Draymond Green

Warriors rely on playoff experience to pass tough reoccurring test

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The Warriors tempted fate from the beginning Friday night before narrowly passing the kind of test they will take frequently this season.

They strolled into Oklahoma City’s Paycom Center looking to smack down a young Thunder team missing its leader and best player. This was the NBA’s In-Season Tournament opener, so the stakes were raised. Such circumstances, for the deeper and more experienced Warriors, were ideal.

Until the opening tip. The Thunder immediately got comfortable against a rather compliant defense, and that comfort bred a confidence Golden State didn’t break until the final 69 seconds.

Back-to-back Oklahoma City turnovers over that span created a path for the Warriors to complete a comeback and leave town with a 141-139 victory on Stephen Curry’s game-winning layup with 0.2 seconds left.

“They took it to us the whole game,” coach Steve Kerr told reporters in Oklahoma City. “We really couldn’t find much traction in the game. It was pickup game in the first half.”

The Warriors’ first and fourth quarters were studies in defensive chaos, but their ability in the fourth to force five turnovers, off which they scored eight points, offset the Thunder’s 64.7-percent shooting from the field.

“We’re lucky to escape with a win,” Draymond Green said. “But we have to be better defensively.”

This was second consecutive game that Golden State secured inside the last second, coming after a Klay Thompson jumper with 0.2 seconds remaining closed out a 102-101 nail-biter over the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday.

The Warriors were able to use their wisdom, their one clear advantage against youthful opponents.

“Considering we gave up 139 points, you’re glad down the stretch we’ve gotten some necessary stops,” Curry said. “The biggest thing is we’re getting good shot attempts. Even Klay’s on the last possession last game.

“Tonight . . . the last three minutes we were making good plays, keeping the game simple and that helps to maintain composure and not give the other team extra possessions that can deflate you.”

As this season rolls along, and scouting reports get more detailed, these younger teams – and most teams are younger than the Warriors – will size up the other and not particularly quick or athletic squad and push the pace early.

The strategy? Blast out of the opening tip and see if the vets can keep up. Moreover, see how long they’ll be able to match the scrap intensity of younger teams buoyed by homecourt crowds energized by the impressive start.

The Thunder, without All-NBA guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, rode that energy for nearly 48 minutes, scoring at least 33 points in each quarter while shooting 60.2 percent from the field, including 51.7 from deep.

They were younger and quicker and displayed more vitality.

The Warriors improved in the second half, largely because Jonathan Kuminga shook off a poor first half and came back with 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting in 13 second-half minutes. Gary Payton II brought defensive zest and a timely lob tip-in. Andrew Wiggins, off to a slow start, picked up his pace.

“For us to take that next step, Wiggs and JK and Gary have to be the athletes that they are,” Kerr said. “They have to provide that force and speed and athleticism at both ends, whether it’s on offensive rebounds or driving to the hoop getting fouled, getting us some easy baskets.

“When those guys play at a high level, it rounds out our team because we know we have lots of skill and experience with our core group.”

Wiggins, Kuminga and Payton represent Golden State’s young vets because they have much lower NBA mileage than the likes of Chris Paul, Kevon Looney, Curry, Green and Thompson.

There is little doubt that as young teams come after Warriors, their depth will have to respond. That’s where they can surround Paul with an infusion of youth. It’s going to be needed.

For now, with their eyes on a prize, the Warriors might be able to summon enough juice to stay close and then lean on their experience. On some nights, it will be enough. On other nights, it won’t.

“We struggled a lot last year to close out tight games, so to have our first two tests in tight games, it was really big for us to come out with two wins – tonight especially,” Green said. “We didn’t have any energy. Those guys were kind of getting what they wanted on the offensive end. We never got stops.

“That’s a playoff game. That’s a mark in the win column. No matter how you got it. We got it done.”

Which suggests there can be instances, even in November, when postseason experience is the difference.

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