THE Warriors of the Golden State opened in 2024 with a bit of desperation. After finally finding some rhythm on a five-game winning streak, they had finished 2023 with a completely deflating three-game losing streak, losing at home to a Miami Heat team devoid of Jimmy Butler and of a Dallas Mavericks the team is missing Kyrie Irving. Things were bad enough that this led to a team meeting.
So with New Year’s resolutions in the air, the Dubs were hoping to open 2024 on the right foot. But between them was the Orland Magic, a huge, energetic team that was one of the best stories of the season this year.
It wouldn’t be easy. And it wasn’t. But they won. And dare I say, they even looked good doing it.
The Dubs repeated the new starting lineup from Saturday, placing Chris Paul and Trayce Jackson-Davis alongside Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Jonathan Kuminga. Unsurprisingly, Orlando – the league’s tallest team – opened the scoring by attacking the Dubs’ rookie center, and within minutes the Magic led 11-2. This is not a good start.
But as happens so often these days, the bench stepped in and stabilized things. TJD stayed with some reservations and his athleticism and instincts on both ends started to come into play. Behind a 9-0 run, the Dubs’ second unit (which admittedly included Curry) took an early lead. The teams went back and forth, and a three-and-out from Paul gave Golden State a two-point lead after the first frame.
The second quarter saw the Warriors continue to execute well, but they were destroyed on the glass. The Dubs couldn’t get any offensive rebounds and the Magic lived on second and third chance opportunities. But towards the end of the quarter, Curry – who got off to a very quiet start – began to take over, at one point going on a 6-0 run on his own. But as it did most of the night, Orlando had a response full of athleticism, offensive rebounds and three-pointers. The Magic turned a 45-40 deficit into a 52-48 lead, and once again the teams went back and forth.
Golden State almost finished the half in iconic fashion. Going for a two-for-one, Paul stepped back three, and the Dubs got a stop at the other end, punctuated by an emphatic glass check block courtesy of Kuminga. On the other side, Curry drained his first triple of the game…and was fouled, for a four-point play with just 3.5 seconds left. What followed was one of the worst defensive possessions of the season, allowing Orlando to drive the length of the court for an uncontested three, which tied the game at the break.
By halftime, one thing was clear: If the Warriors could rebound, they would win. If they couldn’t, they probably wouldn’t.
As the third quarter began, Kuminga began to put the team on his back, with some serious defensive plays, great athleticism and hustle, and all kinds of snap offense. Suddenly the offense was really starting to take off, with everyone making the extra pass.
This had a cost. Late in the third, Gary Payton II – playing in only his second game since missing 13 straight games with a strained right calf – injured his left hamstring and had to leave the game. It unfortunately looks like he will be out for a while.
But the Dubs rallied and kept the ball moving and cutting, this time adding some rebounds to the mix. They took a six-point lead in the fourth quarter.
It didn’t last long. The Magic made a pair of threes early on to tie the game, and after taking the lead with 8:33 remaining, Steve Kerr needed a timeout.
From there, the game reversed. Unlike what we’re used to, the Warriors started making all the winning plays late. They made the extra pass. They recovered the stray bullets. They played smart. As a result, they increased the lead to nine points with just over three minutes remaining.
They flirted with their old habits, with two turnovers shortly after, but as if to admit their own mistakes, they bounced back with a nice sequence: Curry found Thompson for a backcut and an uncontested layup, the Dubs forced a turnover at the other end. , then pushed the ball uphill for an uncontested transition dunk to Kuminga. The lead was nine with less than two minutes remaining, and the outcome was sealed.
Orlando played foul play to make it a respectable final score, with Golden State winning 121-115. They’re back in the win column, folks.
Curry led the way with a very efficient 36 points (even though he missed three free throws) and added four steals. Kuminga had 19 points, six rebounds, four assists and two blocks, while Thompson rebounded with an efficient 15-point outing, as all starters (plus two substitutes) reached double figures.
The Dubs will look to continue their undefeated run into 2024 on Thursday, when they host the defending champion Denver Nuggets at 7:00 p.m. PT on TNT.