OAKLAND – Not for a minute were the Warriors truly worried. Perplexed, maybe, but never concerned about finding the best of themselves. Even as they were stacking up shoddy defensive performances, inviting layups and open 3-pointers, they always knew.
Always knew that when the bright lights began twinkling in the distance, they’d muscle up.
So now, with the postseason three weeks away, they’re energizing their defense and getting serious about suffocating opponents.
The latest example came Thursday night, when the Warriors harassed the Pacers back to Indiana with raw backsides and a 112-89 loss for their time in Oakland. Indiana shot 24 percent in the first quarter, 32.7 percent in the first half and 38.9 percent in the third quarter, by which time the crowd at Oracle Arena was dancing and sipping and celebrating a 28-point lead.
For a team playing its third game in four nights, across two zones, this was profoundly impressive.
“Our energy was great; everybody was engaged,” assistant coach and defensive coordinator Ron Adams said. “And our spirit was the best I’ve seen in a long time.”
Adams acknowledged the efforts and Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins but was particularly pleased with the defensive intensity displayed by Kevin Durant and Steph Curry. Durant set a tone with three first-quarter blocks and Curry limited Indiana point guard Cory Joseph to 1-of-7 shooting.
Indiana shot 50 percent shooting in a garbage-time fourth quarter to lift its field-goal percentage to 38.5 for the game.
“They forced us to take some tough (shots), especially when they did some late-clock switching,” Pacers forward Thaddeus Young said. “We were forced to take some contested shots, and they didn’t go in and then that’s what they thrive off of. When you take a bad shot, they either get a leak out or they’ll push the break in transition and get 3s.”
A pattern is developing.
The Warriors have spent the past five games harassing offenses to the brink of despair. Nine days ago in Houston, they limited the Rockets to 26.8 percent shooting from deep, which is their core offense. Last Saturday in Oklahoma City, the Thunder shot 32.3 overall. The Spurs shot 46.6 percent Monday in San Antonio and the Timberwolves shot 40.4 percent Tuesday in Minneapolis.
The Warriors prior to the last five games were 15th in the NBA in defensive rating (109.2), causing worry lines to form within the fan base. Over the past five games, they are third (100.6) – and No. 1 in the Western Conference.
“It’s really been fun to see,” coach Steve Kerr said. “We’re more engaged and active.”
The Warriors started dismantling the Pacers by outscoring them 18-10 over the final 5:03 of the first half and took them completely apart by opening the second half with a 17-3 run to build a 70-48 lead with 5:58 left in the third quarter.
“You have to give their defense a lot of credit,” said Indiana assistant coach Dan Burke, who took over for Nate McMillan, who is temporarily away for family reasons. “They have so much flexibility and versatility, and that switching is like a stoplight for us.
“We can’t allow that to happen. We have to move the ball. We are not an iso team. We played like there were a lot of mismatches there. I didn’t see very many mismatches.”
Andrew Bogut, who received a standing ovation upon his return to Oracle after nearly three years, offered a succinct and accurate analysis: “We made them take bad shots in the half court, late in the shot clock and turned them over.”
Indy’s starters shot 28.6 percent (14-of-49) from the field. The Warriors forced 16 turnovers, off which they scored 21 points.
With 11 games remaining, the defending champs are turning ruthless. They’re finding their edge, the one they’ll need beginning the second weekend in April.
The team Warriors fans have been waiting for is materializing before us.