NEW YORK — If ever the “tale of two halves” cliche applied, it was in the Golden State Warriors’ 117-101 ambush of the Brooklyn Nets Thursday, their sixth straight win.
The Warriors trailed by 16 at the half before eventually winning by that same margin. When their defense finally showed up, the Nets were no match for it.
“They played defense!” savvy veteran Andre Iguodala explained of his teammates in the second half. “Just locked in. They got their act together.”
Some things are bigger than December basketball, and witnessing the birth of one’s child certainly qualifies. So, in the wee hours of game day, Golden State’s Draymond Green slipped out of the team’s Manhattan hotel and rushed to nab a flight across the country. As the power forward traversed America for the birth of his son, Draymond Jr., Golden State prepared to play the Nets, sans shootaround.
The Warriors certainly looked like a team lacking preparation. If Green was understandably absent, his team was less-understandably late. Their first-half defense was lethargic and forgiving. The Warriors weren’t getting back on defense, much to Steve Kerr’s chagrin. The Nets feasted on back cuts and open 3-pointers. Brook Lopez dined most greedily of all, seizing 23 first-half points.
“We were making a lot of mistakes [in the] first half defensively, first of all,” Warriors center Zaza Pachulia, who had a season high 15 points and 14 boards, said. “No communication, a lot of miscues. Maybe because a lot of travel, yesterday or time difference, but we definitely weren’t playing our game. We weren’t getting back on defense in transition.”
If the Warriors were to get back in this one, they needed to respond, quickly.
Or perhaps not. Judging by how the Warriors seized this game by the throat, they could have waited a while before restoring order. The third quarter kicked off with a Stephen Curry steal against Jeremy Lin that led to a Kevin Durant dunk in Lopez’s face.
“Second half, it was totally different,” Pachulia said. “First play, Steph gets a deflection, [Durant] runs transition, dunks the ball, and-1. It got us going.”
Beyond bringing a better energy, the Warriors sent more help at Brook Lopez, to fluster him. Fewer than three minutes into the quarter, Brooklyn’s lead was down to four. Golden State’s defense swarmed and trapped the Nets into giveaways, forcing 10 turnovers in the quarter. Klay Thompson, who, like the other two Golden State All-Stars, had a suboptimal shooting night, awoke in the quarter for three 3-pointers and 11 points. He finished the game with 23 points.
Durant, who spent this game attacking in the absence of luck from long range — he was 1-of-7 from deep — also claimed 11 of his team-high 26 points in the third quarter. Curry’s defense ramped up, as he found a way to compensate for a forgettable shooting night (6-of-19 for 15 points). It was as though victory was merely a choice.
Of course, that’s easy to say in retrospect, after the Warriors closed out this one by double-digits. But even without Green, this team boasts an abundance of talent. A change from last season is the lack of dependence on any particular player. It leaves the Warriors in an enviable position where, even if fatherly duties call, other All-Stars can fill the void.
On the other hand, the Warriors aren’t well-served by inconsistent effort. As Iguodala said after the game of his team, “I would have just subbed them out, not played them second half. You want to play stupid? We just ain’t going to play at all …
“It’s a collective effort. We can’t play with the game like that.”
That might be true, but it’s likely difficult to bring a consistently high effort when your margin for error is so vast. Even without Green, on some nights, the Warriors boast enough talent to require a half-game’s effort.