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What’s with the Warriors’ slow starts?

Too many times this season, the Warriors have began games poorly, and had to overcome double-digit deficits to win close games. What’s the issue?

Golden State Warriors v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

The Golden State Warriors have begun the season with a 7-3 record, which isn’t up to their standard of recent years but is likely nothing to worry about.

We all know they are an elite team, but sometimes the effort has been completely absent. Turnovers, defensive intensity, and rebounding have been somewhat concerning issues.

Even in their wins, the Warriors have had to dig themselves out of holes they never should’ve been in in the first place. In the Pelicans’, Wizards’, and Spurs’ games, the Warriors were down by double digits in the first quarter and had to claw their way back into the game.

In other games, the Warriors have had cold spells at times, but it seems like the Warriors look furthest from their true selves early on.

Advanced statistics back this up: the Warriors are only +4.4 in net rating in the first quarter, and actually improve in each successive quarter: they’re a +8.3 in the second, +13.2 in the third, and a whopping +22.2 in the fourth.

So why are the Warriors relatively bad in the first quarter? It’s not their offense; their 117.1 offensive rating in the first quarter is less than their 118.1 offensive rating throughout the entire game, but it would still be best in the league by a mile (the Clippers are the second best offensive team in the league so far, and their offensive rating is 108.7).

It’s not their turnovers or rebounds either; although they corral fewer rebounds and commit more turnovers than most teams, they don’t do so worse in the first quarter.

The culprit is the defense. The Warriors have a 112.7 defensive rating in the opening period, which is the worst in the league. And it really is a problem in the first quarter especially; the defensive rating in the other three quarters is close to league average.

I don’t think that this will continue to be as extreme a problem as it is now. But the Warriors need to come out with defensive purpose and attention to detail. This is on the starters; it’s not a lack of talent.

One thing to watch is whether Zaza Pachulia’s play improves. Last season, Pachulia was a valuable defensive player against almost all teams in the NBA who could do enough offensively to warrant significant minutes. But so far this season, he’s been inept defensively and visibly aged. He’s playing four fewer minutes per game and has been outplayed by both David West and Jordan Bell.

Regardless, this early-game defensive ineptitude cannot continue. Having to claw back from deficits is exhausting, and the Warriors want to get as much rest as they can.

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