SAN FRANCISCO – Warriors coach Steve Kerr had three keys going into Tuesday night’s 2023-24 NBA season opener against the Phoenix Suns: Turnovers, fouls and rebounding.
“We actually nailed two out of the three, but the rebounding bit us tonight,” Kerr said after the Warriors’ four-point defeat.
The Warriors turned the ball over only 11 times in their 108-104 loss, after averaging a league-worst 15.7 turnovers per game last season, and scored 22 points off the Suns’ 19 turnovers. They were called for one more foul than the Suns, 23 to 22, but shot 11 more free throws than Phoenix and scored nine more points at the line. The downfall, as it was at times last season, was rebounding.
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Size always will be a talking point when it pertains to the Warriors, and the Suns came down with 11 more rebounds than the home team, 60 to 49. When the Suns beat the Warriors on the glass also was a back breaker to begin the season.
The Suns came out hot and led by 10 points a little past the midway point of the first quarter before the Warriors raced back and ended the frame tied at 28 points apiece. Phoenix outrebounded Golden State by five in the first quarter and four in the second, giving it a nine-rebound advantage and 15-point lead going into the half.
“I feel like we did better down the stretch rebounding, but it’s going to take a team effort,” Kevon Looney, who led the Warriors with 11 rebounds, said. “I feel like we hit the glass pretty well on the offensive end, but I think they kind of set a tone in the first half of being real aggressive with us.”
Once the second half began, the Warriors flipped the script and brought their third-quarter dominance back by outscoring the Suns 40-19. A major factor was the Warriors scoring 14 points at the free-throw line in the third quarter, as was them coming down with five more rebounds than the Suns in those 12 minutes.
Golden State Warriors
Then came the fourth quarter, when the Suns rallied back and completed the win. Over those final 12 minutes, the Suns had seven more rebounds than the Warriors. They also scored 10 second-chance points in the fourth, seven more than the Warriors’ three.
A handful of Warriors contributed to rebounding in the loss, outside of Looney collecting boards as he does on a nightly basis. The Warriors had six players with five or more rebounds, one more than the Suns. Looney was atop the list with 11, Klay Thompson and Dario Šarić each had seven, Steph Curry and Chris Paul both added six and Jonathan Kuminga finished with five off the bench. Staring at the box score and watching all four quarters, there was one player who fell short in that area.
Andrew Wiggins hauled in one lone rebound and was outplayed by Suns forward Josh Okogie, someone who will move to the bench when Bradley Beal is healthy.
While Wiggins scored 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting, Okogie tied his career high in scoring with 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting and added five rebounds, four on offense. Okogie was a plus-2 in plus/minus, and Wiggins was a game-low minus-22.
Kerr called Okogie “the difference tonight” and emphasized how his team-leading four offensive rebounds felt like even more with the way he constantly crashed the glass and got Warriors bodies out of the way.
“He brought a lot of energy to the game; he came away with a lot of loose balls,” Looney said of Okogie. “He was getting all the long rebounds. We got to be more locked in as a team to try to take guys like him out. That’s easier said than done. He’s a great offensive rebounder.
“But we have to be able to hit him early and discourage him early so he doesn’t keep trying to come in.”
Wiggins failed to have multiple rebounds in a game just twice last season and three times the season before.
The Warriors checked two of their three boxes going into the season opener, and getting Draymond Green back soon will be a boost on the glass. If they’re going to beat contenders like the Suns, though, the Warriors have to make their mark early and be the better rebounding team down the stretch, and Wiggins must be a key ingredient to their success there – game in and game out.