Steve Kerr said the Warriors' game against the Minnesota Timberwolves needed to be their best defensive effort of the season.
Coming off a grueling loss two nights earlier, the Warriors were looking to get back on track. They've clung to a defensive identity all season long, so that's what they wanted to display in Minnesota.
After Golden State's 126-114 loss to the Wolves, Kerr said that was "not a good defensive night," and it's all become of one damning stat.
Minnesota outrebounded the Warriors 57-34, including 16 offensive boards, making for a 23-rebound margin.
"I thought at least seven or eight times we didn’t box out, somebody came from the week side, we didn’t hit them and they got an extra possession out of it," Kerr said after the game. "When that happens it’s almost impossible to win. They got nine more field goal attempts, eight more free throws. So basically about 13 extra possessions coming from mostly the rebounding differential. You can’t win that way. Not disappointed in the effort, but disappointed in the lack of attention to detail in terms of rebounding the ball."
"You don’t see that too often where a team out rebounds another team by 23. That’s a huge margin," Juan Toscano-Anderson said. "That’s defeating. Especially when you’re playing good defense for 18, 20 seconds. And then you got to do it again for another 14 seconds. That’s exhausting. That’s defeating mentally, defeating emotionally and over the course of the game when those things are compounded, you end up with a loss."
Friday's film session was dedicated to the details, particularly the Warriors' missed opportunities to box out.
Kerr made it clear that he feels that his team played with good energy in Minnesota, and doesn't credit their lack of rebounds, or more importantly, the number of the Timberwolves' offensive rebounds, to that.
But it looked like the Warriors simply forgot that boxing out is a part of the game.
"The ones I’m talking about are when we specifically did not turn, find a guy who’s coming in and hit him," Kerr said. "It’s not even like a college or high school box out. In the NBA it's more about locating the guy and putting your hand or your forearm in his chest and letting someone else go chase the ball. We were starring up at butterflies in the air. Just looking up as they were coming right by us. It doesn’t matter what kind of possession it is, what kind of shot it is. It’s just the awareness to go hit somebody."
This isn't an issue exclusive to the Warriors. Every time Kerr watches League Pass, he notes how players throughout the NBA let guys come in from the week side to steal an offensive board.
"It’s a disease that’s rampant in the NBA," Kerr said. "Problem is if you’re a really small team like us, it's gonna hurt you more than other teams."
Kerr believes that the lack of boxing out stems from newer players in the NBA not having this fundamental part of the game drilled at them at the high school and college level. Or, players didn't spend enough time playing at those levels for it to make a difference.
"Most of these guys didn’t have a college and high school coach yelling at them for a combined eight straight years," Kerr said. "It’s a different world today. Players grow up in a different way in terms of just their basketball background. The detail is often the thing that is lacking. Players have never had more skill than they have today in my mind. I’m amazed at the skill level ... but there are certain parts of the game that are just different. Players aren't as locked in on those things just because it's a different time."
That might be true, but as Kerr noted, the Warriors' current small-ball doesn't give them much room to skip over boxing out. With Kevon Looney as their only true center and Draymond Green and Toscano-Anderson as their other bigs, Golden State already has a disadvantage in the paint.
Looney was raised in Wisconsin, where he says he would be "cussed out" by coaches if he didn't box out. His dad texts him during every halftime with the number of missed boxouts he had.
"That’s something I focus on, especially being the big man and not being a traditional super-sized big man," Looney said after Friday's practice. "I have to be able to box out and get in position and that’s something I didn’t do a great job of last night. I need to do better."
There is no sign that the Warriors will be getting any additional size back soon. They might have less with Kerr saying Eric Paschall remains doubtful for their game Saturday against the Houston Rockets and Green being questionable after getting elbowed in the left shoulder.
Rebounding was a big issue for the Warriors at the start of the season, but they've learned to combat it in other areas of their game. With the lack of size, they accepted that they probably wouldn't be able to outrebound their opponent consistently. But that would be OK as long as they kept the margin close.
Thursday's game highlighted just how detrimental that area of the game can be for Golden State when they don't prioritize it. So moving forward through the final nine games, the details will need to be at the forefront.