Israeli basketball player Omri Casspi and his Golden State Warriors both came up short of big expectations as the NBA season tipped off Tuesday, with the defending champions falling to the Houston Rockets 122-121.
Yavne-native Casspi, battling a mild right ankle sprain, scored two points and nabbed one rebound in four minutes on the floor off the bench.
His debut with the Warriors, the sixth NBA team Casspi has played for, was the 500th career start for the forward, who in 2009 became the first Israeli ever to make it to the top US basketball league.
During the game, Casspi tweaked his ankle again, but will have until Friday to rest up before the Warriors’ next game against the New Orleans Pelicans. He won’t face off against the Indiana Pacers’ T.J. Leaf, the only other Israeli in the NBA, until March 22.
Though the Warriors are heavy favorites to repeat as NBA champions, they failed to hold onto to a 17-point lead against the Rockets, losing their second straight debut.
But unlike last year, when they were blown out by the San Antonio Spurs, this game came down to the last second, with a potentially game-winning buzzer-beater by Kevin Durant ruled too late by the refs
“I thought it had a chance but I knew it was a little late. I knew I was cutting it close,” Durant said. “Tough loss. First game of 82, we’ve definitely got to move on. We’ve got to get better.”
The Warriors got the ball for one final chance with 10.6 seconds left and Durant came up with the ball after Stephen Curry had missed.
“I didn’t think it counted,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. “When I saw it, it looked to me like it was a little late. Didn’t surprise me it was overturned.”
Trevor Ariza’s 3-pointer with 2:09 remaining pulled Houston within 119-118 then Patrick McCaw hit a baseline jumper immediately after Golden State’s timeout. James Harden made a layup and PJ Tucker hit two free throws with 44.1 to make it 122-121.
Nick Young came off the bench to hit six 3-pointers and score 23 points in a brilliant Warriors debut, Curry scored 22 points and Durant had 20 after a slow start. Klay Thompson added 16 points.
Chris Paul had four points on 2-for-9 shooting in his Rockets debut, while Harden scored 27 points, Eric Gordon 24 and Tucker 20 for the Rockets. Houston opened the fourth with a 9-0 run to get back in it.
“It’s very encouraging to be able to beat a great team like that on a huge night for them,” Anderson said.
The Warriors found their rhythm early but couldn’t close it out after an abbreviated preseason in terms of practice time given their recent trip to China for a pair of games against Minnesota.
Draymond Green exited in the second half with a strained left knee after he contributed nine points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds.
“When we’re lacking conditioning like we are right now you have to have your high-energy guys,” Kerr said. “It doesn’t matter what it’s because of, we just have to get in better shape.”
Still, this opener was a far cry from the forgettable 129-100 defeat at home to San Antonio in Durant’s Warriors debut a year ago when Golden State came off a record 73-win season and runner-up finish to Cleveland in the 2016 Finals.
“I just remember the last game of the season we played,” Durant said of the Game 5 Finals clincher in June.
Young found his stroke right away, hitting his first four 3s and five shots overall. It’s exactly what the Warriors want him to do: shoot every time he has a good look. His six 3-pointers set a franchise record for anyone in their Warriors debut and also in a season opener.
Durant had one spectacular sequence in the third when he blocked Anderson’s shot on one end then converted a three-point play moments later on the other, slapping hands with a lucky boy fan on the baseline.
Houston acquired Paul from the Clippers to give them a 1-2 backcourt punch to try to gain ground on Golden State in the Western Conference.
“They came out and threw their best punch and it took us a while to adjust,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “The last quarter we held them to 20. We’re not going to do much better than that.”