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The Golden Breakdown: How the Warriors’ vintage third quarter destroyed the Pacers

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The Warriors are still the best at using the third quarter to stamp their class over their opponents. Their destruction of the Pacers proved that they are rounding into form at the right time.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Golden State Warriors Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Based on pure statistical evidence, the Golden State Warriors aren’t the best third quarter team in the league during this season.

With a plus/minus of +219 in third quarters this season, the Warriors are ranked second behind the +221 of the Toronto Raptors, per While being a close second in that category is nothing to scoff at, it seemed not too long ago that the Warriors made the third quarter their uncontested dominion.

Prior to this season, the Warriors consistently led the league in plus/minus during third quarters, starting from the 2014-15 season, where their +287 topped the league. The zenith of their third quarter dominance came during the 2016-17 season, where they unquestionably claimed the third quarter for their own with a +477 — which was a far cry from the second ranked San Antonio Spurs’ +249. They were nigh untouchable during that period, where they would often distance themselves from their opponents or stage seemingly-insurmountable comebacks that would often break the wills of their opponents.

This season, they have been slightly bested in a quarter that most people have anointed as theirs to own. Several factors can account for this, but the most glaring one would probably be their tendency to take their foot off the gas pedal, or probably a refusal to even step on it in the first place. Complacency and general boredom have been the banes of the Warriors during this season, and it has affected their overall performance across all quarters, including the third.

The old, dominant third quarter team showed up against the Indiana Pacers, who were initially in a pitched defensive battle against the defending champions. While they were able to limit the Warriors to 19 points in the first quarter, they themselves were limited to only 19 points. By halftime, the Warriors were able to break away with a 10-point lead — a comfortable lead, but still within striking distance for the Pacers.

When the third quarter hit, however, the Warriors turned on their jets, took flight, and soared to a universe higher than what the Pacers were even capable of reaching. A 35-19 quarter was made possible through excellent two-way play, including defensive stops that immediately led to buckets on the other end.

It is when the Warriors are engaged on both ends of the floor — especially on defense — that they have lived up to their reputation as the most dominant team in the NBA’s modern era.

Let’s look at how they dominated the Pacers during the third quarter en route to a blowout victory.

As was mentioned above, the Warriors were noticeably engaged on the defensive end. They have the notorious tendency to play down to the level of their opponents, and a lack of defensive intensity and focus have often been the most noticeable culprits for such a tendency.

Against the Pacers, however, they did not let up at all. Punishing them for missed shots, stagnant possessions, and turnovers, the Warriors made sure to translate those stops into production on the other end. In this sequence, Stephen Curry does a great job of staying in front of Bojan Bogdanovic, eventually forcing him baseline and getting some help from Draymond Green near the rim. This forces Bogdanovic to pass out of the trap, but he passes it to the wrong person, as Klay Thompson gets the steal. On the other end, a simple pin down by Green and a pass from Kevin Durant nets Curry the catch-and-shoot three.

To take advantage of the rhythm that he’s established, Curry calls his own number when an early screen by Durant forces Bogdanovic to switch onto the smaller and quicker guard. With his mismatch meter blaring, Curry shows off his exquisite handles, gets some separation, and buries the three over Bogdanovic.

DeMarcus Cousins is a big target for opposing teams. Most of them expect him to have plenty of trouble in defending smaller and quicker perimeter players, and they often hunt him down in switches in order to take advantage of his lumbering frame, where the farther away he is from the paint, the lesser his defensive capabilities will be.

When Bogdanovic gets the switch onto Cousins, he bails him out by shooting a deep three that is well contested. The ball hits the front of the rim, and with Cousins leaking out by virtue of being ahead of everyone else after the contest, Green locates him and places a pass right into his hands for the fastbreak layup.

This gets Cousins going, as he gets two subsequent buckets off of failed attempts by the Pacers to score. A long three by Myles Turner misses, translating into a Cousins bucket courtesy of a Klay Thompson assist. Afterwards, Durant plays excellent defense on Cory Joseph — Durant sticks with him and doesn’t let him have breathing room for a clear shot. On the other end, Cousins gets the step on Turner and manages to sneak by him for a layup.

Déjà vu strikes for the Pacers, as another missed long three allows another leak out and fastbreak bucket for the Warriors. After Green contests Wesley Matthews’ shot, Curry gets the rebound, and his outlet pass finds the running Green for the layup plus a foul.

Keep your eyes on Durant in this possession. He starts near the right corner, guarded by Matthews. The Warriors are deliberate with bringing the ball up, as if to lull the Pacers into being defensively relaxed. Matthews is on an island against Durant, as the entire defensive line is stationed high. Durant fakes a run toward the arc, and Matthews bites. Green times his lob perfectly, and Durant cuts toward the basket to catch the lob for the dunk.

In this possession, the Warriors whip out their deadliest action — the Durant/Curry pick-and-roll. Instead of the usual 1-3 set-up, where Durant screens for Curry, they employ the 3-1 variation where Curry screens for Durant. Curry rolls shortly after setting the screen, and Durant’s pocket pass finds him. Curry’s drive attracts a lot of attention toward the paint, leaving Andre Iguodala wide open on the left wing. Curry kicks the ball out to Iguodala, who subsequently knocks down the jumper. The action isn’t too complex, but it is a classic example of how gravity and motion can inflict massive damage.

The Warriors unleash their classic double punch set play — a double high screen for Curry, followed by an entry pass to Durant in the post. Curry then gets a screen from Kevon Looney and catches the pass from Durant. The main action is well defended, with Joseph trailing behind Curry and not letting him have any space to shoot. Green is left alone on the left wing, which is usually how he should be defended, given that he has been shooting the three terribly this season (27 percent). But once he gets the pass from Curry, he knocks down the shot and makes the Pacers live with the result.

The Warriors force the Pacers into two turnovers that translate into points on the other end. A bounce pass is disrupted by Durant, after which he and Iguodala work in tandem for a fastbreak dunk. A few possessions later, Curry stays in front of Thaddeus Young and perfectly times his poke at the ball. This leads to a wide-open dunk for Green.

To close out the Warriors’ vintage third quarter rampage, Curry knocks down 2 threes that for all intents and purposes knocks the Pacers down for the count. Curry gets open for a three courtesy of a Looney pin down, but he bricks the shot. Fortunately, the ball bounces his way, and his reload shot from the right corner goes in.

With around five seconds to work with, Curry advances the ball quickly, shakes off his man by stepping back, and goes up for the proverbial cherry-on-top to cap off a third quarter that more or less crippled the Pacers for the rest of the game.

Through face-value alone — or talent-value, for that matter — the Warriors are the kind of team that can stand on their own if offense was the only end of the floor that they solely relied on. They have four of the best offensive weapons in the game in Curry, Durant, Thompson, and Cousins, as well as one of the best passers and high-IQ playmakers in the game in Green. If their offense is humming, it would be hard to beat them even if their defense was subpar.

But the Warriors are at their best when they are locked-in and fully engaged on the defensive end. It is no coincidence that they ranked highly in defensive rating during their 73-9 season and their first season with Durant. Their first championship season of this dynastic run was also due to their top-ranked defense. As much as defense isn’t as eye-catching as offense is, it’s still what separates the absolute elite, championship caliber teams from the rest of the field.

As Monte Poole said from his tweet above, the Warriors know that the playoffs are near. They have shown that they are capable of turning on the switch when the need for it arises. And if the third quarter switch that they flipped on against the Pacers was any indication — and with the Warriors looking healthy, fresh, and fully focused on the task at hand — it is looking like the championship will be theirs for the taking.

Seventy-one down, 11 more to go.

Stay Golden, Dub Nation.