The Golden State Warriors dropped their first game of the season on Friday, losing 128-123 to the Denver Nuggets. Hosting the Nuggets at the Chase Center, the Dubs saw firsthand why Denver is one of the early favorites to win the Western Conference.

Both teams were pushing the pace in an exciting first quarter of action. The Nuggets jumped out to an early 10-5 lead before the Dubs answered with six-straight points to take the lead.

Despite not scoring a point in the quarter, Draymond Green was a game-changer for the Warriors on Friday. Green was a force defensively, slowing down Nuggets star Nikola Jokić, and consistently pushing Golden State in transition.

With the Warriors veterans still on an early-season minutes restriction, though, head coach Steve Kerr had pulled all of his vets for the last two minutes of the quarter. The Nuggets bench took advantage and the Dubs trailed 40-34 at the end of the first quarter .Jordan Poole, whose job it is as sixth man to carry the second unit with his offense and playmaking, scored seven points and took just five shots. And although he had seven assists and three steals, he committed four turnovers and was a team-worst minus-20 in 27 minutes. Stephen Curry finished with a game-high 34 points and Nikola Jokic led the Nuggets with 26 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.

“With our second unit, we’re still in the midst of sort of finding an identity with that group and that will help Jordan,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “But in the mean time he’s going to have a target on his back. That’s what happens when you get really good and you win a championship and play like he did in the playoffs and sign a big contract. This is how it works.”

Kerr subbed out Curry for Donte DiVincenzo, who joined Poole, Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga and Green on the court. That second unit was then outscored 14-7 to enter the second quarter trailing by six.

Golden State’s deficit quickly grew to 11, and Kerr broke up the lineup, putting starters Kevon Looney and Andrew Wiggins in for Wiseman and Kuminga, but Denver’s lead would only snowball. The Nuggets led by 18 at halftime in scoring 70 points on 25-of-42 shooting, including 8-for-14 from 3-point range.

“I think the story of the game is just our lack of defensive intensity from the start,” Kerr said. “They scored 40 points in the first quarter…. They were clearly the aggressors.”

Green and Kevon Looney each got in foul trouble, forcing Wiseman to be the Warriors defensive anchor for even longer than originally planned. Wiseman has looked better than ever this season, but his defense still has a lot of room for improvement.

All of those factors combined in a disastrous second quarter for Golden State. The Nuggets caught fire from behind the arc in the frame, finishing the first half 8-for-14 from three. The Dubs, on the other hand, were 5-for-22 from behind the arc and managed just 18 points in the second quarter. Denver led 70-52 at the half.

The Warriors starters immediately began chipping away at their deficit in the third quarter, thanks to improved outside shooting. Green picked up his fourth foul early, but Kerr trusted him to avoid picking up his fifth, and it proved to be a worthwhile gamble. The Dubs cut the Nuggets lead to seven before they once again turned to their bench.

Denver wound up shooting 53.5% from the field and 44.1% from 3-point range for the game, so Friday night wasn’t just a disaster for the Warriors’ bench. Despite a late fourth-quarter rally fueled by Curry and the starters, Golden State struggled defensively as a whole.

“I think we just let them get comfortable,” Andrew Wiggins said. “They’re a good team and if you let any team get comfortable it’s going to be a long night. We fought hard in the second half but we put ourselves in a pretty big hole in the first half and we couldn’t fully recover.”

The Warriors’ success and failure at that end of the court could be directly tied to Draymond Green. They were plus-13 with him on the court and minus-18 without him. He finished with 13 points, three rebounds and nine assists in 26:38.

“Whether I was out there or not we were awful defensively,” Green said. “We have to set a tone on that side of the floor, and, like I said, that starts with me.”

The Warriors knew they’d have to endure some growing pains with the second unit early this season despite how well they played in the preseason. Poole, Kuminga and Wiseman have only been teammates with DiVincenzo and JaMychal Green for a few months, so chemistry is still forming. Fresh off a lucrative contract extension, Poole is facing more defensive pressure that he ever has before. Wiseman is playing meaningful regular-season minutes for the first time since the 2020-21 season. And both Kuminga and Moses Moody are still working to carve out their niches on a veteran-laden team.

The Warriors were inching towards a comeback, but Jokić seemingly responded with an amazing play every time they got within striking distance. Then Curry showed some embers, hitting back-to-back threes to bring the Warriors within five in the final three minutes.

Bruce Brown seemed to put the game away with five unanswered points, but the Nuggets turned the ball over after Curry nailed another three with just over a minute remaining. Poole drew a foul, and made both free throws to cut the Nuggets lead back to five.

Another Brown layup followed by a triple from Klay Thompson dropped the Nuggets lead back to four, then the Warriors made it a free-throw game and all chaos broke loose. Leading by five, the Nuggets decided to foul Golden State to keep them from getting a three. Green made both free-throws to cut the lead to three.

Then, Bones Hyland, who was excellent for most of the game, fell victim to a Warriors trap and threw the ball right to Poole who laid it up to bring the Warriors within one. The Nuggets took advantage of the chaos to score a quick layup, but Golden State had the ball, trailing 126-123, with 13 seconds left.

The Warriors called a timeout to draw up a play, but were likely afraid Denver was going to foul before they could attempt a three. So Thompson rushed a three-point attempt that missed the rim entirely, officially sealing the Warriors fate.

Curry led the Warriors with 34 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists, but Draymond Green was a team-high +11 in plus/minus and racked up 13 points, 2 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. Wiggins played more than 37 minutes, recording 23 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 steals. Wiseman (11) and Thompson (16) were the only other Warriors in double figures.

It might take the Warriors months to identify their most effective rotations. But the regular season is young, so patience is a luxury they can afford.

“It takes time for everything to come together,” Draymond Green said. “And quite frankly, it’s the second game of the season. You’re still figuring out rotations, which work great together and which ones don’t…. They had a rough night tonight but they’ll figure it out. They had been great all preseason so you’re not worried about it. As they continue to grow they’ll get better and better and be fine.”

By Vikram

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