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The Golden Breakdown: For the Warriors defense, there may be nowhere to go but down

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The Warriors’ 120-92 defeat against the Thunder was stark, but things could get worse before they get much better.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

That is, according to Murphy’s law. For the Golden State Warriors, after a second consecutive thrashing at the hands of an old Western Conference rival, all things that were expected to go wrong for them came to pass — and perhaps, even way worse than what was initially expected.

After showing no semblance of a defensive identity against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Warriors’ identity crisis continued to rear its ugly head against the Oklahoma City Thunder, who managed to score 120 points on a hapless Warriors defense and made it look overwhelmingly easy.

To see the once-mighty Golden State defense — albeit riddled with a far-different cast of players — crumble in the face of a second-straight offensive onslaught is extremely jarring. For casual observers who might not have been cognizant of the possible effects and consequences of their offseason roster turnover, it has been an enormous shock.

But the people who followed this team closely while it was being stripped apart and essentially rebuilt from the ground up were more aware. They braced for the impact of such a high-speed crash towards reality. The seat belts were secure, the airbags fully functional — but no amount of safety precautions could sugarcoat the wreck that happened in Oklahoma City.

Looking back at the first game against the Clippers, the signs were immediately apparent. A defense stripped of its best defenders were helpless against arguably the championship favorites. The first half said as much: A defensive rating of 122.3 after one half of play, hugely a consequence of a lack of perimeter and interior defense. That number would later rise to 136.6 by the end of that night.

However, against a team that people expected to occupy the same tier as the Warriors this season in the Thunder, their first half defense again left much to be desired.

The haymaker they took on the chin that was delivered by the Clippers was to be expected. The one they took flush against the Thunder, however, came almost without warning — one that danced to the tune of a 15-3 run during the first three minutes of the game for the Thunder. The Clippers may be this season’s Mike Tyson, but the Warriors sure did a good job of making the Thunder look like a convincing doppelganger.

“We’ve gone two straight games now giving up a double-digit lead in the first six minutes,” Stephen Curry said after the game. “When you’re playing from behind it’s just not a good night (and) good scenario for us, so we gotta figure that out.”

Looking for answers all night long, the Warriors — reeling from that initial Thunder rampage — went to a zone defense early on, perhaps to force the Thunder into chucking up shots from the perimeter.

A zone is supposed to discourage forays into the paint, with the expectation that the team executing the zone is capable of any sort of decent interior defense. As shown in the clip above, the Warriors proved otherwise — Terrance Ferguson drives baseline and easily penetrates for the easy layup.

The Warriors are not a team capable of interior defense at this point. They are bereft of dependable big men, with Kevon Looney out for an indefinite amount of time due a neuropathic problem and Willie Cauley-Stein a week or two away from returning from his foot injury.

But with no other recourse, the Warriors had to try something different. Their patented switching scheme didn’t work, certainly not with this roster bereft of versatile wings. An Andre Iguodala or Kevin Durant switching on Steven Adams isn’t physically ideal, but they possess the guile to know what to do in that situation. Replacing them with players such as Glenn Robinson III and Jacob Evans is definitely a significant downgrade.

As for the Warriors’ plan to let the Thunder chuck from the outside and miss shots? Suffice it to say, it didn’t go all that well. Yes, the Thunder are projected to be a middling three-point shooting team, with their only reliable sharpshooter being Danilo Gallinari (43.3 percent from beyond the arc last season). But the Thunder were given plenty of wide-open looks all night long, and in an unforgiving defensive environment such as the NBA, even the most average of shooters can look like Stephen Curry when they aren’t being adequately challenged.

Thunder shotchart vs. Warriors defense
NBA.com

As displayed from the shotchart above, the Thunder had their way with the Warriors defense from three-point range — where the Thunder shot 15-of-32 (46.9 percent) — as well as the paint, where the Thunder were able to put up 46 points. A balanced diet of threes and layups against an unbalanced defensive roster was the worst-case scenario the Warriors had tried so hard to avoid, but what was, in reality, inevitable.

“I don’t think we even know what good defense is at this point,” Draymond Green said after the game. “The reality is we f****** suck right now.”

Offensively, the Warriors also lacked rhythm. Curry finished with 23 points, but was shackled by inefficiency for a second consecutive game, finishing with a 7-of-18 clip from the field (38.9 percent) and a 2-of-9 clip from beyond the arc. With D’Angelo Russell scoring only 6 points and being rewarded for it by being ejected in the third quarter, the Warriors’ disjointed chemistry and focus on offense was the proverbial (rotten) cherry on top of the abysmal defense they displayed.

“Honestly, I cant even judge our offense because we’re taking the ball out of the basket every possession,” Curry said when asked about the Warriors’ problems on offense. “We’ve been drowning on that side of the floor, so it’s really hard to assess what we’re doing offensively. ... Jury’s still out on that one.”

A two-game sample is by no means fully indicative of how a season will go, especially with a team lacking several of its crucial pieces. But a two-game sample is also the start of a potential pattern, the inception of a seed that could grow into a giant beanstalk of problems for the Warriors if they don’t nip it at the bud.

Before that process can start, however, things could definitely get worse than they already have been. These are all part of the growing pains that this young roster must experience. Success often breeds perspectives that are viewed through rose-tinted glasses. But once that view is shattered, the sudden fall from grace is hard to grasp and accept. Taking a step back from such a high vantage point might be the most prudent approach.

Drinking and driving — in the literal sense — is most certainly the wrong way to go about things. But for the long and arduous journey that is the 2019-20 season, having a drink or two along the way might help ease the pain.

Take a cue from Steve Kerr.

Two down, 80 more to go.

Stay Golden, Dub Nation.