Warriors

Warriors’ defense is, um, resting: 'It directly correlates to focus'

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USATSI

Warriors’ defense is, um, resting: 'It directly correlates to focus'

OAKLAND -- The Warriors have spent five weeks breaking the habit most essential to their success, and it’s a horrible look for a group with the lone goal of repeating as NBA champs.

They’ve spent four full seasons as a top-4 defense, grasping the significance of that aspect and using it to ignite an offense that shines brighter than any in the league. Even as the Warriors became synonymous with scoring they always knew their foundation was defense.

All too often lately their defense is softer than doctor’s cotton, if not altogether nonexistent. The Warriors have not forgotten how to play defense, but they go through prolonged stretches of games when it looks like they have.

“The first thing is we’re not taking care of the ball,” coach Steve Kerr told NBC Sports Bay Area after practice. “And then it’s about the detail. We’re getting beat on back cuts, boxouts and offensive rebounds. Our 3-point defense has dropped. We’re not challenging and we’re not closing out. And a lot of those 3-point shots come off offensive boards.

“As soon as our effort and our attention to detail picks up, we’re going to be right back where we were."

Which is why they spent a significant portion of Monday morning going over fundamental defensive principles.

“Just gentle film reminders; I don’t need to yell and scream,” Kerr said after practice. “We’re doing fine, but we’ve got to mix in some drill work and film work and prod them a little bit.”

Said Stephen Curry: “Boiling down to a possession game, and that’s turnovers and (rebounding). And then our defense, it’s just intensity and focus and the consistency of that game to game.”

The coaching staff also flashed some numbers that illustrate how their habit of playing solid defense has taken at least temporary absence, as if the Warriors left their defense in 2017.

“Our defensive rating...was way lower than it usually is,” Curry said rather sheepishly.

In the 16 games since the calendar turned to 2018, their 108.8 defensive rating ranks 24th in the NBA. The Knicks and Nets and Mavericks are among the teams that have been better. Moreover, the Warriors have allowed their 3-point defense to slide to 25th and their overall field-goal defense to 18th.

“It directly correlates to focus,” Draymond Green said. “And it’s that time of year where focus is a little hard to come by.”

Ron Adams, the assistant coach whose focus is on defense, is having difficulty understanding how the Warriors can allow themselves to so consistently fail at reaching their standard.

“Ron’s pissed,” Kerr, who doesn’t like the trend but is firm in his belief that he comprehends it, said. 

Adams has been in the league 26 years. He recalls the likes of Michael Jordan and Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, players whose competitive edge always seemed to be razor sharp.

“I guess I’m old-school,” Adams said. “But it seems there should be level of pride that doesn’t go away. You’d think after losing a game, there would a higher degree of intensity for the next one. The results may not always be what you want, but you’d think the desire to be great should always be there.”

Kerr, however, actually was teammates with Jordan in Chicago. As much as he remembers Jordan’s fanatical desire to win at everything, he also concedes that the third year of success is more difficult than the second and the fourth more difficult than the third.

So Kerr’s rationalization is this: After three years of unparalleled regular-season success, an NBA team finds it more and more difficult to consistently gather the energy needed to sustain excellence. When discussing the challenges the Warriors face this season, he often references those great Bulls teams on which he played.

“Ron is not happy,” Kerr said. “But we’ll be all right. I know how this works, having been through it with the Bulls.”

Curry, however, expressed a note of caution. The Warriors cannot allow themselves to fall into the trap of believing they can coast through the regular season and then pull themselves together in the playoffs.

“Can’t wait that long,” he said. "I never like giving ourselves an out because I feel like we hold ourselves to a higher standard and that’s what’s put two (championship) banners up. We’ve changed the culture around here of what it means to be a winning team, consistently.

"But there’s a little bit of us fighting that human nature. We’re four years in a row into this grind. When I went out (with injury in December), the guys were top-5 defensively. We felt threatened and everybody did their part to win those games and handle that stretch.

“We know how to put the full package together and we’ve got (29) games to figure that out.”

The lesson of this second-place Warriors team at the All-Star break

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AP

The lesson of this second-place Warriors team at the All-Star break

And so ends a thoroughly confusing half-season for the Golden State Warriors – doing all the things you love and hate them for in one fell swoop.
 
In losing, 123-117, at Portland, they showed their full game. Big game by one of the Gang Of Four (Kevin Durant this time)? Check. Lousy start? Check. Big rally after lousy start? Check. Defensive lapses? Check. Impassioned yet disgusted pregame soliloquy by Steve Kerr on the manifest inadequacies of modern American thought? Check, and mate.
 
Of those things, the Kerr attack on the Florida school shooting was the most meaningful development of an otherwise meh evening, but Kerr’s having to explain to us again what we should already know is almost a default position now – like everything else about this season.
 
The Warriors go into the All-Star Break in second place in the Western Conference, which is pretty much what they deserve. They have lost the standings initiative through the sin of boredom, and even if leading the conference at the All-Star Break is essentially meaningless (which it is), it is still fascinating to see so many people buying the argument that “they’ll get it together when they need to get it together.” Never has the argument that the regular season doesn’t matter been put so succinctly; not even Sam Hinkie and his Process fetish did it as well.

In other words, Kerr's latest attempt to re-focus the players lasted about as long as you figured it would.

Things can certainly change between now and June; most NBA observers are still banking on it. The notation “pulled attention span, questionable” does not enter their thoughts. They still see the Warriors as clearly superior in any series, and barring catastrophic injury regard them as essentially invulnerable over a seven-game series – which is an interesting analysis given that they’ve only played two, and lost one of those.
 
But unless the Warriors put on a game-by-game pyrospectacular from this point forward and wipe out all traces of this half-plus of the season, this year will be remembered as the oddest of their run. They seem to have given in to their own hype, believing as we all do that they are merely a toggle switch that only needs an educated thumb to start the engines churning again – which they might well be, no matter how occasionally dissatisfying that may seem to the proletariat.
 
If they win their third title in four years, they will meet expectations without exceeding them, and this season is the first of their four long and delightful seasons that actually seems to be providing more length than delight. This is not condemnation, but rather a reminder that not every plan goes according to plan, and winning gets harder each time it is accomplished. That is the lesson of 2018 – so far, anyway.

Is anybody listening? Steve Kerr and the sports world louder than our leaders

Is anybody listening? Steve Kerr and the sports world louder than our leaders

Steve Kerr is hurt and disillusioned and angry. He is completely fed up with government inertia in the face of epidemic gun violence that frequently manifests itself in mass shootings such as that which occurred Wednesday in Florida.

The Warriors coach is on this subject among the broadening chorus of voices, every one of them existing in a vacuum.

Everybody hears it, every time, but those within power structure never listen, for if they truly did they would take responsible preventive action.

In the wake of this latest tragedy it was evident Kerr, even as he prepared to coach the Warriors against the Trail Blazers in Portland, was particularly shaken.

His visage wore the news of another unhinged soul shooting up a school. At least 17 are dead, the vast majority of them students at Majory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland. And the casualty count is likely to rise.

“Nothing has been done,” Kerr said with visible contempt. “It doesn’t seem to matter to our government that children are being shot to death, day after day, in schools. It doesn’t matter that people are being shot at a concert, at a movie theater. It’s not enough, apparently, to move our leadership, our government, the people who are running this country, to actually do anything. And that’s demoralizing.

“But we can do something about it. We can vote people in who actually have the courage to protect people’s lives and not just bow down to the NRA because they’ve financed their campaign.”

Yes, he went there. Kerr urged American voters to seek out and support political candidates independent of the powerful National Rifle Association and, therefore, willing to generate momentum toward enacting responsible gun laws.

He barely bothered to address the current government, opting instead to plead with the voting public. Is anybody listening?

Anybody?

There is every indication that voices such as that of Kerr will not be silenced. He spoke passionately and from personal experience. His life was touched by gun violence in the most extreme fashion when his father, Malcolm, an educator, was assassinated at a school in Beirut 34 years ago last month.

Kerr is not alone in this quest for action. Many others joined in.

Former player Steve Nash, a Warriors consultant bound for the Hall of Fame, expressed his feelings on Twitter: “The rest of the world is having success prohibiting access to guns. I don’t see what the debate is about. It’s not working here. People are dying at alarming rates. If you value guns more than life and safety I don’t understand.”

Jared Dudley, a member of the Phoenix Suns and one of more respected veterans in the NBA, spoke up via Twitter: “So sad man! Gotta change theses Gun laws! I’m tired of the slogan guns don’t kill people only people kill people.. Change the Law!”

Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell kept his message to six words, printing “End gun violence” on his right shoe and “Pray for Parkland” on his left.

Mitchell’s mother is a teacher.

Here’s Tom Garfinkel, CEO of the Miami Dolphins: “How do we stop this? When will there be proactive change from our government leaders to address the complexity of why this keeps happening? Praying for those affected in Parkland. And Orlando, and Columbine, and Sandy Hook, and every other senseless and tragic shooting.”

And former NFL player Damien Woody: “I’m just over here thinking about how we as a society use the term ‘pro life’ . . . days like today doesn’t do it justice.”

And Seattle Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin, quote tweeting the obligatory “prayers and condolences” tweet from President Trump: “Yea.. but the fact is that they AREN’T safe. Just more rhetoric and no action. WAKEUP!!!!”

Is anybody listening?

Anybody?

Wednesday was the 45th day of this calendar year -- and the 18th school shooting. Quick math tells us that equals two every five days, 10 every 25 and 20 every 50.

Many children of color grow up with violence. Studies have proved that the experience traumatizes them to varying degrees. There are neighborhoods all across these United States in which children are as afraid of law enforcement as they are of street gangs. It’s how they grow up.

The powerlessness and apprehension is growing each day. And each time our elected leaders choose to look the other way while holding open their duffle bags to accept NRA cash, the sense of despair gets deeper.

How many children will go to school today and tomorrow and all the days after that feeling anxieties they should not have to bear in a so-called civilized society?

They’ll be looking over their shoulders. They’ll be wondering about the student whose temper is a bit too quick and hot. They’ll be trying to avoid the student who is too much of a loner or makes threats. They’ll be wary of the bully and the bullied. They’ll be trying to escape those that pose with firearms on social media.

The despair is real, and if you look into the eyes of the young you can feel it.

“Hopefully, we’ll find enough people first of all to vote good put people in,” Kerr said. “But, hopefully, we can find enough people with courage to actually help our citizens remain safe and focus on the real safety issues, not building some stupid wall for billions of dollars that has nothing to do with our safety, but actually protecting us from what truly is dangerous, which is maniacs with semiautomatic weapons just slaughtering our children. It’s disgusting.”

Kerr is among those willing to speak up and advocate for change. There are others. And they will be joined by many more who will make it their mission to follow the example of most every civilized society.

If the horrible events of Sept. 11, 2001, a single day, could persuade our government to take steps to make air travel safer, how many deadly events does it take to grow the principle and power to say no to the NRA and yes to the safety of children?

Is anybody listening?