OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Defense has been the theme from Day 1 for the Golden State Warriors, determined to do all the little things even better on both ends of the floor on the heels of their second NBA championship in three years.
They’re blocking shots. Jumping into the passing lanes for timely steals. Getting hands in the faces of shooters.
It wasn’t this way out of the gates this season, and coach Steve Kerr had some moments of frustration.
Lately, he’s pleased with the progress and consistency.
“Defensively we’ve just had longer stretches of high intensity and high level of focus,” Stephen Curry said. “That’s allowed us to control the momentum of games and the flow of games.”
The Warriors outscored Minnesota 44-26 in the third quarter of Wednesday night’s 125-101 win – and dominated without NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant, who sat with a bruised left thigh but was expected to be fine by Saturday’s home game against the 76ers.
“I know if we focus on taking care of the basketball and playing solid defense, and focusing on that, and really, hopefully, regardless of how our offense is, we’ll be in a good position to win games,” Curry said.
Golden State limited the Timberwolves to 41.3 percent from the floor and a dismal 5 of 24 on 3-pointers on the way to winning its fifth straight.
“You saw how beautiful that was in the second half with 37 assists overall. It’s all about taking care of the ball and defending,” Kerr said. “The defense part I’m really pleased with. I think this is about our fifth straight really good defensive effort we have had so that’s a great sign.”
He gave his team a day off Thursday before getting back to work Friday in preparation for Philadelphia.
Other teams and opposing players notice the Warriors’ attention to detail on the defensive end, even if their high-flying offensive show is typically the focus of scouting reports and film sessions.
“You can’t win without that,” Memphis center Marc Gasol said. “Even if you look at teams like Golden State, you see a team that obviously has a lot of firepower, their defense is really outstanding, how they all move together at the same time, how they all shift as a unit from one side to the other … Then they give you 125 points, too. But they really do play a lot of great defense.”
Against the T-Wolves, Golden State blocked nine shots – its 11th time in 12 games with at least seven swats – three by reserve Omri Casspi and another two from Draymond Green, and didn’t allow a 20-point performance by Minnesota. Nick Young came off the bench to make a career-high four steals in 20-plus minutes.
“It’s finally coming along. We’re starting to put it together,” Green said. “We’re taking more ownership in one-on-one defense. We’ve just locked in more on one-on-one defense and taking on the challenge.”
Part of that, according to player development coach Chris DeMarco, is “being the aggressors, being active defensively and trusting that the guys around us will help if we get beat.”
While a handful of turnovers led to easy baskets by Minnesota, for the most part the Warriors were disciplined in their defensive assignments. It has been that way for a stretch of games now.
It didn’t hurt Golden State shot 65.9 percent after halftime in pulling away from the overmatched Timberwolves, who were on a roll with five straight wins before the stop in Oakland.
“I think you learn a lot from playing against them because that’s what a championship team looks like. They play hard. They play together. You look at their willingness to sacrifice for each other and make plays,” T-Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “They had 37 assists on 48 baskets. Their defense over the last five games has been back to what their defense is. That’s why they’ve been able to win the way they’ve won. I think their willingness to sacrifice and play for each other is what makes them great. They take good shots. They make the game easy for each other. When you do that, the results will be good.”