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Golden State Warriors Have Steep Climb Ahead, but New Journey Can Bring New Life

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistOctober 25, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 24: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors looks on during a game against the LA Clippers on October 24, 2019 at Chase Center in San Francisco, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

You measure success by comparing achievement to capability, which is why the Golden State Warriors' 141-122 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday wasn't quite as grand a failure as it seemed.

It was certainly a rough look for the Warriors. Down 14-0 before scoring their first regular-season Chase Center points, they generally played with acceptable levels of effort and hustle...but never truly threatened to upset the visiting Clips.

In what'll become the Warriors' new normal, Stephen Curry (23 points on 8-of-20 shooting) spent the evening blanketed by multiple defenders, firing off shots he used to holster as an overmatched collection of youth did all it could to compete against a deeper, more talented opponent.

These Clippers offer a particularly unfair point of comparison—even without Paul George on the floor. Unofficial kings of California after downing the Los Angeles Lakers and Warriors to open the season, the Clips figure to make a lot of opponents look bad.

DWade @DwyaneWade

The Clippers are who we thought they were.

And yet, amid all the mistakes and despite a deficit that grew as large as 31 points near the end of the third quarter, Golden State's season-opening beatdown was somehow refreshing.

For the last five seasons, the Dubs were victims of their own high standards. Overwhelming talent made them something more than favorites most nights. They were so dominant that it became common to view anything other than a 30-point win as a misstep. When the Warriors didn't set the world on fire, it was because they were too complacent to strike a match, not because their opponent did anything to keep the blaze in check.

Because Golden State had shown an ability to play the game better than just about anyone had ever seen, it was frustrating when it didn't.

Now, everything is different. The Warriors on Thursday were at an obvious and glaring disadvantage against the Clippers. Rather than write off the season as a formality, a common take during the Kevin Durant era, pundits wrote off the Warriors to their faces:

gifdsports @gifdsports

Charles Barkley straight up tells Klay Thompson to his face that the Warriors championship window is "shut" and that the Warriors won't make the playoffs. https://t.co/k6D6VAfFny

With expectations justifiably lowered, the Warriors now enjoy a sort of freedom. You could see it in the way some of their young players spread their wings wider than they had in the past.

Jacob Evans, who spent the better part of the last year trying to learn the point guard position in the G League, hit four threes, impacted the game in transition and looked nothing like the gun-shy rookie who clearly understood any shot he attempted last year was, by definition, probably a bad one. When you've got Curry, Durant and Klay Thompson on the floor, almost any shot they didn't take felt like a missed opportunity.

Rookie Eric Paschall competed on the boards, scored 14 points on 6-of-13 shooting and even took a turn or two guarding Kawhi Leonard.

The downside to empowering young players is that it often puts them in situations where they're almost certain to struggle. For example, Marquese Chriss got a brutal seminar in pick-and-roll defense as he botched coverage after coverage against Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. That's to be expected against those two, but too much tutelage like that could be a confidence killer.

Nate Duncan @NateDuncanNBA

He's not the first to face this problem, but Chriss powerless to stop the LouWill/Harrell PnR right now

In the Warriors' best stretches of a blowout loss, they played like a team that knew it had to force turnovers with effort plays, sneak in a few easy looks in transition and get contributions from everyone—regardless of experience level—just to stay remotely competitive. They'll have to notch those small victories on the margins, because as Thursday's game played out, all the larger, systemic issues many foresaw with this roster materialized.

The Clippers shot 62.5 percent from the field on a steady diet of...pretty much whatever shots they wanted. Even early on, before the margin reached "we're not getting back into this one" levels, L.A. dominated a Golden State defense that was either confused, overpowered or both.

Connor Letourneau @Con_Chron

So far, Game 1 has underscored the issues we already knew the Warriors had: depth and defense. Those aren't going away anytime soon.

Kevon Looney's aggravated hamstring and Draymond Green's elbow contusion won't do much to help the depth issues, either. If Golden State can't catch some good luck on the health front, the losses will mount.

And they'll get even uglier.

Knowing that, there's no sense making the case that this era of Warriors basketball is better than the last one. It's different, which is no surprise. But diminished expectations kind of take the pressure off, which, if it isn't necessarily surprising, is at least new. After five years of title-or-bust on repeat, a little novelty is not the worst thing in the world.

Anthony Slater @anthonyVslater

Steve Kerr: "This is more the reality of the NBA. The last five years, we've been living in a world that's not supposed to exist...Nine guys 23 or younger. We're starting over, in many respects."

Who doesn't want to root for youth to develop? Who doesn't like a little bit of an underdog angle? When ultimate success is the only thing that satisfies, which was the case for five years, isn't a more reasonable bar (don't get blown out by every playoff-bound opponent) kind of nice?

And look, these circumstances are going to change anyway. It wasn't so long ago that another overmatched, upstart version of the Warriors couldn't get past a more experienced and talented Clippers team. Those Warriors eventually broke through and vanquished the Lob City Clips, kicking off a dynastic run of historic proportions.

These Warriors are certainly different from those Warriors (they don't have Curry, Thompson and Green on rookie-scale deals, for one thing), but some elements of the climb were more enjoyable than the time spent atop the mountain.

Golden State faces a long and steep ascent. Enjoy it.

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