So far, this Warriors season has felt charmed.
The Dubs are playing beautiful, connected basketball and executing at an enviable level in crunch-time play.
The team’s five wins at this early juncture of the season served as a warning to the rest of the NBA: Golden State is back.
But the Dubs received a dose of reality in Cleveland.
These Warriors are small. Tiny. Diminutive. Itty-bitty.
And for all the positives this team possesses — and there are too many to list here — there’s not much the Dubs can do to fix that problem.
Luckily, I don’t foresee it being a massive problem for Golden State this season.
Now, the Warriors lost to the Cavs 115-104 Sunday, and the reason why was evident to anyone watching: The Dubs were out-rebounded by 10 and outscored in the paint by 34 points in the loss.
But Golden State is leaning into its reality. Don’t go snooping for lifted shoes with this team.
Against one of the NBA’s best defenses and a team that has absurd length — Cleveland plays two centers at the same time, for heaven’s sake — the Warriors closed with Steph Curry (6-foot-3), Chris Paul (6-foot), Klay Thompson (6-foot-6), Andrew Wiggins (6-foot-7), and Draymond Green (6-foot-6).
That’s JV-team height.
It led to critical moments in the contest where Thompson — the team’s power forward this season — was guarding Evan Mobley — all 6-foot-11, 7-foot-5 wingspan, 40-inch vertical leap of him.
It was just a bit of a mismatch.
There were moments where the smallball tactics worked, sure, but most of the time, they did not.
And with Cleveland taking away any shot near the rim, the Warriors were forced to jump-shoot their way to victory. They didn’t nearly shoot well enough for that to happen.
Here’s the good news: There are very few teams in the NBA that will give the Warriors this kind of trouble because there are so few players like Mobley — the centerpiece of the Cavs’ defense, even if he’s often playing the 4.
The combined athleticism of Mobley and center Jarrett Allen (6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-6 wingspan) made the Cavs the best defense in the NBA last season.
It’ll be interesting to see if the Warriors find anything from this game to help them against other big teams. The Spurs and Lakers come to mind.
But even the Lakers aren’t quite the Cavs. They’re big but not as spry.
And there is no parallel with that No. 1 guy in San Antonio — Victor Wembanyama is on a different level than any other human.
Yes, Cleveland was — and is — a matchup nightmare for the Dubs, and unless the Warriors want to make a significant change to the roster — a move that seems inadvisable, given the fact that it’s one team and they’re in the opposite conference — there’s not much the Dubs can do about it.
The kid can play
There was one adjustment that the Warriors made to counter Cleveland’s size advantage Sunday:
Coach Steve Kerr played rookie smallball center Trayce Jackson-Davis in the second half of the contest. He provided highly positive minutes for a team that needed his energy.
Jackson-Davis doesn’t have star potential or game-breaking ability, but to have a young player that competent sitting at the end of the bench is downright absurd.
The Warriors have missed in the NBA Draft too many times to count over the years.
But Jackson-Davis has the makings of a massive hit, and Kerr having this much trust in him this early is a sign that we’ll see plenty of him in the coming months.
The Warriors went more than eight minutes without making a field goal between the end of the first and the beginning of the second quarter.
That kind of offensive lull could determine a game for other teams. Perhaps it did for the Warriors on Sunday.
But I think the Warriors’ demise came later in the contest, as the Warriors ended that incredible dry spell trailing by only six points before Klay Thompson hit a 3-pointer.
It’s no surprise that the Cavs were able to lock down the Dubs. Cleveland is one of the NBA’s best defensive teams with enviable length.
The surprising part was how well the Warriors played defense.
The rotations were excellent; their hands were fast. Rebounding didn’t go their way, but the Warriors’ second unit was connected and energetic.
The Warriors will not be an elite defensive team — they lack the athleticism.
But the Warriors can be a tier below “elite” this season — quite good.
As in top-10 good.
First field goal in 8:42