The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Warriors are too talented to be grinding out games. So far, they’ve had to.

(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Through the opening week of the season, the Golden State Warriors’ biggest victory has been having a soft opening schedule.

Golden State improved to 2-1 after beating the Phoenix Suns here at Talking Stick Resort Arena (yes, that’s a real thing) Sunday afternoon. But much like Friday’s victory in New Orleans, it was a result that left much to be desired.

After getting their doors blown off in their season opener last Tuesday at home against the San Antonio Spurs, the Warriors proceeded to play two teams that aren’t expected to be playoff teams in the Western Conference, allowing Golden State’s overwhelming talent to win out.

The Spurs showed everyone how to halt the Warriors’ unstoppable juggernaut

That won’t be the case Tuesday, when the Warriors travel to Portland to face the Trail Blazers. And if Golden State doesn’t play better in that game, it’ll be 2-2 when it returns home for its nationally televised showdown against Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“We were frustrated in the first half,” Warriors Coach Steve Kerr said. “You guys can all see. This is not coming easy. We have a new team, and a lot of different faces, but even for the returning guys, it’s a different mix.

“The main thing is, while we’re going through this early part of the season, sorting through rotations and offensively trying to get going, you just have to compete and we’ll pick up our share of wins and find our stride offensively.”

Golden State survived Sunday’s game, in short, because of Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, who finished with a combined 65 points on 19-for-33 shooting. This is precisely why the Warriors were so determined to get Durant in the first place — to give them another option to take the pressure off Curry when the rest of the team wasn’t clicking.

But Durant didn’t come to Oakland in order to go through a replay of his time in Oklahoma City, where he and Westbrook were the engines that drove the team forward. And, to this point, that’s essentially what the Warriors have been.

After a blistering preseason, Klay Thompson hasn’t been able to get going through three games. He’s now 3 for 21 from three-point range — including 0 for 6 in Sunday’s win. This will undoubtedly change at some point, though, and also highlights one of the reasons people should remain calm about the team’s uneven start.

President Obama predicts Warriors as NBA champs

As a team, the Warriors are 24 for 90 (26.7 percent) from three-point range through three games and 12 for 62 (19.4 percent) when Curry’s 12 for 28 is subtracted. That simply isn’t sustainable — not for a team with the kind of offensive firepower the Warriors have. And, once those threes start to fall, much of the team’s offensive “issues” to this point won’t seem nearly as bothersome.

“This is a make-or-miss league,” Durant said. “Klay has some great looks tonight, Draymond, Steph, myself, it’s just a matter of them going in. If those go in, I think we’re up 15 or 16 points [in the first half].

“We’re just trying to get this thing right, and I’m glad we’re slowly getting into it. We’re good.”

But the fact Thompson is struggling underlines an issue the Warriors will have this season: If Golden State’s “Big Three” are going, it will likely be able to blow just about anyone off the court. If even one struggles, though, there isn’t a lot of supplementary scoring to pick up the slack. In this game, those three combined to score 79 points. The rest of the Warriors? Just 27, and on 11-for-35 shooting.

Transition defense also remains a significant problem. The Suns — a young, athletic team — became the latest group to blister the Warriors on the break, with many of those opportunities coming after Golden State was careless with the ball. The Warriors are a team prone to attempting highlight-reel passes, and when those passes turn into live ball turnovers, they become easy transition opportunities for their opponents.

Charles Barkley: After LeBron James, Klay Thompson is NBA’s second-best player

Golden State had 16 turnovers Sunday that turned into 25 Suns points, which was how Phoenix built an early lead and then managed to stay in the game as the Warriors began to assert themselves late in the first half and into the second.

Defense, in general, hasn’t been up to the standard the Warriors have previously set. The Suns didn’t shoot a great percentage in Sunday’s game (41 overall and 35 percent from three), but outside of a couple of critical defensive plays from Draymond Green late in the fourth quarter, the Warriors had few impact plays at that end. The team is still clearly attempting to find its footing at that end and once again experimented with second-year big Kevon Looney for a few second-half minutes to try and change things up.

The Warriors find themselves muddling through, grinding out victories that were supposed to be comfortable routs — much like they often were last season. This isn’t last season, though. And while the talent is winning out now, and will likely keep doing so all season long, a step up in class Tuesday night in Portland will tell a far greater tale of what to make of this team than a pair of tougher than expected wins this weekend against Western Conference bottom-feeders have.

“I can see it on our guy’s faces that they were not comfortable, and there was definite frustration,” Kerr said. “In the second half, it was, ‘All right, let’s grind it out and compete.’ And that’s what we did.

“We are not clicking, and everybody can see that. It will come. But, as I said, the main thing is that while we are going through this process, to continue to try and pick up wins and get better.”

Loading...