Warriors go to the reservoir, turn on the defense to beat Nuggets

Warriors go to the reservoir, turn on the defense to beat Nuggets

OAKLAND -- The Warriors have a certain faith in their defense, and they don’t bother denying it. They believe that with a few minutes of high-intensity defense, at the right time, they can strangle the peskiest of opponents.

It’s an oft-used formula, and it was applied again Monday night, when the Warriors allowed the Denver Nuggets to shoot 54.2 percent in the first half before turning the game around by limiting them to 29 percent in the third quarter.

The result, a 127-119 victory at Oracle Arena, is something the Warriors can live with while also realizing it can be risky.

“When we get stops, we obviously fuel the rest of our game,” Stephen Curry said. “Whether it starts out in the first quarter like that, or it takes a minute to get going -- you don’t want to play with fire -- we know we have a lot of energy throughout 48 minutes to leave an imprint on that side of the floor.”

This approach has been effective since Steve Kerr took over as coach in May 2014. It helped the Warriors win a championship in 2015, pushed them to an NBA-record 73 wins in 2016 and has been crucial to them becoming the first team ever to win at least 30 of its first 35 games in three consecutive seasons.

Another record, another bill paid by a sequence of game-changing defense.

Denver led by as much as four in the second quarter and was hanging around, keeping it close, with nine different players scoring at least four points in the first half. The Nuggets, 15-point underdogs, pulled to within two, 70-68, early in the third quarter before the Warriors dug in and got stingy.

“They spread you out, shoot threes and they attack,” Kerr said of the Nuggets. “But I didn’t think we had the defensive intensity that we needed. We finally started defending well the last five minutes of the second quarter. That carried over into the third and we were much better for the most part.”

Forcing five straight Denver misses and a shot-clock violation, the Warriors needed a little more than two minutes to expand the lead to 10 (80-70). Though the Nuggets didn’t capitulate, they never got close to tying or regaining the lead.

“When we string together some stops and we get a little lead I think that kind of breaks the back of their team, especially if they’ve been shooting the ball well,” Kevin Durant said. “If it’s late in the game and we put together three or four stops in a row that deflates them a little bit. Tonight we had to do that.”

It wasn’t that the defense needed to bail out poor offense. With Draymond Green posting his second triple-double of the season, with 15 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists, the Warriors (30-5) played solid, balanced offense, recording 33 assists and getting double-digit scoring from all five starters, as well as Ian Clark off the bench.

“That’s pretty much our team, right there, where you don’t need one guy to go off every night,” Green said. “It’s pretty spread out, and we’re very dangerous when it is like that.”

The Warriors shot it well, at 52.6 from the field, including 44 percent from 3-point distance. There was a rebounding deficit (48-43), which was offset by the Warriors forcing two more turnovers, and scoring six more points off giveaways.

But when the threat became real, when Denver (14-20) kept coming, the Warriors went to the reservoir and turned on the defense. They’ve done it many times before. And it generally works.

“You can’t really let that be a habit,” Green cautioned. “You don’t want to build bad habits. We didn’t defend for the first 20 minutes of this game. Then all of a sudden, we turned it up a little bit.

"But I still don’t think we ever got to the point where we need to be on the defensive end. It’s game 35, the beginning of January. We don’t expect everybody to be in playoff form right now or have playoff intensity every night. It’s physically impossible. But the attention to detail has to be there.”

Well, no, it’s not ideal. It’s not likely to work nearly as well against legitimate contenders. On most nights, though, it’s enough for them to walk out of the arena having achieved their primary goal.

Kevin Durant, Steve Kerr explain why KD took six shots vs. Pistons


Kevin Durant, Steve Kerr explain why KD took six shots vs. Pistons

Kevin Durant is a four-time NBA scoring champion. He's averaging 18.6 shots per game this season, and 18.8 for his career.

So, seeing a box score where he attempted six shots in 35 minutes is strange.

After the Warriors beat the Pistons 121-114 on Sunday night in Oakland, Durant and head coach Steve Kerr addressed his low shot total.

"Kevin is such a great, talented player that he can just do whatever he wants on the floor," Kerr told the media at Oracle. "So, he decided to be a distibutor tonight. Obviously, 11 assists, I thought his defense was great. He's just one of those guys that's so talented that whatever he chooses to do that night, that's what he does."

Durant took a big-picture outlook on his stat line.

"I'm a well-rounded player and I can still affect the game without taking a bunch of shots," Durant told the media. "I thought I passed the ball well, I thought I played a great floor game. I know you're used to putting me in a box as a player, but I've grown."

In the Warriors' loss to the Mavericks on Saturday, Durant took 25 shots. Steph Curry sat out, putting the onus on Durant to carry the offense. But he wasn't happy with how he played against Dallas, and didn't want to make the same mistakes against Detroit.

"I didn't want to force shots tonight, and some of the shots I would have took tonight would have been forced, and last night I forced a bunch," Durant said.

[RELATED: Kerr on Curry's rest plan]

Durant finished with 14 points, 11 assists and five rebounds.

Warriors playing long game when it comes to resting Steph Curry

Warriors playing long game when it comes to resting Steph Curry

OAKLAND -- The Warriors can be sensitive about the subject of Steph Curry’s workload. He wants to play every game while striving to be a great husband and father and also making broad use of his massive social platform.

The Warriors understand all of this, and they do not want to obstruct any of it.

Yet workload management is one of the reasons Rick Celebrini was hired last summer to serve as the team’s director of Sports Medicine and Performance. Aided by high-tech fitness tools, he monitors every player for fatigue levels and beyond.

As much as the Warriors hope to nab the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, if not the NBA, everything goes through Celebrini. He is the gatekeeper of player availability. He decided that DeMarcus Cousins will not play in back-to-back games this season, that Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston will remain on routine body-maintenance programs and that Curry should miss the occasional game – such as Saturday against the Mavericks.

Curry seemed to benefit from the rest.

He scored 11 points in the first quarter Sunday and finished with team-high 26 in a 121-114 win over the Detroit Pistons.

With Curry, assuming he’s not injured, it’s a fine line. With the other veterans, the decisions are much more defined. Cousins is coming off a major injury, Iguodala and Livingston are mid-30s veterans requiring rest at regular intervals.

“Each player, we look at individually,” coach Steve Kerr said Sunday. “With DeMarcus, we made the decision based on Rick’s assessment that he should just not play back-to-backs this season. So, he’s not going to.

“Andre and Shaun both, periodically we’ve been giving rest to for the last several years based on the age and wear and tear.

“And then, every once in a while, it will come up that Rick will recommend we give somebody a rest. Last night it was Steph.”

[RELATED: What we learned from Warriors' win over Pistons]

Sitting Curry was precautionary, according to Kerr. His work schedule and his numerous off-the-court endeavors leave him open to overload.

“He’s been going a couple months straight and has looked a little tired the last couple weeks,” Kerr said. “It made perfect sense. We will be better for it in the long run.”

It definitely looked that way on Sunday.