One of the most anticipated early-season matchups did not disappoint.
The Barclays Center on Tuesday hosted jaw-dropping shot-making and playoff level defensive intensity. Andrew Wiggins provided a 13-point second quarter including two 3s over Kevin Durant. Stephen Curry poured in a breathtaking 37 points with nine 3-pointers. Gary Payton II and Durant met at the rim and the world nearly imploded.
More than anything, the Warriors provided their patented dominant third quarter. Even with Curry sitting in foul trouble for much of it, Golden State outscored the Nets 35-18 in the third, building a 20-point lead.
The Warriors (12-2) dominated on the glass, in the paint and with its depth. Its superstar was the best player on a court with two other former MVPs. For much of the fourth quarter, the TNT broadcast panned to James Harden and Durant staring off as Curry drilled 3-pointers and the Warriors pulled away.
By the time Curry was subbed out for good — after he chucked in a post-whistle heave that of course dropped in — it seemed like he won over the Barclays Center crowd.
In the first real test for Golden State, the Warriors had all the answers and turned in the exam early. The Warriors outclassed the Nets in the second half, surging to a 117-99 victory.
Here are three takeaways from the impressive win:
KD, not nice
The last five tweets Kevin Durant liked before Tuesday night’s game were quote-tweets criticizing a San Jose Mercury News column by Dieter Kurtenbach (disclaimer: Kurtenbach is also a regular KNBR host) about how the Warriors have “won the breakup.”
The history between Durant and the Warriors franchise runs deeper than an internet rabbit hole.
But all that’s in the past. Durant’s now leading the NBA in scoring as Brooklyn’s clear-cut No. 1 superstar. He’s as effective as ever despite suffering a torn Achilles. Before the game, his former coach Steve Kerr said he’s impossible to guard.
And though Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala’s active hands — as well as GSW’s varied, help-focused defensive schemes — occasionally made Durant uncomfortable, that assessment proved true at first.
Durant beat defenders off the dribble. He scored on the perimeter, in the paint and in between. When Golden State put Gary Payton II on Durant, the forward shot over the smaller Payton in the post.
He started out blazing hot, but cooled off in the second quarter against Golden State’s box-and-one. Then he went 0-for-9 from the field in the third quarter, missing looks he’s hit his entire career.
To add to his ice-cold slump, Green — who defended Durant most of the game — drilled a 3 over his contest and stuck his tongue out afterwards. Then to end the quarter, Iguodala also sank a 3 over Durant at the buzzer.
It was the first game Durant played against the Warriors in front of fans. Golden State prevented him from putting on a show.
Pulling out all the stops
In the 2019 NBA Finals, Toronto head coach Nick Nurse famously ran a box-and-one defensive scheme to bottle up the Curry-led Warriors. Without Klay Thompson and Durant, Curry was left alone on an island as Golden State’s lone offensive threat.
The Raptors hadn’t practiced the scheme prior to Nurse calling for it, and it worked wonders. On Tuesday, the Warriors tried something similar.
Whenever one of Durant or James Harden sat, the Warriors ran a variation of a box-and-one defense. The goal: force the ball out of Durant or Harden’s hands and make Brooklyn’s role players beat them.
When Harden or Durant had the ball up top, all five Warriors had eyes on them, with four in position to help on a drive. The zone limited Brooklyn’s most dynamic scorers in the second quarter, when the Nets scored 24 points.
Durant didn’t score against the box-and-one in the second quarter. When Harden joined him on the floor, Golden State often went triangle-and-two — defenders face-guarding Durant and Harden with the other three placing one foot in the lane in help position.
The Warriors continued the scheme in the third quarter, when they surged out to a huge lead as the Nets mustered just 18 points in the period.
Golden State has the on-ball defenders in Iguodala, Green, Payton, Wiggins and rookie Jonathan Kuminga to execute the defense. Each got a shot at a star at some point in the game. Without floor-spacer Joe Harris, the Nets had no outlets and no counters.
The drastic defensive adjustments were akin to what coaches do in playoff games. The chess match indicated the urgency Golden State treated this November matchup with.
The Warriors and Nets very well may be the two best teams in the NBA. It’s entirely possible they meet in the NBA Finals.
There’s also a truth about this matchup that should be seriously considered: neither squad, on Nov. 16, 2021, is complete.
The Warriors are missing Klay Thompson and James Wiseman, both of whom are expected to return this season. The Nets are without Kyrie Irving, who may or may not play this year. Brooklyn also projects to be active in the trade and buyout markets. Joe Harris (ankle) also didn’t play.
But right now, on Nov. 16, Brooklyn’s weaknesses are more glaring than those of Golden State’s. And the Warriors exposed them in the Barclays Center.
The Nets are small. Like, really small. They played most of their minutes with Blake Griffin at center. Going super small works when all defenders can switch defensively, and Curry roasting Griffin off the dribble showed how feeble that may be.
Griffin is still a smart defender who has become adept at taking charges, but playing him heavy minutes at center may be sacrificing a lack of rim protection without getting enough in return defensively.
Backup center LaMarcus Aldridge is heavier-footed than Griffin; when he checked in for the first time in the third quarter, the Warriors attacked him relentlessly with pick-and-rolls. If rookie center Day’Ron Sharpe isn’t ready for NBA action, the Nets don’t really have viable bigger options.
And with such immense talent at the top of Brooklyn’s roster with Durant, Harden and Irving, the rest of the Nets leave much to be desired. Filling out championship-level rosters can be challenging, but a Brooklyn bench of DeAndre’ Bembry, Jevon Carter, and James Johnson just isn’t enough.
The Nets appear to go about six deep. The Warriors have about 12 players Kerr can trust, and that’s excluding Thompson and Wiseman.
Brooklyn’s lack of size and lack of depth converged Tuesday. Golden State outscored Brooklyn by 10 in the paint. It outrebounded the Nets 52-36. GSW’s bench dominated before garbage time made Brooklyn’s reserve appear serviceable.
The flaws are still small. It’s nitpicking. The Nets have incredible talent. They, along with the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks, should be considered favorites to win the east.
But in a matchup between two of the best of the best, minor deficiencies get put under a microscope.