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Hello, old friend: Warriors' stifling third quarters are back

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Draymond and Steph

SAN FRANCISCO – The next team to defeat the Warriors, and there will be one at some point, will have to find a way to solve the riddle of minutes 24 through 36.

Or, as those 12 minutes are known in NBA circles, the third quarter.

That’s when the Warriors drag opponents into their dungeon, gather all their tools, lay them on a table, flash an evil grin while cracking their knuckles and then commence with their own version of torture.

The Chicago Bulls were the latest victim to come out of halftime feeling they were in the game, perhaps visualizing a path to victory, only to be throttled in the third quarter. The Warriors outscored Chicago 35-17 during those 12 minutes, creating more than enough separation to roll to a 119-93 victory Friday night at Chase Center.

“Just incredible halftime adjustments from the coaching staff,” coach Steve Kerr joked after the Warriors extended their win streak to seven. “That’s the main thing.”

Kerr got serious, pointing out the familiarity the team’s core has with the defensive principles. Draymond Green, Stephen Curry, Kevon Looney, Andre Iguodala and Andrew Wiggins are accustomed to playing off each other.

“I think they get a really good feel for their opponent in the first half,” Kerr said. “And they just have a sense of how to stifle a team defensively.”

The Bulls, whose 8-3 record entering the game was tied for second-best in the NBA, shot 43.6 percent in the first half and trailed by only six. The Warriors limited them to 25 percent shooting (5-of-20) in the third and forced six turnovers that gifted seven easy points.

 

Twelve minutes later, the Warriors had an 86-62 lead. Andrew Wiggins had two steals in nine minutes, while Jordan Poole had one over the same span. Nemanja Bjelica had one steal in six minutes and, of course, Gary Payton II had one. 

“The physicality of how we play defensively and offensively, it is hard to maintain that pace for the entire game,” Curry said. “That may have something to do with (the strong third quarters). Teams are starting to realize how we’re playing, and they come out locked in and focused in the first half.

“But if you stick with the game plan and, for the most part keep making them take tough shots and we have good possessions and keep our turnovers reasonable, then good things happen.”

The Warriors this season are averaging an NBA-high 30.3 points in third quarter, while opponents are wheezing along at 20.6. Golden State’s offense has been excellent, but its defense has been suffocating.

To best illustrate how stingy the Warriors have been during those 12 minutes, consider their third-quarter defensive rating: 82.6 through 12 games. That is, um, ridiculous. Only one other team owns a rating below 97, and that’s the second-place Nuggets at 88.3.

“Sometimes you have those offensive lulls and it feels like you can’t make a shot or things are kind of slow,” Curry said. “And then you realize the other team hasn’t scored in four possessions. That’s when you really start to understand you’re maintaining that momentum and control of the game.”

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The Warriors opened the third with a 19-6 run – and did it in less than six minutes. It’s as if they emerged from intermission with the attitude and appetite of a school of starving piranha.

They’ve won the third quarter in nine of their 12 games, with an average point differential of 13.1 points. In short, it’s a 12-minute rout. They’ve lost the quarter three times, by two to LA Clippers in the home opener, by four to the Memphis Grizzlies in their only loss and by six to the Minnesota Timberwolves, against whom they had a 15-point halftime lead.

Dominating third quarters became something of a habit during the Warriors’ mastered glory years. They’re seven months and many victories from glory this season, but they’ve already gotten familiar with the old formula.