OAKLAND -- The Warriors have a certain faith in their defense, and they don’t bother denying it. They believe that with a few minutes of high-intensity defense, at the right time, they can strangle the peskiest of opponents.
It’s an oft-used formula, and it was applied again Monday night, when the Warriors allowed the Denver Nuggets to shoot 54.2 percent in the first half before turning the game around by limiting them to 29 percent in the third quarter.
The result, a 127-119 victory at Oracle Arena, is something the Warriors can live with while also realizing it can be risky.
“When we get stops, we obviously fuel the rest of our game,” Stephen Curry said. “Whether it starts out in the first quarter like that, or it takes a minute to get going -- you don’t want to play with fire -- we know we have a lot of energy throughout 48 minutes to leave an imprint on that side of the floor.”
This approach has been effective since Steve Kerr took over as coach in May 2014. It helped the Warriors win a championship in 2015, pushed them to an NBA-record 73 wins in 2016 and has been crucial to them becoming the first team ever to win at least 30 of its first 35 games in three consecutive seasons.
Another record, another bill paid by a sequence of game-changing defense.
Denver led by as much as four in the second quarter and was hanging around, keeping it close, with nine different players scoring at least four points in the first half. The Nuggets, 15-point underdogs, pulled to within two, 70-68, early in the third quarter before the Warriors dug in and got stingy.
“They spread you out, shoot threes and they attack,” Kerr said of the Nuggets. “But I didn’t think we had the defensive intensity that we needed. We finally started defending well the last five minutes of the second quarter. That carried over into the third and we were much better for the most part.”
Forcing five straight Denver misses and a shot-clock violation, the Warriors needed a little more than two minutes to expand the lead to 10 (80-70). Though the Nuggets didn’t capitulate, they never got close to tying or regaining the lead.
“When we string together some stops and we get a little lead I think that kind of breaks the back of their team, especially if they’ve been shooting the ball well,” Kevin Durant said. “If it’s late in the game and we put together three or four stops in a row that deflates them a little bit. Tonight we had to do that.”
It wasn’t that the defense needed to bail out poor offense. With Draymond Green posting his second triple-double of the season, with 15 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists, the Warriors (30-5) played solid, balanced offense, recording 33 assists and getting double-digit scoring from all five starters, as well as Ian Clark off the bench.
“That’s pretty much our team, right there, where you don’t need one guy to go off every night,” Green said. “It’s pretty spread out, and we’re very dangerous when it is like that.”
The Warriors shot it well, at 52.6 from the field, including 44 percent from 3-point distance. There was a rebounding deficit (48-43), which was offset by the Warriors forcing two more turnovers, and scoring six more points off giveaways.
But when the threat became real, when Denver (14-20) kept coming, the Warriors went to the reservoir and turned on the defense. They’ve done it many times before. And it generally works.
“You can’t really let that be a habit,” Green cautioned. “You don’t want to build bad habits. We didn’t defend for the first 20 minutes of this game. Then all of a sudden, we turned it up a little bit.
"But I still don’t think we ever got to the point where we need to be on the defensive end. It’s game 35, the beginning of January. We don’t expect everybody to be in playoff form right now or have playoff intensity every night. It’s physically impossible. But the attention to detail has to be there.”
Well, no, it’s not ideal. It’s not likely to work nearly as well against legitimate contenders. On most nights, though, it’s enough for them to walk out of the arena having achieved their primary goal.