NBA

New arena may house a new reality for Warriors

By NBA.com Global on Oct 26, 2019 08:06 AM

Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry walks on the court during the first half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com

SAN FRANCISCO -- Here in the heart of the redeveloped Mission District lies The House That Three Championships Built, a Frisbee-shaped arena with oodles of high-tech and designer touches and wide concourses offering cuisine instead of food. You might say the Chase Center, the new $1.2 billion home of the Warriors is, ahem, splashy.

Perhaps this residential upgrade was overdue for a team that has dominated the NBA for most of a decade because -- and this is no disrespect to Oakland or the charming and beloved Oracle Arena -- the Warriors are finally learning how the other half lives. For far too long, they played champagne basketball while living in a beer hall.

Of course, the question now is whether that previous imbalance will suddenly flip and reverse itself. Will the Warriors, weakened by injury and a big offseason defection, now play beer basketball while their well-heeled fans here sip bubbly from their flutes at court-side?

That is a very real scenario facing the franchise as it begins life without Kevin Durant and, at least for the moment, Klay Thompson. The buzz and sledgehammer long held by the Warriors has been transferred in the NBA, specifically to Los Angeles. That's where one of that city’s championship-quality teams, the Clippers, punished the Warriors 141-122 Thursday (Friday, PHL time) in the first regular-season game at Chase Center.

It was about the worst opener a team could have in a new place, where is was competitive for about two quarters and rapidly turned into a lopsided loss caused by a performance that Draymond Green said “was sad across the board.” The Warriors took the night off defensively, making it impossible for Stephen Curry to keep pace with the Clippers even if he played by his own high standards (which he didn’t).

Curry had as many turnovers (eight) as field goals and saw constant double-teams because the Clippers didn’t fear his teammates. By the start of the fourth quarter, the arena was half-full and whisper quiet. Warriors coach Steve Kerr emptied the bench right round the same time Chase Center emptied. When Golden State did that in years past, it was because it was conversely up big.

“There’s going to be nights like this,” said Kerr, with a sigh of resignation. “This isn’t a one-off. The last five years we’d been living in a world that wasn’t supposed to exist.”

The good news is the Warriors won’t play the Clippers 81 more times. Still, Kerr sounds prophetic: This is likely the new normal for Golden State over the course of the next several months. It wouldn’t be a stretch to assume the Warriors will grind much harder for wins in 2019-20 than they did at any time over the last five seasons, where they won almost 80 percent of their games. The fans at Oracle became spoiled by constant 3-pointers from Curry and Thompson and muscle poses from Green -- along with two Finals MVP seasons from Durant.

After Durant bolted the Nets, the Clippers welcomed Kawhi Leonard and traded for Paul George. In a curious twist of fate, the Clippers are now poised to strip the Warriors of Western Conference ownership. These Clippers are 2-0, notching impressive wins against the Lakers and Warriors, all while George continues to heal up.

While he'll return soon -- maybe even in the next two weeks -- Thompson could miss the season recovering from his torn left ACL. That puts much of the load on Curry. The former two-time Kia MVP is one of three Warriors remaining from their five straight conference-title and three NBA-title teams (Thompson and Green are the others) and is being handed a massive challenge. Curry will undoubtedly have the green light to shoot often, and also must develop a comfort zone with newcomer D’Angelo Russell until Thompson heals.

Curry, though, will see even more swarming defenders and his supporting cast is young, inexperienced and brings light resumes. Gone are Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and David West. Say hello and introduce yourself to Glen Robinson III, Marquese Criss and Eric Paschall. The Warriors have nine players who are 23 and younger. Russell, who was a first-time All-Star in 2018-19, is the most accomplished newcomer. Yet there’s no guarantee he’ll be on the roster past the February 6 trade deadline -- that all depends on where the Warriors are and if their philosophy gets a re-do.

“We’re starting over,” Kerr said Thursday (Friday, PHL time).

Lots of new pieces in the rotation combined with a typically rugged Western Conference means expectations have tempered somewhat dramatically here. Folks are realistic and wisely so. Making the playoffs, once a safe assumption for this franchise, is hardly a given this season.

“It’s not a good feeling to lose games, especially when you’re opening up a new building,” Curry said. “It’s not about over-reacting to one game, but baby steps are in order. Turnovers, rebounding and our defensive presence in general are important. Our margin for error is really slim.”

The most important goal for the Warriors is not necessarily to win enough games to squeeze out one of the last playoff spots, but to preserve Curry’s health by managing his minutes and games. Nothing else takes precedent over his well-being. Curry is on the wrong side of 30 and has a history of ankle tweaks. With tickets already sold for the inaugural season at Chase Center, this seems more like a bridge to 2020-21, when Thompson should be set to play a full year and the Warriors can reload.

At least the digs are first class. The Warriors are back in San Francisco for the first time since 1971, before they crossed the Bay, when Wilt Chamberlain and friends played at the Cow Palace, an old barn south of town. Chase Center was built entirely with private financing and is owned and operated by the club. Peter Guber, the part-owner of the Warriors and producer of numerous Hollywood blockbuster movies, oversaw the design and flavor of the building with his vision. And the site is surrounded by office buildings and condos that’ll cost a few trust funds to buy.

The players and coaching staff are thrilled with the custom locker room, expanded wellness center and weight room and a connected practice facility, though there are kinks that still need to be worked out.

“I’ve been locked out of my office a couple of times,” said Kerr. “We’re slowly figuring our way out around here.”

The same might be said about the Warriors on the court.

To coronate the official opening of Chase Center for basketball, Thompson grabbed the microphone before tipoff, walked to center court in a sharp-fitting suit, and welcomed the fans, asking for their support this season for a team that promised to play hard. The fans should expect as much as the Warriors certainly seem capable of burning calories.

In their current state, however, anything beyond that will be considered a bonus.

Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here, and follow him on Twitter.

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