OAKLAND – When Draymond Green took the floor Monday night he realized this was the toughest defensive assignment of all. He couldn’t be blamed for putting complete focus on Anthony Davis, the New Orleans star who last month had a 59-point game.
But that’s not how Green processes basketball, and if there were any doubt he reminded his teammates when the Warriors went into the locker room at halftime.
The Warriors, without the glue that is Andre Iguodala, were playing disconnected team defense, which is one of the reasons they were having trouble separating from the depleted roster of the Pelicans. So Green spoke up, as is his custom.
The Warriors, who inflated a two-point lead to nine in the final three minutes of the half, cranked up the defense to another level and went on a 19-5 tear that lifted them to a 125-107 victory before a sellout crowd at Oracle Arena.
“Draymond was brilliant,” coach Steve Kerr said. “His decision-making, his defense, just the way he organized us. He’s taking on some of that role with Andre out.
“He gave a little comment at halftime to our guys about our defensive activity that was really important. And the guys responded.”
The result was the Warriors winning their record 49th consecutive home game and raising their record this season to 60-6, one game ahead of the pace set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, whose 72-10 record stands as the league’s all-time best.
What did Draymond say? He urged higher intensity than that which was displayed for the better part of the first half.
“It was basically for us to get more aggressive,” Stephen Curry summarized. “To use our talents and quickness and IQ as a team, defensively, to our advantage, to not be so cut-and-dry, vanilla with our coverages and stuff. Take some chances, have each other’s backs and rotate.
“That’s when we’re at our best, when we can create chaos on that end of the floor.”
And so it was, the Warriors were a different team, holding the Pelicans to 19 points on 5-of-27 shooting (18.5 percent) in the third quarter and entering the fourth quarter in total control, up 94-69.
Davis, 5-of-12 in the first half, was 1-of-8 in the third quarter. He scored 22 points on 6-of-20 shooting.
“Our defense wasn’t great in the first half; it hasn’t been great the last couple weeks probably,” center Andrew Bogut said. “We haven’t been as stable defensively as we were last season. (Green) addressed it and said, ‘We’ve got stop playing the matchups in this game, because sometimes we need to actually just go out there and fly around and do what we do to disrupt teams.’
“We were not doing that as much this last couple weeks for some reason, so we need to get that back.”
Whether it’s back for the final month is uncertain, but the defense resurfaced Monday. The Warriors suddenly looked like the Warriors of early season, when they were using defense to launch transition offense and run opponents off the floor.
Though the Warriors forced only nine turnovers, they routinely ran off missed shots, of which there were plenty. The Pelicans (24-42) shot 31.9 percent through the first three quarters before getting some easy buckets in garbage time.
The Warriors through three quarters punished New Orleans on the fast break (19 points to 4) and in the paint (44-28). They led by as much as 26.
There even visible signs of joy. It came from Marreese Speights, of course, who came off the bench to score 14 points in 18 minutes. It came from Bogut, stuck with the ball beyond the arc as the shot clock ticked down, fired up a 3-pointer than splashed through, delighting the crowd and his teammates and himself.
Joy, at the end, came from everyone, whether it was Curry celebrating his 28th birthday or Kerr becoming the first coach in NBA history to win at least 60 games in each of his first two seasons.
And for that, Kerr deflected credit to Green.
“Draymond was his usual self,” the coach said. “He was fantastic on the court, and I liked his contribution at halftime, too. It was something we needed to hear.”
Message delivered, followed by the appropriate response.