The Golden State Warriors and the Utah Jazz are polar opposites in some ways. One team still contends for a playoff spot among the titans of the Western Conference. The other has seen its glory days come and go, now relegated to the bottom of the pecking order not just in the West, but in all of the NBA.
However, the one glaring aspect in which the Warriors and Jazz are polar opposites is how they are ranked defensively. Going into last night’s game, the Warriors were the worst defensive team in the league, with a defensive rating of 116.4. On the other end of the spectrum, the Jazz were the second-best team in the league defensively, with their 97.8 defensive rating only being trumped by the Los Angeles Lakers’ 96.1 defensive rating.
There was no doubt that this upcoming homestand — where the first two teams in the slate would happen to be against the two best defenses in the league — was a litmus test of sorts for the young Warriors squad. Offensively, the Warriors are placed right in the middle of the pack, an amazing feat considering the amount of offensive talent they lost in the span of a few months. But based on the Warriors’ roster of youth and inexperience — as well as the arguably more crippling losses they incurred in terms of defensive personnel – it was on the defensive end of the floor where the team truly felt like they had experienced a gargantuan downgrade.
In a battle between teams who occupy opposite extremes within the defensive spectrum, it was the superior defensive team — to absolutely no one’s surprise — who came out on top. The Jazz’s 122-108 victory was another reminder of the new reality that faces the Warriors, one that has their players being faced with no choice but to learn on the job.
As their first postgame lesson, the young Warriors are sure to be pointed toward several box score metrics by the coaching staff. They allowed the Jazz to shoot 40-of-81 from the field, good for 49.1 percent. On three-point shots, the Warriors gave up an astounding 16 threes out of 35 attempts, which amounted to an astronomical rate of 45.7 percent.
While the Jazz are certainly more talented and experienced than the Warriors, it still stands that such numbers are tantamount to a team that has little to no defensive identity whatsoever. The blame can certainly be placed upon certain players more than others, but ultimately the entire team must take responsibility for such a glaring problem.
There were many instances of defensive breakdowns spread out during last night’s game, but there are a select few worth looking into. Here are five of them.
Defensive breakdown #1: First quarter, 11:55 mark
The first defensive oversight came during the very first possession of the game, from the last person on the team one would expect to commit an error on defense.
The Jazz win the tip and start to run their first set on offense. But seeing that Willie Cauley-Stein has been drawn out of the paint by Rudy Gobert, Bojan Bogdanovic easily gets past Draymond Green for a baseline cut and reverse layup. Green has been out for a few games due to a torn ligament on his left hand, and there was certainly an element of rust involved in that mistake. But seeing the team’s defensive leader commit a glaring mistake on that end certainly wasn’t a sign of good things to come.
Defensive breakdown #2: First quarter, 8:50 mark
During Green’s postgame interview — during which he touched on topics such as his disdain for being ejected after garnering two technical fouls — he broached the subject of the Warriors’ terrible pick-and-roll defense.
“The improvements that we’ve made from day 1 in the pick-and-roll — we couldn’t stop you day 1 in the pick-and-roll,” Green said. “I think we’re definitely improving in that. We just gotta continue working on that, and we will. I think that’s where it all starts.”
Green is correct in saying that the Warriors aren’t exactly as egregious defensively — pick-and-roll defense included — as they were during the first few games of the season, where they looked completely lost, befuddled, and gave up baskets as if the other team were executing routine shooting drills. But Green is also correct in his assessment that there is still massive room for improvement.
Take this possession, for instance, where the Warriors look lost in defending a routine pick-and-roll.
The mistakes on this possession can be attributed to a few players. Cauley-Stein isn’t particularly known for his pick-and-roll defense, and it shows — he gets too high in trying to contain Bogdanovic’s stroll inside, which leaves Gobert with plenty of room to roll. At the same time, Green fails to rotate onto Gobert and is left in no-man’s land, stuck on deciding whether to stay on Mike Conley on the perimeter or to pick up Gobert’s roll toward the rim. His hesitation results in an easy dunk for Gobert.
Defensive breakdown #3: Second quarter, 7:55 mark
The Jazz aren’t particularly known for their transition attack — their 10.8 fastbreak points per game is ranked 28th in the league, signaling their preference for scoring in the halfcourt. Against the Warriors, the Jazz managed to score only 4 points in the fastbreak, compared to the Warriors’ 20 fastbreak points.
But even the most fastbreak-averse teams in the NBA are capable of taking advantage of an opportunity in transition whenever it is presented to them on a silver platter. One such instance came during this possession in the second quarter.
Although still not excusable if it were the case, this kind of transition bucket, where Jeff Green outruns the entire Warriors defense and soars for an alley-oop, would be more understandable if it came as a result of a missed shot and a long rebound that would’ve given the Jazz a head start in the fastbreak. But that clearly wasn’t the case — Damion Lee managed to score inside, yet the Warriors failed to display a sense of urgency in getting back.
While the Warriors defense essentially jogging back toward the other end could be blamed for this, particular blame could be attributed to Eric Paschall, who failed to recognize Jeff Green running ahead of everyone else on defense.
Defensive breakdown #4: Second quarter, 7:00 mark
This was one possession during which the Warriors actually played excellent defense for most of the shot clock, one where the Warriors gave the Jazz a different look in the form of a zone.
As to what kind of zone it was, I’m not entirely sure. Even our very own master analyst Apricot couldn’t tell.
I *think* GSW was in a 1-3-1 zone? Or maybe a 3-2? Couldn't tell the shape, Dray was yelling whole time at Poole to get into right position.— Eric Apricot (@EricApricot) November 12, 2019
The Warriors were closing holes for most of this possession and were on the cusp of forcing either a desperation heave from outside, or a turnover in the form of a 24-second violation. But in their attempt to rotate to every perimeter player who received the ball, they may have rotated a bit too much, resulting in the paint parting like the Red Sea and leaving Gobert all by his lonesome for the easy dunk.
Take particular notice of Marquese Chriss, who just seemed lost during the last 5 seconds of the possession. Chriss’ mistake was not sticking to Gobert and staying underneath the rim, preventing an easy inside bucket and getting ready to box out for a shot released from the perimeter. Instead, a possible stop turns into points that shouldn’t have been possible if the Warriors played 24 seconds of excellent defense instead of 23.
Defensive breakdown #5: Second quarter, 3:30 mark
This one was just too easy. The Warriors, who were still in somewhat of a zone, gives up this practice shot to Donovan Mitchell.
Before this season, Mitchell wasn’t particularly known for his three-point shooting prowess, which his career-35 percent shooting rate from beyond the arc clearly shows. But he has been on a tear from long range so far during this season, shooting 43 percent on threes in a clear attempt to develop his perimeter game.
A zone generally aims to clog the paint, which in turn forces a team to take jump shots from the perimeter. However, this does not give the defense license to relax on their perimeter defense, which clearly happened in the clip above. Mitchell is practically allowed to step into his shot, with no one near to even breathe on him.
These are just five among several defensive mistakes the Warriors committed last night against the Jazz, who managed to score 122 points despite being the 24th-ranked offense in the NBA. The Warriors’ defensive rating of 120.8 last night against a team not particularly known for their offense was the latest setback in a season that has been full of them.
Many more setbacks are bound to happen, especially with their upcoming slate of games not giving them an ounce of breathing room. The next team the Warriors will face has been the best defensive team in the league so far; the safe bet is that the Warriors will be forced to bleed for their points during that game.
As for the Warriors making the Lakers bleed for theirs ... just don’t count on it.
Eleven down, 71 more to go.
Stay Golden, Dub Nation.