VANCOUVER, British Columbia — On any other night, this would have been a Toronto Raptors crowd.
Some 15 years removed from having their own NBA franchise, Vancouver has become an annual destination for hosting Raptors preseason games. That "We the North" mentality even has heavy pull around this West Coast Canadian city. But inside Rogers Arena on Saturday, it was apparent there was a much bigger draw in town:
In Vancouver, the exhibition game between the Raptors and the world champs sold out in 30 seconds online last month. National media coverage; Curry jerseys spotted all across the stands; fans standing, gawking and cell-phone documenting the team's every move.
And this was just during warm-ups. For just a preseason game.
For the past two seasons, the Warriors have captivated the basketball world with their high-octane offense, which resulted in one world championship, a record-breaking regular season and two-time MVP Stephen Curry.
Then the rich got richer.
With the free-agent signing of Durant this offseason, the love, hate and general public fascination with the Warriors only escalates the hype.
"Because of the path [the Warriors] chose, particularly Kevin, makes some people envious, jealous and not like you," said TNT NBA analyst Kenny Smith. "And Kevin knew that. But he wanted to be a champion, so he didn't care."
This Isn't Your Older Brother's Superteam
While the image of Durant, Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson walking onto the court was surreal, the Big Four's first few minutes of game action together seemed slightly out of sync. Outside of turnovers (seven in the first quarter), the Warriors overshared the ball and the spacing was off—which is expected for any team's first preseason game.
Durant, who was loudly booed every time he touched the ball, struggled picking his spots on offense. Only Thompson seemed fluid, draining three three-pointers during the first quarter.
Eventually, there were flashes of the instant upgrade Durant gives to the Warriors' already high-octane offense. Late during the second quarter, he was the trailer of the fast break, knocking down a deep center three.
Durant finished with nine points on 2-of-9 shooting in 19 minutes as the Warriors fell to the Raptors, 97-93. Thompson had a team-high 16 points, and Curry added eight points.
In 2007, the Boston Celtics pulled off two blockbuster trades, acquiring two All-Stars in their prime, Ray Allen from the Seattle Sonics and Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves, to form the "Big Three" with Paul Pierce. Despite all three stars missing the postseason with their individual teams the season before, the Celtics went on to improve by 42 wins and won the championship that same year.
The most recent successful superteam was assembled in 2010 after LeBron James and Chris Bosh signed free-agent deals to join Dwyane Wade in South Beach. As great as Miami's "Big Three" were—the Heat went on to win two championships in four years—they struggled to find chemistry at first, going 9-8 to start the 2010-11 season.
The same early-season struggles for Golden State are unlikely, according to former NBA coach P.J. Carlesimo.
"The difference was Miami was not in the Finals the previous years," said Carlesimo, who currently works as an ESPN NBA analyst. "Most of the All-Stars were already there in Golden State, and they had been playing together for a couple of years and obviously had incredible success."
History has proven that stacking talent doesn't always equate to championships. The 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers added Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to complement Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, but a combination of injuries and chemistry issues led to a first-round exit in the playoffs.
But the Lakers had added players past their prime, whereas Golden State has four current top-20 players and All-Stars (including two MVPs).
"I don't understand that philosophy when people say this wasn't the right move for the Warriors," said Smith. "You won 73 games last year, broke the NBA record and now you added the second-best player in the world…how could you get worse?"
He added: "But are they good enough still to beat Cleveland?"
Now and Later
As loaded as the Warriors starters are, there is an expected adjustment period. The team lost several key players, especially from their spectacular second unit. Gone are Harrison Barnes and Leandro Barbosa. Gone are rim protectors Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli and Marreese Speights.
"You like to have continuity, like they had last year," said Carlesimo, who last coached the Brooklyn Nets in 2013. "They still have continuity, but they also have changes, and they are very significant changes. I do think it's a work in progress, but I think they'll be as good as advertised."
Before the game, Curry spoke about being patient integrating all the new pieces. He also didn't foresee chemistry being an issue.
"Just be ourselves," said Curry. "Understand that our identity hasn't changed at all, we just added some great pieces. The way that we play is the same."
During Saturday's game, Kerr experimented with several lineups around his Big Four, going small with either Durant or Andre Iguodala as the team's tallest player. Durant mainly played on the perimeter and elbow, occasionally running pick-and-rolls with Curry and Thompson. KD blended in well on defense, using his length and quickness to react quickly on switches and eliminate passing lanes.
Kerr rested his starters the entire second half, allowing his staff to assess the team's new reserves. Second-round pick Patrick McCaw was spectacular defensively and in transition, finishing with 11 points and five steals. JaVale McGee showed he can help fill the void in the middle, swatting three shots on the night.
This could be a trend for the upcoming season—before the game, Kerr told the media that Golden State is not looking to break another regular-season record.
"Last year, emotionally I think we might have been more drained," Kerr said.
Carlesimo believes that the Warriors coaching staff will be patient with its new roster.
"I think Steve will allow his team to come together, he will look at different combinations, he will see what works," said Carlesimo, who has been an assistant to Gregg Popovich in San Antonio. "He's not going to be concerned if they lose a few games along the way; he sees the big picture."
The Warriors also hope their players see that big picture. Four All-Stars and one ball could present problems when the touches and shots inevitably drop for most of them.
"Yeah, there is going to have to be sacrifice needed, but I think they have players willing to sacrifice," Carlesimo said. "They also in a strange sense have a good thing going for them, they didn't win last year. They're going to be hungry and receptive, whatever the changes are."
One player who is going to be receptive to change? The one who created it.
As Durant sat at his locker before the game, he robotically answered every predictable question about his decision to disrupt the NBA world. He knows he created a media circus. He knows he created a new batch of haters. He knows he's going to be booed.
But with one meaningless game down and another 100 more important ones likely coming this season, he's ready to take the good with the bad.
"I can't control that stuff," said Durant. "I'm sure we are going to be a hot ticket coming into town. I look at it that way."
All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.