Over these past few games, there have been several articles and pieces that have been written about how the Golden State Warriors may have finally turned a corner before the advent of the playoffs in approximately four weeks — that the Warriors were finally living up to their reputation as the consensus favorites to win their third-straight championship and fourth in five years.
Yours truly was one of those writers praising the Warriors for their recent stretch of games. On the defensive end, most especially, the Warriors had finally decided to clamp down and play the kind of suffocating lockdown defense that they were always capable of. Going into Saturday night’s game against the Dallas Mavericks, the Warriors posted a defensive rating of 100.6 over the last five games, starting with their victory over the Houston Rockets up till their recent victory against the Indiana Pacers. Over that same stretch, they went 4-1, with their lone defeat being against the San Antonio Spurs.
To add further context to how their defense allowed them to survive that tough five-game stretch, the Warriors allowed their opponents in that same stretch to shoot 40.7 percent from the field, while allowing them to shoot only 29.3 percent from three-point range. As I have stated before, the Warriors’ offense can stand alone on its own merit, without necessarily having the need for the defense to be humming alongside it. But the Warriors are at their absolute best when they allow their defense to translate directly into an offensive rhythm. Whenever they put the clamps on their opponents, the floodgates open for them on the other end, and the ensuing rush of water often overwhelms and drowns their adversaries.
But against the Dallas Mavericks, it was the Warriors themselves who were the victims of a rush of water that immediately overwhelmed them from the start. The Mavericks started hitting a barrage of three-point shots, including a vintage shooting display from the legendary Dirk Nowitzki, who finished the night with 21 points on 5-of-8 shooting from three. Overall, the Mavericks finished with a 21-of-49 clip from three, good for 42.9 percent — exceeding the expectations from a team that is ranked 27th in the league in three-point field goal percentage (34.1 percent).
The argument that certain teams do have their so-called “lucky” days in terms of shooting is certainly valid — on some days, players feel good and confident with their shots; on other days, they simply cannot knock down shots that they would normally make. The Mavericks and the Warriors were on the opposite sides of this shooting spectrum — but it does not mean that the Warriors were completely blameless.
They had trouble all night long in perimeter defense. When the Mavericks were hitting threes left and right, the Warriors failed to adjust accordingly. Credit must also be given to the Mavericks for making the Warriors’ lives a living hell on the perimeter, but the Warriors simply did not show the kind of hounding defense they displayed against their five previous opponents.
Look at all of these made threes by the Mavericks — most of these are due to the Warriors’ penchant for overhelping, unnecessarily rotating, and being drawn in by drives that result in kick outs and open threes. Some of these are also due to displays of individual brilliance from Luka Doncic, a bona fide future superstar and an incredible talent, while other shots — such as Devin Harris’ desperation shot over some incredible defensive work by Andre Iguodala — are just plain old ridiculous.
But when Nowitzki — obviously a shell of his former physical self and mostly confined to standing and spotting up — is left wide open for threes, then it says more about the Warriors’ inability to quickly close out, crowd him, and making him feel uncomfortable.
By the end of the night, the Mavericks dropped 126 points on the Warriors, who were left with a defensive rating of 131.3 against a team that is 21st in the league in offensive rating (108.3), and — coming into Saturday night — had lost 15 of their last 17 games.
The Warriors’ top-ranked offense didn’t show up either — they shot 36-of-90 from the field (40 percent), with an abysmal 4-of-30 clip from three-point range (13.3 percent). With Stephen Curry being held out for load management, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant weren’t able to step up to fill in for his long-range sniping, going for a combined 0-of-12 on threes.
“Well, defensively we were not connected,” said Steve Kerr after the game. “We weren’t talking and we got off to that slow start. Dallas is always a hard team to guard. They execute well. ... Lots of miscommunication. We just couldn’t pull it together after that slow start, and we never could get any traction. So we just got to flush this one down the toilet and move on to tomorrow. Not much else to do.”
Steve Kerr after the Warriors got beat by 35 at home by the Mavericks pic.twitter.com/6iwPFCTm0L— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) March 24, 2019
Kerr is definitely correct — the Warriors weren’t their usual selves, and while the absence of Curry made it difficult for the Warriors to get any sort of shooting rhythm together, it wasn’t an excuse for them to throw away their duty to play defense. It was indeed a performance worthy of being labeled as something that belongs within a toilet bowl, but as Kerr said, it is best left to be flushed down towards the proverbial waste dump of performances that the Warriors have built up this season, if only to be quickly forgotten.
Seventy-two down, 10 more to go.
Stay Golden, Dub Nation.
*All stats courtesy of NBA.com/stats