Acutely aware that it is past time to mince words and far beyond dropping hints or offering platitudes, Draymond Green stared into the naked truth about himself and these Warriors and did not blink.
“It’s now or never,” Green told reporters Tuesday night, after a 134-124 loss to the Clippers in Los Angeles. “We’re at .500 at the (All-Star) break. A middle of the pack team with middle-of-the-pack stats. You’ve got to come out of the break and win, do it at a high level, or you go home at the beginning of April.”
Sitting on a 29-29 record at the All-Star break, the Warriors are on a pace that might send them scattering to their favorite beaches, oceanside villas and golf courses after the April 9 regular-season finale or shortly afterward.
Defending champs one year, playoff outsiders the next? It’s a very real possibility, mostly because Golden State’s defense can’t consistently stop a squad of mobile marshmallows.
“Our defense isn’t good,” Green said. “It’s kind of been the story all year. You have to do something to fix it. It has to come from within. Defense is all about will, a want to defend. Defense isn’t fun, you just gotta want to do it if you want to win. And we haven’t.
“It’s not just going to come. Do I think we’re capable of doing it? Yes. But I don’t think it’s coming. You can go get it but it’s not just coming.”
It has not come with anything remotely resembling regularity. The Warriors through 58 games are 19th in defensive rating (114.1), behind such stragglers as the Toronto Raptors, the Orlando Magic, and the Chicago Bulls. Their 114.5 rating since New Year’s Day largely explains why they are 10-10 in the calendar year.
So, no, a championship-level defense does not suddenly materialize because the calendar flipped from February to March. And certainly not because players or coaches say they want it to – as they have for a couple months.
“We’ve talked about it a lot,” Green said. “But you’ve got to do it. You can talk until you’re blue in the face. If you don’t pat that effort out there – because defense is 90 percent effort – it doesn’t work.”
Asked if there was any possibility of a “championship hangover,” in the wake of the 2022 NBA Finals victory, Green scoffed. Almost snarled. As he should have.
“I don’t think it’s a championship hangover,” he stressed. “It’s a will to want to defend. You’re not hungover at .500, 60 games into the season. You’re a loser if you’re still hungover at that point. So, it’s no hangover.
“It’s the will to defend, to stop and guard your man and sink when you help and trap the box. Rotate. Defense is all about one or two steps extra. Am I going to take that extra step to get there, or not? That’s all will. And we don’t have that as a team.”
This is a bugle blowing a particularly loud reveille, a drum banging out a desperate plea, a voice wailing into the wind. This is Draymond looking at the 58 games before the All-Star break and barely concealing his disappointment, which at times bordered on disgust.
He did not call out any teammates by name. But Klay Thompson has been wildly consistent on defense, brilliant at times, lost in space on other occasions. Andrew Wiggins, battling injury and illness since December, has not defended at the level he did last season. Kevon Looney remains stingy, but he’s having more trouble staying in front of drivers he once walled off.
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Green’s 110.1 defensive rating is the best on the roster – ye the team’s defensive catalyst for nearly a decade did not spare himself from criticism.
“I’m always going to try on that side, but I can be better,” he said. “I’m as much of a culprit as anyone else, so I’m not going to point the finger at anyone or place blame. If you’re a leader at something and you’re failing at it, it’s your fault. You don’t need to look any further. I’ll take that.”
The Warriors are in NBA no man’s land. They’re not rebuilding, and they’ve not shown themselves as a legitimate contender. Their proud core is unwilling to accept the results this season, but they’ve been able to pull out of a stretch of outright mediocrity deep into its fourth month.
There are but two months to go, 24 games to play. It shouldn’t take long to discern whether Draymond’s words translate into the desired deeds. If not, yes, vacation begins in April.