Klay Thompson was splashing 3-pointers. Draymond Green was making stops and deftly finding open cutters. Stephen Curry drew several defenders any time he touched the ball.
The threesome who redefined basketball en route to winning a series of championships with the Golden State Warriors reunited in the playoffs on Saturday for the first time since 2019. And as in many games of that era, the high-octane Warriors were dominant, defeating the Denver Nuggets in the opener of their first-round playoff matchup, 123-107.
In a surprise move, Curry began the game on the bench. In his place, Coach Steve Kerr started the third-year guard Jordan Poole, who is having a career year. The move appeared to be aimed at keeping Curry on a strict minutes limit. This was his first game since March 16, when he injured his left foot against the Boston Celtics.
The swap paid off. Poole was exceptional in his first career playoff game, scoring 30 points — a game high — on 9 for 13 shooting, electrifying the Chase Center crowd in San Francisco.
The last time Curry came off the bench during the playoffs was May 1, 2018, the second game of the Western Conference semifinals against the New Orleans Pelicans, when he was coming off a knee injury. Saturday against Denver was only the third playoff game of Curry’s career in which he played but didn’t start.
He entered the contest about halfway through the first quarter to a loud ovation. Almost immediately, Curry made his presence felt, finding Thompson for an open 3-pointer from the corner and sneaking a pass between two defenders to an open Green for a dunk. Otherwise, he struggled, shooting 5 for 13 from the field for 16 points.
Thompson, meanwhile, looked like the player he was before he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the 2019 N.B.A. finals. He moved swiftly to find open looks for himself, en route to five 3-pointers and 19 points overall.
Golden State was able to flummox Denver’s Nikola Jokic, the favorite to win the Most Valuable Player Award, which would be his second. The Warriors constantly forced Jokic into difficult shots and frustrated him with a steady stream of double teams. They also attempted to tire him out defensively by setting up possessions with him as the primary defender on the ballhandler.
By the time the fourth quarter came around, Jokic looked exhausted. He finished with 25 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists.
The playoff opener was a return to the postseason spotlight for the core Golden State players who won championships in 2015, 2017 and 2018. Curry, Green, Thompson and Andre Iguodala are the top four leaders in franchise history for postseason games played. But this was the first time, in large part because of injuries, that the Warriors had made the playoffs since 2019, when the team lost in the finals to the Toronto Raptors in six games. The only time all four of them played in the same game this year was on Jan. 9, Thompson’s first game back after missing two seasons with leg injuries. Green started that game only briefly, to support Thompson, before sitting the rest of the night.
Both teams had significant injury issues during the season. Green missed more than two months of the regular season for Golden State with a back injury. For Denver, Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray missed most or all of the season.
This was Denver’s fourth straight year making the playoffs; the team has made it out of the first round each of the past three seasons.
The Nuggets will attempt to tie the seven-game series at one game apiece on Monday.