SHANGHAI, China – Steve Kerr, at long last, is off the hot seat.
His Golden State Warriors downed the Minnesota Timberwolves 142-110 in a preseason affair at Mercedes Benz-Arena in Shanghai on Sunday night, thereby avoiding a winless preseason and all that might have come with it. Just three nights before, when the Warriors fell to the Wolves in Shenzhen and Kerr made his way down from the postgame podium, he had joked about the slow start and how it was only a matter of time until the hot takes started coming.
Alas, the Warriors played like the Warriors again – even if it took a while to find the statistics that proved it.
On this eye-opening trip that was chock full of firsts for yours truly, the breakdown of the stats system qualified as yet another. There weren’t numbers available throughout the game, but you didn’t need them to know what you were seeing.
Steph Curry putting on a Steph Curry show (40 points, as we later learned). Klay Thompson doing his Splash Brothers part (28 points). Kevin Durant pitching in as well (22 points).
“That’s what a championship team looks like,” Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins said.
Now, of course, the challenge is to look that way consistently in spite of a rigorous training camp that included this 14,000-mile roundtrip and a 15-hour time difference that does quite a number on the old sleep patterns. As Kerr noted, the Warriors only managed two practices on this trip that started on Oct. 1.
“It wasn’t the ideal way to prepare for the season, but it was a wonderful cultural experience,” Kerr said. “The food was amazing. Our players had a great time. The food was amazing, and the fans are so passionate for basketball, so we couldn’t have asked for anything better.
More NBA from China:
China Klay says goodbye – From the fans on the streets all the way to the press room, there is an appreciation for these players who have become so wildly popular in these parts.
Even in the press conferences.
From Commissioner Adam Silver before the game to Kerr, Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau, Warriors forward Draymond Green, Wiggins, and Warriors guard Klay Thompson afterward, the NBA visitors received a raucous round of applause every time they headed for the exits. But no one connected with the locals quite like Thompson, who spent this past summer becoming a beloved viral sensation here by way of his new “China Klay” persona (see backstory here).
“I like the nickname,” Thompson said when asked to speak on his new alter ego. “I like the persona. I have so much fun every time I come here, whether it’s dancing in the club or shooting on the court or walking around the cities. I’m just very grateful that basketball has taken me all over the world, (and) especially all over China.”
To the credit of players and coaches from both sides, they were sure to return the love afterwards. Green shared a story about a man who cried when he signed an autograph, and Thompson shared similar stories. Durant heaved his shoes into the crowd afterward and caused quite a frenzy, and Curry did the same.
Or, to be more accurate, he attempted to do the same. Just…a bit outside.
Behold bench David West – In this day and age when media seating isn’t quite what it used to be (the soaring value of seat prices and all), the trip was a nice change of pace when it came to the in-game perspective.
The American reporters who made the trip sat on the baseline by the Warriors bench for both games, and little did we know that – front-row seat and all – David West’s bench behavior would make it hard to focus on the game itself.
The 37-year-old Warriors forward who sacrificed millions chasing the championship he finally won last season, and who seriously pondered retirement during the summer, is a sight to behold during the action. He never stops talking, either to himself or to teammates, opponents, officials et al. And the celebrations. So…many…celebrations. Here’s to still having joy for the game all these years later.
Injury report – First things first, Nick Young (right hip contusion), and Damian Jones (sore throat) didn’t play for the Warriors and the Timberwolves’ Justin Patton (broken foot) was also absent. But more importantly, NBA PR man Jim LaBumbard fought through a painful evening to turn in yet another top-notch performance.
LaBumbard, the widely-respected media relations man who recently left the Toronto Raptors to work on the league side, ran into a door on the concourse of the Mercedes Benz-Arena before the game and required two stitches above his right eye from team doctors. His last assist of the night came in the final minutes of action, as he read the top-three scoring totals for each team to reporters on press row because of the stat malfunction.
Speaking of which, this eye-opening trip was a whole lot easier and entertaining because of the PR pros from the Warriors and the NBA who always went the extra mile. Those fine folks – along with Google Translate – were absolute life-savers.
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