Shots at the Rim and from Deep Doom the Warriors
The Warriors lost their fifth straight game last night, a 116-107 demoralizer to the same Houston Rockets team that thrashed them for 140 points last week. If the defensive woes that have plagued Golden State over the last week were merely born out of lack of effort or focus the tide should have turned yesterday. Houston, after all, humiliated the Warriors last Tuesday and shoves and words were exchanged at the Toyota Center as the fourth quarter clocked ticked down to zero. In a post-game interview, David Lee even made reference to looking forward to playing them again so soon.
So when we expected sound rotations, shooters being run off the three-point line and aggressive individual defense, what we got instead was a Warriors defensive performance arguably as awful as the one that kicked off this horrible, pre-All Star slide. The points don’t show it and field goal percentage – Houston shot a solid but unspectacular 47.3% from the floor – doesn’t either, but the words of Andrew Bogut and a look at the Rockets shot-chart repudiates those not-awful raw numbers.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss covered Bogut’s harsh post-game words in detail here, and questions whether the reaction Bogut’s quiet tirade will get from his teammates is the one he intends. That’s a fair and potentially problematic thought, what with this team’s unique chemistry being one of the driving forces behind their first-half success. But Bogut isn’t wrong, and his words convey not only appropriate displeasure with the defense of the Warriors, but also the individual and team-wide deficiencies that led to Houston’s success last night.
I think at the end of the day, you’ve got to stop your man. We have a great shell team defense. But I think at the end of the day, it’s you one-on-one in a battle with the guy you’re guarding… Our defense one-on-one is horrendous… We get beat it’s like, ‘Oh help, someone help me.’
Bogut doesn’t mince words because, frankly, when honestly discussing Golden State’s current defensive straits there’s no point; film and assessing how the opposition is scoring tell the story better than conversation ever could.
A few days ago, I examined the numbers from the Warriors four-game slide and came to a simple conclusion: corner three-pointers, the most efficient shot in basketball, were chief among the problems plaguing GSW defensively. That wasn’t the case in last night’s game, though, and it should be no surprise; Mark Jackson and his staff no doubt put an emphasis on disallowing corner opportunities. Houston took just seven threes from below the break on either side of the floor and made two of them, a far cry from the fifteen shots the Warriors allowed from the same spots last week.
But that’s not say the Rockets feasted on attempts they weren’t happy to take. Houston didn’t live on corner threes but hardly lacked for efficient opportunities. Of their 91 shots last night, the Rockets had 30 attempts at the rim and 34 from beyond the arc. It’s the goal of today’s NBA offenses – and this one maybe more than any other in particular – to take a majority of shots from close or afar and avoid the in-between; Houston did that last night, those combined 64 attempts accounting for just over 70% of their overall number of tries.
To be fair, the Rockets are elite offensively and it’s largely due to the value of the shots they take. Houston ranks third in attempts per game at the rim and second from three-point range, so this is a trick they pull on the majority of their opponents. But the Warriors lack the individual length to effectively contest those close shots like some other teams, which is why they’ve put an emphasis all season on limiting opportunities in the paint. Golden State ranks allows the fifth fewest rim attempts per game in the league, and much of their success this season – up until the last week – should be attributed to that number. They have and will continue to rank near the bottom in opposition three-point attempts, though, so when that expectation is combined with the surprise of a huge number of shots at the rim, the Warriors are basically dead in the water.
It’s pretty simple. The closer an attempt is to the basket the easier it is to make, and a try from deep is worth an extra point. Teams seek these shots more often than ever these days and rightfully so, their value being that much greater than any other available. Golden State knows this, and it’s one of the reasons they’ve put a premium on three-pointers themselves. But if the Warriors don’t manifest that knowledge into on-court performance and limit tries at the rim the way they have for the majority of this season, their struggles on defense will linger through the break long before they get better. And given this five-game slide, we now know their offense isn’t quite good enough to make up for it.
Statistical support for this article provided by hoopdata.com
Follow Jack Winter on Twitter @armstrongwinter.