The Golden State Warriors have been in a funk recently. Before Sunday’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers, they had given up 120 points or more in three of their previous five games. For any other Warriors team or in any other year in recent history, that might have been expected from the Warriors given their history of poor defense.
However, for the Warriors of the past two seasons, this is an unacceptable stat. Last season, the Warriors ranked fourth in the NBA in opponent field goal percentage at 43.9 percent. This season, the Warriors, again, rank fourth in the NBA in opponent field goal percentage at 43.4 percent.
“We haven’t been playing well defensively. We’ve been out of rhythm and out of sync,” Warriors head coach Mark Jackson said. “During the course of the season, you’re going to have nights like that. You’re going to have moments. But good or great teams make sure that it does not become a prolonged period of time where you’re playing that way.”
As Coach Jackson said, the Warriors had to bounce back at some point, and on Sunday, they did.
The Warriors’ 103-88 win over the Blazers was impressive on many levels, but mostly because of the Warriors’ stellar team defense. The Blazers are the highest-scoring team in the NBA. They average 109 points per game, so the fact that Warriors held the Blazers to a season-low 88 points was impressive.
They also forced the Blazers to commit 14 turnovers, and they limited the Blazers to 33.7 percent shooting, which made the Warriors the first team in the NBA this season to hold the Blazers under 40 percent shooting. When the Warriors hold teams to under 40 percent shooting, they are 14-3. They are also 20-2 when they hold their opponents to under 100 points in a game.
Another impressive defensive stat from the Blazers’ game is that they held the Blazers to just 12 points in the third quarter, which was the Warriors’ best defensive quarter of the season. They also forced the Blazers’ two main offensive weapons, Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, to miss 23 of their 30 shots.
Although the Warriors’ win over the Blazers was impressive, the Warriors didn’t play perfect defense the whole game. One of the main reasons why the Warriors have struggled defensively recently is that they get off to slow starts.
Before the Blazers game, the Warriors had allowed at least 30 points in the first quarter in seven of their previous 11 games. The Warriors often appeared sluggish and even confused on defense during the first quarter recently. It usually took them at least a quarter or two to find their defensive groove.
The same thing happened against the Blazers. They gave up just 22 points in the first quarter, but they gave up 33 points in the second quarter. Then, as mentioned before, they gave up just 12 points in the third quarter and 21 in the fourth quarter.
Stephen Curry told Simmons that Coach Jackson motivated the team to play with energy on defense and get back to the defensive identity that they had established earlier in the season.
“Coach Jackson challenged each and every one of us to find that next gear, especially on the defensive end,” Curry said. “… We can score the ball, but it sucks to come into the locker room, see that everybody had big (offensive) nights and we still end up losing. It’s all for nothing.”
Also, before the Blazers game, the Warriors had allowed three out of their last five opponents to make at least 50 percent of their shots, which happened only five times in their first 39 games of the season.
To fix this, the Warriors got back to closing out hard on jump shooters, contesting jump shots quickly, and pushing players out of the paint as much as possible against the Blazers. Coach Jackson told Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group that he was impressed with how the Warriors bounced back from that stretch of poor defensive games.
“What I like is that we paid attention to detail and didn’t have any game plan breakdowns,” Jackson said. “We battled, we competed, and we made multiple effort plays, and we continued that all night long.”
Although the Warriors lost their most recent game to the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night, they played pretty solid defense throughout the game. They gave up only 88 points and forced the Wizards to shoot just 37.78 percent from the field.
The Warriors had trouble rebounding the ball though, as they were out-rebounded 56-47. The Warriors got off to a better start defensively though and held the Wizards to just 24 points in the first quarter. They only got stronger from there, allowing 21 points in the second quarter, 21 points in the third quarter, and 22 points in the fourth quarter.
The Warriors did exactly what they had to do to continue their streak of solid defense. They started the game off strong defensively, they played solid defense for all four quarters, and they kept the Wizards’ stars in check.
The Warriors have shown that they can be an elite defensive team in the NBA. They’re just missing some consistency. The Warriors need to continue to make defense a priority and play their brand of basketball.