Green and Jackson-Davis lead Golden State Warriors defense

WARRIORS OF THE GOLDEN STATE Guard Chris Paul called it the best defensive play he’s seen in his 19-year career.

With 1:30 remaining in the fourth quarter against the Dallas Mavericks on April 2 and the Warriors holding a 98-92 lead, Mavericks guard Luka Doncic faked a dribble from the top of the 3-point line before to throw the ball to goalkeeper Kyrie. Irving. As Warriors forward Draymond Green roamed the paint, Irving got around defender Andrew Wiggins, took two steps toward Green and then passed to center Daniel Gafford near the baseline.

Just as quickly, Green changed positioning and met Gafford at the rim for a spectacular block. Green snatched the rebound from Irving, igniting the Chase Center crowd, as the Warriors then held on for a 104-100 victory.

“We’re starting to understand that defense is going to be what we have to hang our hat on,” Paul said after the game. “On offense, of course we have incredible shooters and scorers. But when we defend, it opens up everything else.”

The team has dealt with several on-court issues this season, including Green’s suspensions and late-game struggles, Stephen Curry’s decline in offensive production since the All-Star break, and Thompson ending the season regular with its lowest scoring average since 2013-14.

But the win over Dallas was part of a six-game winning streak fueled by an improved defense led by Green and the emergence of rookie center Trayce Jackson-Davis.

Golden State enters Tuesday’s game against the Sacramento Kings with 10 wins in its last 12 regular season games. The Warriors also own the league’s seventh-best defense since the All-Star break and are fifth in defensive efficiency since Jackson-Davis entered the starting lineup on March 27.

The Warriors’ path back to the playoffs remains difficult. They will need to win back-to-back road games just to secure a first-round series against the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder.

But just three weeks ago, the Warriors were in danger of crashing out of the playoffs altogether. On March 24, the Warriors began a crucial five-game road trip by losing to the Minnesota Timberwolves, leaving them with just one game against the Houston Rockets in the battle for 10th place.

However, the Warriors responded by winning their next four games – all on the road – before the home victory against the Mavericks. During this stretch, the Warriors have held opponents to 99.0 points per game, the franchise’s lowest score through five games since January 2022.

“We’ve seen teams in this league for years that made the mistake of thinking they could just put together a great offense and their defense sucked and thought they were going to win,” Green said afterward. the Mavericks game. “When you play (a) team that is… just competent on the offensive end but plays defense, you’re going to lose.”

Any postseason success will require Jackson-Davis, along with Green and veteran center Kevon Looney, to face a playing field that includes All-Star big men such as Domantas Sabonis of the Kings or Anthony Davis of the Los Angeles Lakers.

“These missions, I mean, are against some of the best players,” Jackson-Davis told ESPN. “I know I’ll have to rely on my veterans – Draymond, Kevon. Those guys will really help me. And I know the preparation will be different, there will be a lot more. But I feel like that I I am ready to take on this challenge.

AFTER THE LOSS At the Timberwolves on March 24, Green had a harsh assessment of his team’s defense.

“We have too many breakdowns,” Green said. “You just can’t win after a breakdown. When you have a breakdown, it changes the dynamic. And momentum in this league is not easy to come back with.”

The Warriors led the Wolves by as many as 12 points in the first half. They led 70-65 with just over four minutes left in the third quarter when the Wolves then outscored Golden State on a run that included six 3-pointers, including three from guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker. With Curry on the bench during that stretch and not returning until 6:54 of the fourth, the Wolves went on a 32-19 run that later led to a 114-110 victory.

“We’re a very calm team. So you have problems on defense when you have poor communication,” Green added. The Warriors’ fourth-quarter defense — which then ranked 29th in defensive efficiency — was a problem all season long. Rim defense was a particular sore spot; Golden State was third-worst in the league in field goal percentage allowed on layups and dunks in the fourth quarter.

Two days after the Wolves game, the Warriors bounced back with a 113-92 road victory over the Miami Heat. With Jonathan Kuminga sitting out the next day’s game in Orlando, Fla., due to knee tendinitis, Warriors coach Steve Kerr placed Jackson-Davis in the starting five. The rookie responded with eight points and 14 rebounds in the 101-93 victory. Green was ejected four minutes into the game, but the duo quickly found a rhythm in the frontcourt in their next encounters.

In an April 4 win over the Rockets, Jackson-Davis spent time in the first half defending Houston guard Amen Thompson, while Green roamed around as a paint defender. But in the second half, when Thompson started running more downhill and in transition, the Warriors duo switched missions.

“If I’m the 5, I’m the last line of defense,” Green said after the game. “So the things I do on instinct or reading the play on the fly, it’s harder to do. If I’m just going to run here to cover up something that I see needs to be covered, that leaves the edge unprotected …but if I know the rim is protected by Trayce, I can just go for it.”

Giving Green the ability to move around has helped Jackson-Davis hold opponents to 48 percent shooting in the paint as a contending defender, who ranks ninth among players to contest more than 500 shots this season, according to the Second Spectrum follow-up.

“Being able to tick and chat with him is great,” Jackson-Davis said. “The things he taught me, positioning and that kind of thing, helped my game a lot.”

Jackson-Davis and Green, who started 10 games together, finished the season with a defensive efficiency rating of 99.2 as a duo, which ranks in the top 10 among all two-player lineups that played more than 225 minutes this season. season, according to ESPN Statistics & Information Research.

“Trayce is wise beyond his years,” Kerr told ESPN. “He’s not a typical rookie these days, with four years of varsity experience and a lot of games played under his belt. He’s gained a lot of experience in recent months.”

AFTER SUNDAY’S VICTORY against the Utah Jazz to conclude the regular season, all eyes were on Tuesday’s game: the play-in matchup between the 9 and 10 seeds in Sacramento. The Kings provide an interesting defensive task for Golden State.

Led by their All-Star duo in Sabonis and guard De’Aaron Fox, rim protection and paint defense will be key for the Warriors.

“It all starts with the head of the snake — Sabonis and Fox — and then everyone else gets their (offense) from those two guys,” Green said after the Jazz’s victory. “We know (the Kings) well, they know us well, so there won’t be any surprises.”

The two teams met in the first round of the playoffs last season, with the Warriors eliminating the Kings in seven games. This season, three of their four games have been decided by one point, including Sacramento’s 134-133 win in late January that saw the Kings make 22 3-pointers on 48 attempts.

During last season’s playoffs, Looney was primarily responsible for defending Sabonis. He was also during this regular season. According to Second Spectrum, Looney defended Sabonis in 658 half-court games during his career, including the regular season and playoffs. This is the most players against Sabonis.

Even though Jackson-Davis takes up the majority of Looney’s minutes in the rotation, the challenge remains the same: stopping Sacramento’s star big man.

“At center, you have to be very talkative, really disruptive,” Looney told ESPN. “These matchups are key to trying to stop two guys who are All-NBA. I think Trayce, Draymond and I have the talent to do that.”

Slowing down Sabonis and Fox won’t be an easy task, especially on dribble handoffs. The pair have made 285 total handoffs together this season (fifth in the NBA among all duos), but the Warriors are ranked sixth in defending them (0.97 points per direct play).

“Sabonis does all of his damage pretty much in a 10- to 15-foot radius…and Trayce can affect some of those shots,” Green said. “It starts with positioning, and Sabonis is good at creating angles. Trayce has to use what he has and his strengths, namely his athleticism and his length.”

And if the Warriors move up, that gives Kerr the flexibility to lean on either the rookie big man or a veteran frontcourt in what is a win-or-go-home setting.

“I have a lot of confidence in Loon, knowing that for a rookie it’s a lot to ask him to go into a playoff game and play against some great players, which he will be,” Kerr said. “It’s a good situation.”

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