David Lee

Warriors’ new reality: great defense, unselfish offense, lots of double digit wins

klay dunk kd

The Golden State Warriors have the best record in basketball, and they continued their best start in franchise history with yet another blowout win, this time 117-91 over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“We’re 27-5 for a reason. We’re a good team. We’re a really good team,” said Steve Kerr.

The Warriors have won four in a row since dropping two at Staples Center, with the last two victories coming against two of the NBA’s better squads. Golden State jumped out ahead of the Thunder early, just as they did in Friday’s 21-point win over Toronto, with an early scoring barrage from Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson (23 points combined in the first quarter) and fierce perimeter defense that kept Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (2-for-14 combined in the first quarter) from going off.

The Warriors built a 20-point halftime lead, withstood some physical play from Oklahoma City in the third quarter (at least compared to the first half, when the Warriors scored 65 points), and cruised to their eighth win of 20+ points this season. Durant finished 3-for-16, while Westbrook went 5-for-21.

Maybe the template is to go on a two-game losing skid, learn from mistakes made, and go back to destroying the league one game at a time. The Warriors responded to a rare two-game losing streak earlier in the year by cutting down the turnovers and reeling off 16 straight wins. I asked Kerr if the team learned a similar lesson after the hiccup in L.A.

“Yes, we learned about turnovers again. We learned the exact same thing,” Kerr said with a laugh.

“Our whole game is rhythm and flow, and it has to come from cutting, back cuts. When teams try to get into us, which is what Oklahoma City did to us in the second half, and you can tell it bothered us a little bit. But when they get into us, we have to find flow. We’ve got to use that aggression against them. We’ve got to make hard back cuts, really set good screens and make sure that we’re on point.

“We weren’t great in the second half, but we were good enough. When you have a big lead and you don’t turn it over, with the shooters we have, we know we’re eventually going to make some shots. So we were just solid tonight. And that’s what we’ve learned. We’re a great defensive team. We’ve got a lot of skill offensively. So again, let’s eliminate the mistakes, be really solid, and there will be some nights where we’re spectacular, some nights where we’re OK, but we should be able to win either way if we take care of our mistakes.”

Golden State had 27 assists and just 12 turnovers, and a main advantage came at the three-point line, where Oklahoma City went 5-for-28 and the Warriors made 15 of their 28 attempts. Durant and Westbrook had an off night, but the Thunder shooting just 30.6% from the floor was no more a fluke than Golden State’s league-leading point differential of — and this isn’t a typo — +10.7 per game.

“I think as the season’s going on, we’re continuing to get better, we’re maturing. Which is a scary thing, being that we have so much depth. We still have a lot of room for improvement,” said Andre Iguodala, who banked in a three while fouled and threw down a pretty vicious one-handed dunk in transition.  “When we have those big wins, we’re trying to compete against ourselves to become better and better every night.”

Draymond Green, who didn’t get his second straight triple double but didn’t finish that far off — 11 points, 13 rebounds and five assists (along with three blocks, including a fantastic one on Westbrook) — had a simple explanation for all these blowouts: “Not getting to a point in the game where we stop playing.”

The Warriors never really started playing in L.A. against the Lakers, and they got bogged down in a shoving match with the Clippers in which they got away from Kerr’s preferred “rhythm and flow.” Perhaps even more impressive than Golden State’s record, and the way they’re winning, is how they’ve bounced back after brief scrapes with mortality.

“We’re not invincible if we don’t play the way we’re supposed to play. So that was, I don’t know if it was humbling but it was … we’ve got to refocus,” said Curry, who said the main lesson learned while spending Christmas in Southern California was not to panic.

“We had a meeting right before practice and got that point across: We have to play better, but we’re still a good team. It probably won’t be the last game we lose.”

He’s right. But wins like this, their third straight by 20+, make you wonder.

Dub Steps

— Justin Holiday continued on his quest to cement his role as the backup shooting guard, something Kerr has allowed him to earn over the last two weeks.

“It’s coming along well when the shot continues to fall, but I’m going to take it. I have the confidence,” said Holiday, who finished with 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting (2-of-3 on threes), three assists and two steals. “If I stay consistent like this, it’s going to work out.”

— “Justin has been great and was fantastic again tonight. He’s playing with a lot of confidence,” said Kerr. “Right now Justin is in the rotation and he’s making the most of it.”

— You know it’s a good night for the Warriors when Ognjen Kuzmic scores the same number of points (four) as Serge Ibaka.

— Harrison Barnes and Durant were the starting small forwards, and it was impossible to come away from this game with any other conclusion than Barnes (game-high 23 points, 5-for-5 on threes) won the matchup. Barnes hadn’t done much offensively in recent games, but tonight he went off after taking off his protective mask.

— Not to pile on Durant, but it’d be almost criminal to write a post about this game without mentioning Thompson’s dunk. Thompson almost did it twice, but Durant wrapped him up the second time. Smart move.

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