OAKLAND, Calif. — In the grand scheme of things, a mid-March contest without Kevin Durant against the Philadelphia 76ers shouldn’t really hold too much importance for the Golden State Warriors.
But try telling that to Draymond Green.
A true leader does not sit back and wait for an opportunity to present itself to take charge — he or she simply creates one. With nine minutes remaining in the second quarter, Green took command of the Warriors’ huddle.
“When I came back to the huddle, he was in the middle of telling guys this was going to be hard,” Steve Kerr said in admiration of Green’s leadership. “You don’t lose five out of seven and then just all of sudden show up and blow a team out. You have to dig your way out. He led the charge.”
The Warriors were in the midst of their worst losing streak during the regular season in almost four years. Well, if you want to get technical, their only losing streak during the regular season since November 2013.
But this is the Golden State Warriors that we’re talking about here, a team capable of torching the three-point line on any given night, regardless of the circumstances.
“You don’t go into a rut and then come out and hit 20 threes. It just don’t work like that,” said Draymond after the Warriors’ gritty win over the Sixers, whose message to the team was clear. “The only way to change that is to grind yourself out, grind your way out of it. Like I said, it’s not going to be pretty. The shots just aren’t going to fall.”
The shots certainly did not just fall for the Warriors on Tuesday night against Philadelphia. Golden State shot just 36.8% from the field on 32 made field goals, which accounts for their lowest output from the floor in a game this season. Many of their misses were on what the Warriors would consider to be open shots.
But there is a mystical aspect to the game of basketball; if a team plays defense with maximum effort and can disrupt the opposing team’s offensive rhythm, that in turn feeds right into their own offense.
With the Warriors down 12 heading into the fourth quarter, Green’s message to his team was yet again crystal clear: “Just put your head down and go defend and the offense will come. Once we started to defend everything else started to go our way.”
This is no new theory. Golden State will only go as far as their defense will take them. And much of the Warriors’ offensive struggles over the past few weeks are directly linked to the absence of Kevin Durant.
However, it is on the defensive end where the Warriors miss Durant the most. His size, athleticism and defensive versatility is relatively unmatched in the NBA. Durant possesses the ability to guard all five positions on the floor and is a phenomenal weakside defender, where he accrues most of his blocked shots.
There is really not much reason to worry about the Warriors’ offensive struggles at the moment. They have played the fewest amount of home games out of any team in the league this season yet still lead the NBA in wins. They also became the fastest team in NBA history to punch their ticket to the playoffs.
Kevin Durant may not finish in the top five in MVP voting this season, but it is pretty clear just how valuable he is to the Warriors. While Golden State is going through a tough stretch at the moment, arguably their most impactful player is taking multiple weeks of rest right before the playoffs.
Things could be worse.