By C.J. Peterson
Special to S.F. Examiner
OAKLAND — As their championship rings dropped from the Oracle Arena ceiling on Tuesday night, the Golden State Warriors could hardly suppress their excitement.
Only a few hours later, however, that same excitement was nowhere to be found as the defending champions found themselves in two-point game with less than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
Led by their pair of MVPs, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, the Warriors gutted out a 108-100 victory over the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder to open their season, avoiding a ring-night spoiler for the second year in a row.
“There were just so many emotions tonight,” Durant said. “Coming into the game, we were excited about capping off and finishing off last season with the ring ceremony. But every game isn’t going to be a 140-99 shootout for us. We had to play tough and play physical.”
After enjoying the fruits of their previous season’s labor and unveiling another championship banner in the Oracle rafters, Golden State came out swinging in the first quarter, building an eight-point lead after their first twelve minutes of play.
Leading all scorers in that period, Curry was able to hit four of his five attempted shots, including two of his eventual five 3-pointers, for 12 points.
By halftime, Golden State had built a 10-point lead, heading into the locker room up 57-47, having held the Thunder to 31-percent shooting and out-rebounding them by four boards.
“They couldn’t shoot in the first half,” said Warriors head coach Steve Kerr. “They probably went into their locker room and [Thunder head coach] Billy [Donovan] said ‘Hey, we should be down a lot more and it’s close.’”
The Thunder came out on a 22-9 run in the third quarter, turning a 10-point deficit into a three point lead in five minutes. Leading the charge for Oklahoma City was small forward Paul George, who scored 15 of his eventual 27 points in the third.
“We play in a fast-paced league now,” said Durant. “We have to guard so many screen and rolls, so many pin-down actions. You’re getting hit by screens.”
Golden State starters shot just 34 percent from the floor in the second half, including 14 percent from three.
“I thought most of out guys looked spent,” said Kerr. “People were tired out there, no doubt.”
Exhausted and looking for offensive stability, the Warriors found themselves up by only two points in the final two minutes of the game as they led the Thunder 99-97. Curry and Durant combined to score seven of the Warriors’ next nine points, and finished with 32 and 27, respectively.
With the win, Golden State avoided their second consecutive loss on “ring night” after losing to the Houston Rockets last season in the season-opener, 122-121.
“I read on ESPN earlier today that said we lost our last two ring-opening nights or something like that,” said Warriors forward Draymond Green. “But I wasn’t like ‘Oh, here we go again.’ It’s just one game in the regular season.”
The Warriors will now head out on the road, as they will take on the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City on Friday night, and then the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.
“When we go to Utah and Denver, that’ll be a good sign of where we are,” said Curry. “We’ll be playing at altitude and all that type of stuff, so we gotta be ready.”