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Warriors provide proof of concept with defensive gem vs. Dallas

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Warriors provide proof of concept with defensive gem vs. Dallas

SAN FRANCISCO — The Mavericks had won 11 of 12 games. Their two stars, Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, are as dangerous of scorers the NBA has, and they’ve been playing off each other brilliantly. They’ve engineered the fourth most efficient offense in the league since the All-Star break.

They came into the Chase Center and didn’t crack the century mark.

Golden State, which has suddenly clicked into playoff-caliber defense, held Dallas to 100 points — the Mavericks’ lowest total since Jan. 31. It carried them to a victory on a night in which Steph Curry scored 13 and Klay Thompson logged only 13 points.

“Just a little bit more aware and understanding (of) our coverages, trying to communicate early,” Chris Paul said. “It’s funny, all season, we sort of just didn’t know where to be. Sometimes guys aren’t there. We’re starting to understand that defense is what we’ve got to be able to hang our hat on. Our offense, we’ve got some amazing shooters and scorers and whatnot, but if we defend, it opens everything else up.”

By settling in defensively, the Warriors are discovering an identity. It’s what they need to “hang their hat on,” Paul said. In their five-game winning streak, they rank second in the NBA in defensive rating (102.9). And by locking down Dallas, Golden State withstood the stress-test of an outstanding offensive team on the other side.

“To me, that’s a good sign that what we did on the road was not (flukey),” Steve Kerr said.

“Our defense is the one thing, it’s non-negotiable,” said Draymond Green, Golden State’s defensive ace.

At some points this year, it has seemed like defense was not only negotiable, but the Warriors were losing their end of the bargain. Transition defense has been a common issue for Golden State this year, which often boils down to simple effort. Lack of communication led to breakdowns at inopportune times. Relatively anonymous players would go off for season-highs.

Golden State ranked 20th in defensive rating before the All-Star break — a significant portion of which Green was suspended for.

But for the past five games, as their playoff fate has hung in the balance, the Warriors have stepped it up. They held the Heat, Magic and Hornets to below 100 points before clamping down on Dallas. But each game had caveats — Miami was without their top two scorers, Orlando went ice cold even for them, and the Hornets haven’t had anything to play for for months. They enjoyed a relatively soft pocket of their schedule and some fortunate shooting luck. One could wonder how real Golden State’s defensive strides were.

The Mavericks were a true test. The Warriors passed before the teacher asked them to put their pencils down.

With the ball-dominant Doncic and Irving, the Mavericks rank fourth in turnovers per game. They take care of the ball better than nearly every team. But the Warriors still forced them to commit 15 turnovers — including a combined nine from the two All-Stars.

Although Doncic registered a 30-point triple-double, Andrew Wiggins, Moses Moody and Gary Payton II made each possession tough for him. To even get to 100, the Mavericks needed wild 3s from Irving and PJ Washington in the final minute.

“It was our defense that got us the win,” Kerr said. “Holding those guys to 100 points is pretty difficult. I thought Wiggs was brilliant. He put in so much effort just trying to make Luka work. Luka was amazing as he always is, but that effort really set a tone.”

Wiggins looks much more physically imposing than he did earlier in the year. It’s not every night, but more and more since the All-Star break, he resembles the 2021 All-Star that helped the Warriors win the title.

Having on-ball pressure from players like Wiggins, Gary Payton II, and Moses Moody has been crucial as Jonathan Kuminga has missed the past four games.

The other development that has changed the Warriors’ fortunes is Trayce Jackson-Davis’ emergence. They’re starting Jackson-Davis and Green together, but the Warriors can now have a shot-blocker on the court for all 48 minutes.

Jackson-Davis and Green have posted a 99.7 defensive rating together — and elite mark — and have been able to anchor units alone, too.

“Trayce’s rim protection has been great,” Green said. “With Trayce at the rim, guys are allowed to pressure more, be more aggressive because you know you’ve got somebody behind you that can clean up the mistakes.”

It’s the same for when Green plays center, only ten-fold.

“Draymond’s special,” Wiggins said. “Very special. Defensive mastermind. He’s everywhere. He’s got everyone’s back. That’s what gives everyone else the advantage to just play freely, defensively, because you know you have Draymond behind you.”

Not much has changed schematically for the Warriors. But the team is becoming more comfortable with the system. There are fewer miscommunications, fewer players left pointing at one another as the other team jogs back after a made 3.

There’s also more intensity. With the playoffs looming and seeding up for grabs, there certainly should be.

Payton II always brings energy. Moody dove on the floor against Dallas. Brandin Podziemski puts his body on the line for charges and soars for rebounds in traffic. Wiggins has seemingly upped the effort more consistently to reach his potential.

“We’re fighting for our lives right now,” Wiggins said. “We’re fighting to stay alive.”

Tuesday’s defensive performance crescendoed in a split-second with the game in the balance. Green, like he has thousands of times over the course of his career, faced a 2-on-1 situation in the paint. Kyrie Irving drove at him with 90 seconds left, and he felt Daniel Gafford sneaking behind him. He forced Irving to commit to dumping off to the big man and recovered in time to stuff the center at the rim.

Green’s game-sealing block came from years of honing instincts. He started developing the skill of blowing up 2-on-1 situations in the classic 3-on-2 drill every youth basketball team practices. He learned more from Andrew Bogut and from experiencing the situation over and over again.

“You just want to keep the passer guessing,” Green said. “If I can keep the passer guessing, it allows you to kind of cover up a mistake, if you would. You can kind of guard both of them.”

The Warriors’ defense starts with Green, who registered four steals and a block. He’s playing at an elite level, and he’s not letting go of the rope any time soon.

Green and the Warriors proved Tuesday that even against one of the best teams, they’re capable of rising up. To make a real run, that’ll have to continue.

“I think our defense, throughout these past six or seven games, has been a constant,” Green said. “And in order to continue to get this season where we want it, get to the playoffs and try to make a run, it has to be that way.”





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