SAN FRANCISCO — Never in his nine seasons as the Warriors’ coach has Steve Kerr fielded a starting lineup as small as the one that came out Saturday against the Lakers. This was audacity.
Well, Lakers, let’s see if you can exploit a lineup that averages 6-foot-5.
They couldn’t. Chris Paul, the shortest Warrior at 6 feet tall, joined his teammates in making the point that size, at least in the first game of the preseason, doesn’t matter much.
In his debut with Golden State, Paul earned rousing cheers from the crowd (18,064) at Chase Center, finishing with six points, five assists and three rebounds in 13 minutes in a 125-108 win over Los Angeles.
“I’ve never heard that (applause) before, and my name hasn’t come up yet,” Paul, a longtime competitor, told NBC Sports Bay Area.
While the Lakers kept LeBron James and Austin Reeves on the bench, the Warriors were without power forward Draymond Green (left ankle), prompting Kerr to shuffle his lineup. Kevon Looney (center) and Andrew Wiggins (small forward) remained in place, but Klay Thompson slid from shooting guard to power forward, while Stephen Curry moved from point guard to shooting guard to make room for Paul at the point.
No problem. The Warriors held firm on defense, limited Los Angeles to 41 percent shooting from the field and won the rebounding battle 60-46. The regulars posted a 30-21 rebounding advantage in the first half.
I played a lot of basketball. “We played small lineups in Houston all the time,” Paul said. “This is only one pre-season game, but we are trying to stick to our principles.”
It was Paul who put Golden State on the scoreboard, with a mid-range shot from the right baseline with 10:18 remaining in the first quarter. His other bucket, with 5:51 remaining in the half, came on a smart floater in the paint.
Paul’s overall performance was solid. He was 2 of 4 from the field, 0 of 1 from deep and 2 of 2 from the line. He was plus-6 in 13 minutes, all of which came in the first half along with Curry, Thompson and Looney.
“Chris is amazing,” Kerr said. “He keeps the game very easy, and he’s a great passer. There’s a tempo to the game that’s fun to watch as a coach, where you know he’s going to play it right over and over again. He understands when we need to step back and get going, or play faster because he understands the tempo of the game.”
CP3 made three changes, which is not a cause for concern given his newness to the roster. A key asset to his Hall of Fame career is an assist-to-turnover ratio that ranks among the best in the NBA. That will fix it.
However, I couldn’t help but notice the frequency with which Paul did not return to defence. There is wisdom in sparing the 38-year-old’s legs, sometimes in pain, from testing the limits in his first preseason game with his new team.
What can be taken away from this game is that the Warriors, despite their size disadvantage, were in control during Paul-Curry-Thompson-Looney’s minutes. There were a few moments of expected sloppiness in the first game, but nothing that indicated a problem of magnitude.
“We have to play to our strengths and try to cover our strengths on the defensive end, and rebounding is part of that,” Curry told NBC Sports Bay Area. “There was a point of emphasis on the defensive side because the offense usually takes care of itself.”
Golden State led by as many as 18 points in the first half before taking a 61-54 lead into the locker room at halftime. A 28-19 advantage at the half should be encouraging against a Los Angeles frontcourt that features eight-time All-Star Anthony Davis who averages 6-foot-9.
Kerr stated that there would be occasions when Thompson would be called upon to fill the striker’s position, and this was his debut, so to speak. He performed well, holding down the defense and grabbing five rebounds in 13 minutes.
“It’s just the beginning of the season, so you don’t see teams trying to scout games,” Kerr said of the small lineup. “But this group held up well defensively.”
With Green expected to miss the upcoming preseason game next Friday against the Lakers in Los Angeles, the small lineup will get another appearance.
This won’t be Golden State’s usual starting five. But this is the preseason, and any flexibility in the rotation they can explore is helpful.
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