Fresh off a 26-point victory over his former team of eight years, Warriors’ forward Kevin Durant was asked to grade his performance. His first instinct was to comment on the play of the team as a whole, only to reluctantly evaluate his own showing.
Durant took a sigh and scanned the box score on the table in front of him as if he had just received an unsatisfactory score on a calculus midterm.
“I missed nine shots, missed a free throw, had some turnovers,” Durant began. “I feel like I should have made five more shots — I rushed a few. It was alright. I could have done better.”
Durant was still in his jersey and shorts. My mind was still in awe of his vindictive 39 points and seven rebounds that nearly blew the top off of Oracle.
“The most important thing is, it’s not about me,” Durant continued. “It’s about how we came out and played tonight.”
Defense and dialogue spark team flow
While a majority of the national spotlight was shining bright on Durant, the Golden State Warriors overall have been trending in the right direction on both sides of the ball. Everyone knows about the offensive prowess of guys like Durant, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry. However, championships are won on the other end of the floor.
The Warriors have shown glimpses of the predatory defense that helped bring an NBA title back to the Bay Area just two seasons ago. But this team has some fundamental differences.
The 2014-15 Warriors relied heavily on big man Andrew Bogut on the defensive end, in multiple ways. Not only as an additional layer of rim protection, but as the quarterback and defensive anchor. Bogut was constantly talking, helping to direct traffic and acting as the eyes for the front line of defense.
The 2016-17 Warriors do not have Bogut, but they do have a new quarterback in Draymond Green.
“One thing that I try to focus on is to try and use my voice and make sure that everybody can hear me because there is a certain comfort that comes with that,” Green stated in his postgame press conference. “When you hear someone talking behind you and telling you everything that’s going on then you're more comfortable on the defensive end.”
Green has always been a vocal player and one who is largely recognized as the heart of the Warriors’ team. But this season presents a new challenge — filling the void as the defensive leader both physically and mentally.
Defense is so immensely crucial to this team. As Steve Kerr points out, great defense leads to easy offense.
“The defense is really the key for us. Because when we can get stops, then we can get out and run,” Kerr stated after the game. “We’ve got all these guys who can shoot and make plays and we don’t have to set up our offense.”
Like Kerr, Green noted that the Warriors have seen an uptick in their activity on the defensive end thanks to an increase in communication. “We’re going to score points. But if we can defend, it’s going to make it even easier for us,” Green said.
And while the Warriors are without the athletic Bogut, the equally large Zaza Pachulia has been able to step in and fill the void at the center position. As Kerr points out, Pachulia operates in different fashion but can be just as serviceable.
“I thought Zaza was great tonight battling with Adams,” Kerr said. “[He’s] a great positional defender, who’s going to box out, take charges and take up space.”
Defense will either make this team historically great or be a major pitfall in their demise.
Curry talks taking a “back seat”
Stephen Curry was asked after the game about how players like Durant and himself are dealing with taking a “back seat” while the other is hot. To no surprise, Curry brushed off this terminology. He stated that the team realizes when a player is hot and will continue to feed the hot hand.
He continued by saying he is more worried about the types of shots the team is getting rather than if they are all going in at the moment, as they will fall over time.
But, to get these open shots — which a majority of the Warriors’ attempts have been this season — all players must be aggressive in preventing the defense from singling out a specific player.