SAITAMA ― It's a new season with new storylines, and in the grand scheme of things two preseason games are a minor footnote.
But the second of two NBA Japan Games 2022 on Sunday afternoon, October 2 provided another grand opportunity for the league to promote itself in Japan while two teams had another chance to continue their development for the 2022-23 campaign.
The Golden State Warriors closed out the fourth quarter with a 30-5 run against the Washington Wizards, erasing a 16-point deficit early in the final stanza and earning a pulse-rising 104-95 victory at Saitama Super Arena.
Stephen Curry, the 2022 NBA Finals MVP, paced the reigning champion Warriors with 17 points, all in the first half. Backup forward Patrick Baldwin Jr scored all 12 of his points in the second half, helping ignite the team's comeback after it trailed 90-74 in the fourth.
"We were looking forward to this trip just because of the love for Tokyo and for Japan," Curry said, "but also being able to hopefully leave a mark in terms of building hope and inspiration and joy for what sports brings to a lot of different people."
Washington forward Rui Hachimura, the first Japanese-born, first-round NBA Draft pick, received enthusiastic support from the fans throughout the game. And he was thrilled to have this opportunity.
"I'm so glad to make this trip. It was a great five days."Rui Hachimura
The Toyama native also said sharing Japanese culture with his teammates was really special.
Key Performances for Both Teams
Warriors guard Mac McClung made a big impact in the second half, scoring all nine of his points in that span. Moses Moody added 12 points, Andrew Wiggins scored 10 and James Wiseman had eight for Golden State.
Curry reflected on the overall experience of his team's spread-the-playing time approach (14 of 16 Warriors players who appeared in the game logged less than 20 minutes by saying, "Us being able to kind of mix and match different guys together to get used to playing with each other [is important], because who knows what the rotation will look like come opening night."
Kristaps Porzingis led the Wizards with 18 points, Will Barton had 12, Hachimura and Monte Morris added 11 apiece, Jordan Schakel finished with 10 and Anthony Gill had nine. Hachimura added a game-high 10 rebounds to complete the double-double.
Baldwin, a 19-year-old rookie from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, scored the go-ahead basket, a 3-pointer, with 2:02 remaining.
The sold-out crowd of 20,647 spectators gave a standing ovation to both teams after the final buzzer to cap the weekend on a high note.
The Warriors defeated the Wizards 96-87 on Friday night at the same venue.
Young Players Provide a Spark
Spencer (age 26), Moody (20), McClung (23) and Jonathan Kuminga (who turns 20 on October 6) were among the Warriors backups who played major minutes and made baskets in the final period, when Curry and other starters sat on the bench.
After two games in Japan, Baldwin noted that it's a "big lesson" just by watching and listening to accomplished veterans like Draymond Green and Curry, both of whom are four-time NBA champions and other veterans, observing how they interact.
"Seeing the way they talk to each other on the court," Baldwin pointed out.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr said it was "just fun to see a group of young guys who've never played together really get into a groove and win a game. They won that game for us."
After two games in Japan to open the preseason, the Warriors will return to California with a focused plan in place: "to get better," Kerr declared.
Kerr labeled it an "important trip" and insisted that the Warriors "had a great time."
He said the team's practices and games provided valuable bonding experiences while sightseeing activities, team meals and other activities were all about "experiencing a beautiful culture."
First and foremost, Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr summed up the team's five-day trip to Japan this way: "All in all, I think they enjoyed the experience with Rui. He's home, he's happy to be here."
Asked for his general thoughts on training camp so far and the two games in Japan, Unseld said, "I'm pretty satisfied besides the last eight minutes today."
Golden State Makes a Strong Start
The Warriors raced out to a 9-2 lead early in the first quarter.
Hachimura received the largest cheers of the opening half when he converted an off-balance jumper in the lane and was fouled on the play with 5:13 left in the quarter. He made his foul shot to cut the margin to 19-15.
The Wizards recovered from their slow start and trailed 26-25 by the end of the opening period.
Curry dazzled the crowd in the first half with a series of flashy moves, including quick behind-the-back dribbles. He showcased his impressive shooting range, hitting pull-up jumpers and polished around-the-rim moves, including a nifty scoop shot, which was set up by a Green pass, to give Golden State a 33-28 lead at the 7:38 mark of the second quarter.
The perennial All-Star added back-to-back layups to tie it up at 41-41 with 4:18 to play before halftime.
Vintage Curry was on display in the opening half, much to the delight of the crowd.
Exhibit A: Curry sank a long 3-pointer, 31 feet from the basket (about 9.5 meters), from the left wing to pull the Warriors within 51-49 at the 1:35 mark.
The teams traded baskets throughout the second quarter, but Washington took a 56-54 lead into halftime.
Hachimura had 11 points, seven rebounds, two assists and a steal in 18 productive minutes, while Morris also scored 11 points.
While the Warriors slumped in the third quarter and then seized control in the fourth, Curry talked about the totality of the team's trip to Japan in broad strokes, looking at the big picture. The goal, he said, is to become a more cohesive unit in the preseason and then as they begin their title defense on October 18 in the regular-season opener against the Los Angeles Lakers.
"We're trying to instill as much confidence [now] and that's [important] in training camp," Curry stated.
That team-building work, of course, involved the shared experience of seeing how the Japanese fans embraced the NBA's first preseason games in Japan since 2019.
"It was an amazing experience," Curry said.
Hachimura echoed Curry's sentiment that team-bonding activities were a memorable part of his team's trip here.
"Hopefully we can come back here anytime soon and play an NBA game," Hachimura said.
NBA Japan Games Notes
Wizards guard Bradley Beal, the team's longest-tenured player entering his 11th season with the club, sat out Game 2 in Saitama. Beal started the series opener and had nine points in 17-plus minutes.
Hachimura's mother and other family members attended the game, sitting behind the Wizards' bench. Retired American-born ozeki Konishiki was also spotted in the crowd.
Between the first and second quarters, retired NBA players Richard Hamilton, Dikembe Mutombo and Tim Hardaway were introduced to the crowd. Game footage from their careers was shown on the giant video monitors in the arena.
Watch video highlights of the 3-Point Contest during the Saturday Night Fan Fest here.
- Warriors Prevail Against Wizards In NBA Japan Games Opener
- Warriors, Wizards Excited About Playing Pair Of Games In Japan
Author: Ed Odeven