Warriors

Warriors summoning their ruthless defense at precisely the right time

Warriors summoning their ruthless defense at precisely the right time

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.

No worries.

“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.”

[RELATED: What we learned from Warriors' blowout win vs. Pacers]

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.

Warriors consider lineup change vs. Clippers as they seek ruthlessness

Warriors consider lineup change vs. Clippers as they seek ruthlessness

OAKLAND – The Warriors wouldn’t ever acknowledge that they have reached the point of desperation in a first-round series. Too proud. Too accomplished.

But that’s where they are as they approach Game 6 against the Clippers, who have lost three of the first five games but never once shown any sign of surrender.

The Warriors are not necessarily desperate to win Game 6 because, should they lose, they still have Game 7.

They have to be desperate to reestablish the identity they have forged over the vast majority of Steve Kerr’s five-year run as head coach. Talented, skilled, smart, unified and ruthless.

They’re still talented and skilled. They’re generally smart. The unity has become uneven. That ruthless thing, however, has never been more elusive than this season – and it has carried over into the first five games of these playoffs.

So, on Thursday, before the team left Oakland for Los Angeles -- where Game 6 will be played on Friday -- Kerr uttered phrases that serve as euphemisms for desperation.

“Everything’s always on the table,” Kerr said. “Every playoff game, everything is always on the table. We consider everything. We go over every possibility. We hash it out. We ask the players their opinions on stuff and we make adjustments.

“That’s how the playoffs work.”

Kerr said the staff is evaluating rotations and units. Asked about a possible change in the starting lineup, he played coy.

“We could,” he said. “You never know.”

If there is a change, it will come at center. Andrew Bogut, who played so well in Games 3 and 4, struggled in the 129-121 loss in Game 5 on Wednesday. He had six points, five rebounds and two assists. He played 17 minutes and was minus-15 in the plus/minus.

Backup Kevon Looney was, by contrast, effective, as he has been for most of the series. Playing 22 minutes, he scored five points and grabbed seven rebounds, finishing a team-best plus-15.

But the issues with this team run deeper than can be solved with a single change. The Warriors have not been able to sustain the “killer instinct” required on championship teams. They’ve had it in the past, so it’s still somewhere within their collective DNA

They’re often playing it cool, even as LA is running hot. And they’re no more tired, at least physically, than the Clippers.

“I didn’t see fatigue (in Game 5),” Kerr said. “I just saw a lack of urgency, and you can’t win a playoff game without urgency. It’s not that easy.”

The first indicator of ruthlessness is effort. The Warriors brought it in Game 1 and for the better part of Game 2, before they completely and inexplicably lost it – and the game. They hit 10 on the ruthless meter in Game 3 and brought enough of it to squash a Clippers rally and prevail in Game 4.

It never appeared in Game 5.

“When we get a nice lead, we just tend to relax a little bit,” Kevin Durant said after Game 5, which the Warriors never led by more than four. “I’ve said it before, teams are looking for something just to get them back into the game.”

The Clippers didn’t so much as look for something in Game 5 as come and take it.

“More than anything, they played harder than we did,” Kerr said. “Schemes go out the window when a team plays harder than you. Schemes don’t matter unless you compete. I always say it, every year, that the first adjustment you have to make is to playing harder. And then you can get into switching rotations and matchups.

“In LA, we played really hard. In our last two home games, we let our guard down. The one thing you should know from watching the Clippers all years is that this is a competitive, fun team that enjoys playing together. They’re not going to go away. You’ve got to put them away by competing.”

[RELATED: Beverley's grit and hustle has Clips on Dubs' heels]

The Warriors in Game 5 met most of their offensive goals. They had 31 assists and eight turnovers. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Durant combined for 91 points on 49.1-percent shooting. They know they have the Curry/Durant pick-and-roll, and they’ll use it if a boost is needed. But the problem in Game 5, as well as the pivotal portion of Game 2, was an utter lack of defensive focus, execution and effort.

They fixed it last postseason and won a championship.

The Warriors know the formula. Desperate times in the NBA playoffs call for an inspired defense. Without it, even the Warriors are vulnerable.

Montrezl Harrell has message for Warriors after Clippers' Game 5 win

Montrezl Harrell has message for Warriors after Clippers' Game 5 win

The Los Angeles Clippers are feeling themselves, and for good reason.

Given zero chance to beat the Warriors heading into their first-round NBA playoff series, the Clippers have pushed the two-time defending champions to a Game 6 back in Los Angeles on Friday.

Down 3-1 in the series, most expected the Clippers to roll over Wednesday in Game 5 at Oracle Arena. But Lou Williams dropped 33 points and Montrezl Harrell added 24 as the Clippers grabbed a 129-121 win.

After the victory, Harrell had a quick, NSFW message for the Dubs and he screamed it as he sprinted back to the locker room.

"Bring that ass back to LA" Harrell shouted, via The Undefeated's Marc Spears.

Be careful what you wish for.

While the Warriors have admittedly been looking past the Clippers to a potential second-round date with the Rockets, the Dubs likely will be locked in Friday. Golden State has all the firepower needed to smolder the pesky Clippers, and the last thing they want is to have an unnecessary Game 7 because they were unfocused at the task at hand.

[RELATED: Lou Williams thinks Dubs made mistake by looking ahead to Rockets]

Harrell has been an issue for the Warriors all series, tormenting them in the pick-and-roll with Williams. His energy and ferocity have been unmatched by anyone on the Warriors, including Draymond Green. 

But with the Dubs having to bring their derrieres back to Southern California, we expect the Warriors' energy level will be a little different in Game 6.