SAN FRANCISCO – There is no mystery behind the Warriors’ season-long futility, with the solution posed numerous times by coach Steve Kerr and, 17 days ago, the subject of an impassioned plea from Draymond Green.
Effort, accompanied by fundamentals, solid schemes, and a clear understanding of the rules. That is, per Golden State assistant coach Ron Adams, the recipe for elite defense.
The Warriors over the last five games managed to apply those principles – not consistently but at crucial times – and it got them five wins, including 108-99 over the Pelicans on Friday night to punctuate a perfect homestand.
“A lot of grit,” coach Steve Kerr said. “Every one of these wins, it felt like, was marked by our team getting over the hump. Overcoming a lot of deficits, turning up the defense and grinding out games down the stretch.
“It’s been exciting to see our team, I think, turn a corner – but we still need to go out and win on the road.”
Bullseye. We’ve seen the Warriors excel at Chase Center. They have the fifth-best home record (27-7) in the NBA and the third-best home defensive rating (108.1). They are acutely, irritatingly aware of the disparity.
“Top-five team at home,” Stephen Curry told me this week. “Bottom-five team on the road.”
Now, then, is when the Warriors discover if the last 10 days represent their authentic identity – or the one on display exclusively at home.
The Warriors are going on the road, to Los Angeles to face the Lakers on Sunday, to Oklahoma City to face the Thunder on Tuesday, followed by a trip to Memphis on Thursday to face the Grizzlies, who at times are downright annoying in their vocal efforts to become a rival.
Among the baggage the Warriors will be taking with them is a 7-23 road record; only three teams are worse. Much of that can be blamed on their 118.9 defensive rating – only the cellar-dwelling San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets are worse at home.
The Warriors, knowing a poor road trip would clip the wings they grew at home, are hoping to reverse this unwanted trend.
“We’ve accomplished a little bit,” Kevon Looney said. “We’ve taken a step in the right direction. We’ve talked all year about the formula to win, and we haven’t always executed it. Tonight, and this whole homestand, we did a good job of limiting our fouls and letting our defense win us games. We’ve been doing a great job of that.
“But we’ve got to take it on the road. We’ve been winning at home all year. The next step is winning on the road.”
The Lakers and Thunder are well beneath fifth-place Golden State in the Western Conference. The Grizzlies are well in front of them. Consider the last four games, each of which required the Warriors to overcome double-digit deficits something of a dress rehearsal.
The win over New Orleans came after yet another lethargic first quarter, which the Warriors lost 35-21 while allowing the Pelicans to shoot 66.7 percent, from the field, including 62.5 percent from deep.
The Warriors opened the second quarter trailing by 14, they closed it trailing by three and they were up by four going into the fourth quarter.
They had made the call that’s becoming habit. They summoned their defense.
And, once again, it brought an opponent to its knees. New Orleans scored 63 points over the final three quarters, shooting 37.3 percent (22-of-59) from the field, including 23.8 percent (5-of-21) from distance. Pelicans stars CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram combined to shoot 14-of-37 from the field.
This is, per the statistic studs at Elias, the first time since the 1997-98 season that the Warriors have won four consecutive games after trailing by at least 10 points in each.
There is no better time, considering the consequences, for them to go after their biggest nemesis: The road. Stephen Curry, who has missed the last 10 games, will be joining them, perhaps as soon as Sunday.
“I’m very confident,” said Klay Thompson, who scored a game-high 27 points in the victory. “I just know that we’ve been trusting each other more and talking. Our communication has been great, and we’ve got some great defenders. I’m very confident that we’ll have the same effort on the road.”
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Which version of the Warriors will show up over the next three games? The one that couldn’t win in Orlando or Detroit or Charlotte? Or the one that played its best defense over the past four games?
It’s up to them. Their desired playoff seeding – top-four in the West – lies in finding success where they have failed all season.