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Warriors say they’re a ‘different team’ ahead of huge road game

Golden State won only 11 road games this season. They think they’ll get one in the playoffs

2022 NBA Finals - Boston Celtics v Golden State Warriors
Andrew Wiggins and Gary Payton II believe they’ll make a defensive difference in Game 5
Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The Golden State Warriors were a different team away from the Chase Center this season. They believe they’ll be a different road team in Sacramento for a crucial Game 5.

The statistics are discouraging. Golden State was 11-30 on the road in the regular season, mainly due to a significantly worse defense. On the road, they had a defensive rating of 119.9, compared to 110.4 at home. The offense was slightly worse, with a 115.7 offensive rating away from home compared to 118.3 at the Chase Center, but it’s not nearly the shocking difference on the defensive end.

Coach Steve Kerr thinks the team has turned it around. “We’re different now,” he told reporters. “We’re much better defensively. This is the best offensive team in the league, and through four games we’ve gone a pretty good job.”

Kerr was speaking specifically on the team’s defense in the half court, which has been better, particularly due to the return of Andrew Wiggins. The Sacramento Kings scored 41 points off turnovers in Games 1 and 2, while the Warriors committed 37 turnovers. Back at home, the Dubs took care of the ball better. They committed only 24 turnovers, and the Kings scored just 25 points off them.

Simply having Wiggins back greatly transforms their defense. It also allows the Warriors to rebound better, even when they go to three-guard lineups. Assuming Payton has recovered from the illness that slowed him last weekend, he’s also a huge boost for the team’s defense.

“We’ve gotten better offensively and defensively, obviously, adding GP,” Wiggins told reporters Tuesday. “We’ve made some strides in the right direction, at the right time.”

The Warriors’ defense also benefits from the shorter rotations in the playoffs. Players like Anthony Lamb and Jonathan Kuminga played big minutes in regular season road games. Lamb averaged 18.8 minutes in 32 road games, while Kuminga played 22.6 minutes in 33 road games. Kuminga has certainly shown flashes of defensive excellence, but he’s also a 20-year-old who averages 5.4 fouls per 48 minutes on the road.

Of course, this is all speculation until the Warriors actually play solid defense on the road for four quarters. But the Warriors have one at least one road game for 27 consecutive playoff series.

They’ll be facing a limited De’Aaron Fox, who has a broken finger on his shooting hand. And they’ll also have plenty of motivation. If they can steal Game 5 on the road, they can avoid returning to Sacramento and their impressively-loud fans at all. And if the Grizzlies don’t come back from a 3-1 deficit (spoiler: they won’t), the six-seeded Warriors would actually have home-court advantage in the second round.

It all depends on whether the Warriors are the road team we’ve seen all year - or the road team we’ve seen for Steph Curry’s entire playoff career. It’s time for the defense to answer the (cow) bell.

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