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GSOM Round(2)table - Part One: The Warriors defense as a game-changer

Where are we at as far as confidence in this team, and what are the key matchups?

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

After a relatively painless gentlemen’s sweep of the San Antonio Spurs in round 1, the Warriors are busy prepping for a second round battle against the New Orleans Pelicans and their star, Anthony Davis.

Golden State of Mind’s writers all sat down (virtually speaking) to discuss our thoughts and feelings heading into what would seem to be a much tougher series.

First off, how are you feeling about our chances overall? See anything in Round One that moved the needle for your confidence?

JMak: Defense. The way the team looked this series harkened back to that stretch in December after Stephen Curry injured his ankle upon stepping on a Pelican. The team went 9-1 during that period, had one of the best defenses in the league, and Kevin Durant’s name was popping up everywhere in early DPOY discussions.

Lo and behold, here we are again minus Curry and sporting the best defensive efficiency rating in the playoffs. Sure the Spurs were a middling offensive squad all season long and lack the firepower that most other teams in the playoffs have. But I don’t think that should refute the activity and effort put forth by the Warriors as rotations were the tightest I’ve seen from them in awhile. We really played shutdown defense.

Watching the whole team and especially Draymond Green return to familiar form on that end of the floor for 5 straight games has given me a confidence boost that the team has indeed locked in, and I think that gives us a considerable chance for a repeat of “We be championship”.

Hugo: I agree with Justin, the defense has been amazing. Offensively, the shooting slumps and lack of spacing hurt, but it wasn’t too concerning. I’m feeling good about the Warriors without Steph, and feeling great about the Warriors when they do get him back.

Patrick: Yep, Justin nailed it. I think from the first moments of Game 1 all my switch-related worries melted away. Defense wins championships, and this team is back to being a top defensive team. Now granted that was against an offensively limited Spurs team, but they execute their sets well and the Warriors locked in and played with the focused ferocity we have come to expect the last few years.

But alongside that I think the much tighter rotation, and the proactive move to start Iguodala showed Kerr isn’t messing around this year. Against the Spurs it felt like a very different team to the regular season, and felt very different from previous playoffs where Kerr has tended to make those bolder moves later in the series. It’ll be interesting to see if Kerr’s got something up his sleeve from the jump this time too.

Finally Klay Thompson was absolutely terrific. He delivered reliably time and again - a bit like he did when Curry was out in 2016, but better. He’s reached a new level of consistency in his game this year, and I think that really showed against the Spurs. The veterans have showed that they still have some bounce too, particularly Livingston who looked fantastic. If Curry comes back firing, then I’m feeling pretty damn good about this year.

Tom: I’m feeling about the same as I did before Round One, which was already on the more confident side. The one thing that has me feeling slightly more confident is that we’ve seen the Warriors flip the proverbial switch now, particularly (and has already been noted) on defense. There is that twinge of apprehension when facing an amazing talent like Anthony Davis. But after seeing how the Warriors played against the Spurs, both in terms of their intensity level and how they approached things, I feel good about the Warriors’ ability to smoothly navigate this matchup.

What’s a key matchup or stat for fans to watch for?

Hugo: Draymond Green and Kevin Durant guarding Anthony Davis. Davis is a different kind of threat that the Warriors have rarely played against in the playoffs: Gentry has provided shooting around him at center that gives him a lot of room in the paint to go to work. I think the Warriors can’t shut him down, but if they contain him, the Pelicans won’t have much else to run their offense with. I think the Warriors will be able to throw a lot of different looks at him, and try to disrupt him with well-timed double teams and blitzes.

JMak: A lot of talk will go towards the frontcourt guys, but I think there’s a big secondary matchup brewing between Klay Thompson and Jrue Holiday. Holiday was a huge reason behind the Pelican’s sweep of the Blazers, averaging 9 points more than his season average while shooting more efficiently from the field. But neither Damian Lillard nor CJ McCollum present the defensive blanket that Thompson can be. Anthony Davis is bound to get his, but if we can limit their secondary scoring threats like Holiday, we stand a good chance to take this series.

Patrick: Quinn Cook vs Ian Clark. The battle of the bench Warriors. Will David West accidently get confused and hit a cutting Clark on defense? Will Cook recall his time on the Pelicans last season (dropping his then career-high in Oracle) and start raining threes in the wrong basket?

Seriously though this series starts with Davis, and ends with Curry’s return. I’ve seen some suggesting Durant guard Davis, and Green take Mirotic. But Draymond has openly admitted his struggles with players that stretch the Warriors out, and it would take our best defender away from where he can muck things up. One interesting thing to look out for is whether Green ends up on Rondo, and Durant takes AD at times. That would allow Draymond to gum up their offense a bit more as Rondo can’t shoot for toffee.

On the other end, the Pelicans will surely struggle with the length of the Warriors. For example, who the hell on the Pelicans is going to take Durant? My guess is that it would have to be Davis, because Soloman Hill sure as hell Pelican’t. Meanwhile Klay Thompson is a lot bigger than any of the Pelicans guards. Holiday’s a great defender but Klay has the size and length to get shots off over him, Rondo, E’Twan Moore, or Clark. The Pelicans lack of wings in this series could see them going the way of the Dodo.

Tom: It’s the most obvious thing one can say but… turnovers. The one Warriors-Pelicans matchup we can glean something from this season is the April 7th Warriors loss. In that game, the Warriors had 17 turnovers, including a couple bad ones by Kevin Durant in the closing minutes. The Pelicans ranked near the top of the league in field goal percentage (which makes sense given that they have one of the best big men in the game in Anthony Davis) so if you give them extra opportunities they are particularly equipped to make you pay.

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