“The Warriors will be ripe first round prey by season’s end. This once-solid defense is forever broken…”
That was me, ever knowing and prescient, in a 5-on-5 for ESPN.com that was published on back on March 8th. At the time we had no reason to believe otherwise; those words were hardly bold or incendiary. Golden State’s defense was gashed in February the way we thought it could be all season long, a near top ten unit that was the driving force behind the team’s pre-All Star break success far, far gone.
In a stretch of six games that began February, the Warriors allowed at least 115 points five times and 99 points to slow-paced Memphis in the other matchup. Not coincidentally, they lost the entire sextet, giving major pause to optimistic playoff forecasts and losing any chance of first round home court advantage in the process. Golden State didn’t finish last month and begin this one much better, either. Four straight losses overlapped February and March, with the Warriors surrendering more than 104 points in three games and 48% shooting in the remaining one.
But a seismic shift occurred in this month’s first week. Golden State hung on at home in a 125-118 shoot-out with the lowly Toronto on March 4th, and has since been gangbusters defensively. The Warriors next game was a loss in Oakland against those near-rival Rockets, but they allowed just 94 points and 37.8% shooting to one of the league’s best offensive teams. The thought was that game was an outlier, both teams shooting horribly from the field and performing well below offensive standard, influenced by the monotonous doldrums of late winter to which teams often fall victim.
But that, like those choice words the day of that loss to Houston, turned out to be wrong, too. Suddenly and unpredictably, Golden State’s defense is better than ever.
The Warriors defensive efficiency this month is a very stingy 97.4. That bests this season’s previous top mark of 100.2 set back in December by almost three full points, and is the polar opposite of the team’s dreadful February number of 110.7. Extrapolated over the entire season with respect to the rest of the league, Golden State’s March defensive efficiency would rank second behind Indiana’s otherworldly 95.4.
All this begs a pertinent question: just who are the Warriors on the defensive end of the floor? The Hyde of early 2013 or the Jekyll of early spring? The answer lies somewhere in between; Golden State isn’t the NBA’s worst defense but not one of its best, either. Looking back, the team’s consistent November and December performance indicated some natural regression to its real mean after January and February, and we’re getting it now. But given the Warriors well-known, woebegone history of defensive shortcomings, to expect such improvement seemed foolish.
But Mark Jackson’s revamped system, Andrew Bogut’s better than ever health and individual progression from players like Steph Curry and Klay Thompson suggest Golden State’s defense can be great. At times. Just like the team’s consistently calm pick-and-roll coverage and lack of size in certain lineups can make them well below average. Now, we know both faces of this defense exist. Whatever side shows up most often in the postseason will dictate just how competitive the Warriors will be, and whether or not they’ll be much more than a passing first round threat come April.
Statistical support for this piece provided by NBA.com.
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