Home News Warriors ramp up NBA playoff-level defense: What’s real, what’s not?

Warriors ramp up NBA playoff-level defense: What’s real, what’s not?


In each of their past three games, the Warriors have held their opponents to under 100 points.

Golden State’s three-game win streak has come with opposing point totals of 92, 93, and 97. The last time their defense limited three straight teams below the century mark was the 2021-22 season, when they won the championship.

“We’re talking a little bit more,” Chris Paul said after Golden State’s win in Charlotte. “Starting to get in the right spots. I think we’re showing what we’re capable of when we defend.”

Over the last three games, Golden State ranks second in the league in defensive rating (100.3). But the Warriors probably didn’t suddenly just snap into championship-level defense. Golden State has made some strides over the small sample, but has also benefited from a soft pocket in its schedule and shooting luck.

To see what’s real and what’s not with how the Warriors are clicking defensively, look under the hood.

Take, for instance, the teams Golden State handled. The Heat were not only missing their top two scorers in Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro, but were also missing Kevin Love, Josh Richardson, and Duncan Robinson. They had 74.6 points per game sidelined.

Against the Warriors, the Heat shot just 24.2% from 3. Terry Rozier and Jaime Jacquez Jr., shooting 32% and 31% from 3, respectively, went a combined 2-for-10 from 3. Miami just didn’t have enough shooting.

Then the Warriors shocked Orlando without Jonathan Kuminga and with Draymond Green getting ejected 3:36 into the game. The Warriors are certainly not a better defensive team without Green and Kuminga — arguably their best athlete — but nonetheless locked up the Magic.

Golden State’s defensive performance that game had just as much to do with Orlando simply going ice cold, though. The Magic, who rank 23rd in offensive rating this season, generated better shots than the Warriors but shot only 42.4% overall.

For much of the year, it has seemed like the Warriors have been unlucky with their opponents’ shooting. Bit players like Santi Aldama, Isaiah Joe and Harrison Barnes have lit them up.

But against the Magic, the Warriors got lucky from Orlando missing open shots. Per PBP Stats, Orlando’s 48.2% effective field goal percentage was well below the 54% they were expected to register based on a shot quality model that accounts for play-by-play data.

Orlando misses lightly contested layups and practice-gym 3s. The Magic is far from an offensive juggernaut, and had a rough night even by its standards.

Warriors ramp up NBA playoff-level defense: What's real, what's not? Warriors ramp up NBA playoff-level defense: What's real, what's not?

Teams have come out of the gates especially cold against the Warriors this week. One game after Magic shot 3-for-22 in the first quarter, Charlotte opened 6-for-19.

The Hornets also shot worse than the PBP stats model predicted it would, with a 47.6% effective field goal percentage compared to their .52 shot quality score.

The Warriors had Green back for that game, though, and there were glimpses of true progress defensively. Green and Trayce Jackson-Davis started together and shared the court for over 20 minutes. In minutes the two centers logged together, the Warriors recorded five blocks and five steals.

In 117 minutes together this year, the Green-and-Jackson-Davis pairing has registered a 98.4 defensive rating — the best for any regular Warriors duo. For reference, Minnesota leads the league with a 108.1 defensive rating.

“Being able to be beside him and take the load off of him a little bit, I feel like we interchange pretty well,” Jackson-Davis said.

If the Warriors can surround the two bigs with enough shooting to regularly score, the big combination has a real chance to be a sustainable force. In a season destined for the play-in, that’s a significant development.

“I like the Draymond-Trayce combination,” Steve Kerr said. “Having Trayce as a shot-blocker, he had three of them tonight, with Draymond kind of playing middle linebacker back there. That’s a good combination. It’s a different look for us, but it’s been effective.”

That lineup duo isn’t the only tangible sign of progress from this week. Kerr praised Andrew Wiggins for his on-ball intensity, and increased minutes from the always-active Gary Payton II has helped. It’s not just a soft pocket of the schedule and shooting luck.

The Warriors also limited the Heat, Hornets and Magic to 10 or fewer points in transition. After a brutal loss to Indiana last week in which the Pacers ran the Warriors out of their own gym, hustling back in transition has been a major point of emphasis.

Kerr has been preaching how important every player’s first three steps are when a possession changes. The Warriors need to sprint back through the middle and then fan out to shooters. Communicating is crucial to avoid confusion in cross-matches.

The Warriors are a quiet team, which has often been the root of defensive breakdowns. Getting Kevon Looney back into the fold — along with Green — should help on that front.

If the Warriors can continue the defensive production they displayed this week, the surging Houston Rockets would be much less of a concern. Golden State has the sixth easiest remaining schedule, but a slew of difficult opponents await after Sunday’s matchup in San Antonio to finish a five-game road trip.

After the Spurs game, the Warriors are set to play the Mavericks twice and the Rockets. That — not the depleted Heat, offensively challenged Magic, and lowly Hornets — will be the test.

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