Chris Paul

Warriors' small lineup featuring CP3 aces first preseason test

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SAN FRANCISCO – Never in his nine seasons as coach of the Warriors has Steve Kerr sent out a starting lineup as small as that which trotted out Saturday against the Lakers. This was a dare.

OK, Lakers, see if you can exploit a lineup that averages 6-foot-5.

They could not. And Chris Paul, at 6 feet the shortest Warrior, joined his teammates in making the case that, at least in Game 1 of the preseason, size need not that matter.

Making his first appearance with Golden State, Paul earned hearty cheers from the sellout crowd (18,064) at Chase Center, finishing with six points, five assists and three rebounds over 13 minutes in a 125-108 victory over Los Angeles.

“I haven’t heard that (applause) before, not coming after my name in this place,” Paul, a longtime rival, told NBC Sports Bay Area.

While the Lakers kept LeBron James and Austin Reeves on the bench, the Warriors were without starting power forward Draymond Green (left ankle), which prompted Kerr to adjust his lineup. Kevon Looney (center) and Andrew Wiggins (small forward) remained in place, but Klay Thompson slid from shooting guard to power forward, while Stephen Curry moved from point guard to shooting guard to make room for Paul at the point.

No problem. The Warriors held up on defense, limiting LA to 41-percent shooting from the field and winning the rebounding battle 60-46. The regulars in the first half posted a 30-21 rebounding advantage.

“I’ve played a lot of basketball; we played small lineups in Houston all the time,” Paul said. “This is only one preseason game, but we’re trying to stick to our principles.”

It was Paul who put Golden State on the scoreboard, with a midrange jumper off the right baseline with 10:18 remaining in the first quarter. His other bucket, with 5:51 left in the half, came on a clever running floater in the paint.

Paul’s performance was, in general, solid. He was 2 of 4 from the field, 0-of-1 from deep and 2 of 2 from the line. He was plus-6 in his 13 minutes, all of which came in the first half and alongside Curry, Thompson and Looney.

“Chris is amazing,” Kerr said. “He keeps the game so easy, and he’s such a great passer. There’s a pace to the game that is fun to watch as a coach, where you just know he’s going to be making the right play over and over. He understands when we need to pull it back and get into an action, or play faster because he understands the rhythm of the game.”

CP3 committed three turnovers, which is no cause for alarm considering his newness to the roster. One of the primary assets of his Hall of Fame career is an assist-to-turnover ratio that ranks among the best in the NBA. He’ll fix that.

Couldn’t help but notice, though, the frequency with which Paul didn’t get back on defense. There is wisdom in sparing his sometimes-achy, 38-year-old legs from testing the limits in the first preseason game with his new team.

What can be taken away from this game is that the Warriors, despite the size disadvantage, were in command during the Paul-Curry-Thompson-Looney minutes. There were a few moments of anticipated first-game sloppiness, but nothing to indicate size was an issue.

“We’ve got to play to our strengths and try to cover our strengths on the defensive end, and rebounding is part of that,” Curry told NBC Sports Bay Area. “There has been a point of emphasis on the defensive end because the offense will usually take care of itself.”

Golden State led by as much as 18 in the first half before taking a 61-54 lead into the locker room at halftime. A 28-19 rebounding advantage in the half had to be encouraging against a Los Angeles frontcourt that features eight-time All-Star Anthony Davis and averages 6-foot-9.

Kerr has mentioned that there will be occasions when Thompson is summoned to fill in at power forward, and this was his debut, so to speak. He fared well, holding his own on defense and grabbing five rebounds in 13 minutes.

“It’s just preseason, so you’re not seeing teams trying to expose matchups,” Kerr said of the small lineup. “But that group held up pretty well defensively.”

With Green expected to miss the next preseason game, next Friday against the Lakers in Los Angeles, the small lineup will get another look.

This will not be Golden State’s normal starting five. But this is preseason, and any detectable rotation flexibility is beneficial.

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