OAKLAND – The Warriors are going to look back on the events of Saturday afternoon and appreciate the experience. They should even be better for it.
They won, holding off New Orleans 106-99 at Oracle Arena in Game 1 of their Western Conference playoff series and taking a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
But as superb as they were in the first quarter, when they took a lead (28-13) they never lost, the Warriors were mostly pedestrian – by their standards – over the final three. They allowed the Pelicans to shave 21 points off a deficit that had been 25.
It was enough to make even the most confident fans at Oracle a little fidgety.
"You go up 23 and it's like 'here we go again.' This is what everybody expects," forward Draymond Green said. "Then you're up seven, and everybody like 'Uh-oh.' It's really not what is expected. It's not what everyone's used to any more.
"So it was a little weird tension, and that's to be expected when a team makes a run like that."
That's because there have not been many games like this one. The Warriors were overwhelming in the regular season, with a 39-2 record at home and 45 double-digit wins. Rarely did they find themselves sweating it out in the final minutes.
Welcome to NBA postseason basketball.
"We've just got to finish the game better," said Stephen Curry, who had a team-high 34 points. "But we're not going to panic over that."
Curry was a big reason why the Warriors never trailed after the first three minutes. He lit up the scoreboard with a variety of jumpers and drives, including a left-handed, high-arching layup on which he beat Pelicans star Anthony Davis.
"One of those plays that few people can make," coach Steve Kerr said. "But Steph seems to do it pretty often."
Curry had a couple capable sidekicks in center Andrew Bogut and Green. Bogut manned the paint on defense but also threw in 12 points. Green turned in another comprehensive line: 15 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, three steals, two blocks.
Green, with help from Andre Iguodala and Bogut, also did a commendable job defending Davis – at least through three quarters. Draymond followed Davis beyond the paint, as Bogut loomed inside.
"You see Draymond there, and Bogut just waiting for me to come," Davis said. "It's tough."
It didn't look so tough in the fourth quarter, when Davis scored 20 of his game-high 35 points to lead a furious comeback. Curry said he "got comfortable," and that's how it looked.
But was it enough to make the Pelicans feel comfortable, especially at Oracle?
Game 2 could be interesting, very interesting, unless the Warriors learn from and apply that which they experienced on Saturday.
"There are obviously some things that we can clean up, and some things that we will clean up," Green said.
Said Kerr: "It was good for us, good for us to feel that," Kerr said. "It's good for us to have to deal with that feeling in the building, especially as a favorite, when a team starts to come back. You have to feel that."
The Warriors remained perfect (41-0) when holding opponents under 100 points.
The 13-point first quarter – the fewest first-quarter points the Warriors have ever allowed in the postseason – was marvelous. They looked like a team on a mission.
Bogut nabbed his fourth career playoff double-double, with 12 points and 14 rebounds. He also passed for five assists. He was rock-solid in 30 minutes.
Harrison Barnes provided some timely offense, with 12 points, and also pulled down eight rebounds.
Klay Thompson, who had been playing well, particularly on offense, slipped. He missed 11 of his 17 shots, missed three free throws and committed five turnovers.
The bench had a forgettable game. Only Andre Iguodala made an appreciable contribution, with 8 points, four rebounds, three assists and a steal.
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Green played 42 minutes and Curry went 40, both more than Kerr would have liked.
Barnes was burned several times, missing defensive assignments by rotating poorly and switching too late. If he keeps it up, expect his minutes to decline.
The Warriors got the win and they earned it. They played defense when they needed to, shot it just well enough and gained an edge on the glass. They followed Curry and Green, and Andrew Bogut, to accomplish their primary goal.
They have to remember, though, that they were outplayed for all but the first quarter. Delivering that message falls to Kerr and his staff. And don't think for a minute they won't jump all over the chance to use this as an instructive opportunity.