks up steam.
“I don’t think it can get much crazier,” Kerr said, referring to last season. “It feels about the same so far. But I guess we’ll see. We’re kind of used to a traveling road show, circus, whatever you want to call it. Nothing bothers us. We just go out and play and have fun.”