When you think of grit in the NBA, you probably think of big men setting hard screens and battling for position in the paint, or players hitting the ground to secure a loose ball.
“A lot of times it’s being ugly, not pretty,” Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts says.
The definition translates well to sports, where all athletes are going to have to persevere through setbacks at some point in their careers because of their passion to compete.
That 53-point lead Golden State amassed in the preseason against their old friends from Clipperland gave you a glimpse of what they’re capable of.
Golden State will figure it out on offense, as they slowly did in this game. Defensively, the issues are more pronounced and probably more enduring. While commending the team’s improved effort, Warriors coach Steve Kerr cited miscommunication as a reason the night did not go so easily. “We’re going to have to get so much better,” Kerr said after the game. “You can see how much work we have ahead. We have plenty of talent but talent is not going to be enough.”
The Warriors are carrying a half-dozen centers on the roster (depending on how one defines a big). On Friday night, young Kevon Looney, he of 20 years and two hip surgeries, got thrown into the fire. “I thought he was great,” Kerr said. “He was a +13 in 7 minutes.” Kerr added, “He’s one of those guys, he doesn’t look that fast. He doesn’t look like he jumps very high. But he knows what he’s doing.”
Looney performed well, especially under the circumstances. Golden State had a one-point lead when Looney entered with five minutes remaining in the stanza. At the end of the quarter, the Warriors led by 11. Of course, much of this had something to do with a Curry scoring 8 consecutive points, but the effort was steadied by Looney’s hand — most especially on the quarter’s chaotic, closing possession when the UCLA product turned a sure Curry turnover into an assist aimed at Andre Iguodala. Of the play Looney said, “I was looking at Klay first. They jumped out, I made the right play. Just reading the defense, really.” Of his comfort in getting thrown out there in these situations, Looney added, “I practice with these guys every day. These are some of the best players in the league, so I get confidence playing against Draymond (Green) and (Kevin Durant) every day, so I was ready to play.”
Is Looney the solution to Golden State’s weakness in the middle? That’s likely too much to put on a 20-year-old who’s still trying to build his body up. What’s clear is Golden State, for all the preseason hype, has a weakness it’s still struggling to address. While one doesn’t want to overreact after two games, the Warriors’ defense looks, at this point, unrecognizable.
Whether that’s due to a lack of rim protection or a lack of comfort, the Warriors must improve on that flaw. When and if they do, they are sure to get very little credit for the feat. For this team, meeting expectations might be a lot easier in theory than in practice.