Draymond Green

Warriors turn up defensive volume after Draymond's latest nudge

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The words with which Draymond Green concluded his tirade a few days ago might be the best thing to happen to the Warriors this month. They haven’t lost a game since.

We’re referring not to Green’s latest outburst directed at officials – which resulted in an ejection that was not beneficial at all – but to his blunt assessment of the Warriors on Sunday after a loss to the Timberwolves.

After pleading for better habits, groaning about losing winnable games and citing a high degree of breakdowns, Green subtly settled on something tangible.

“We're a very quiet team,” Green said Sunday. “So, you have issues on defense when you have bad communication.”

The Warriors were vocal Tuesday and Wednesday, winning games at Miami and Orlando, and they stayed on script Friday in Charlotte, where their defense carried them to a 115-97 victory over the Hornets.

“We’re talking a little bit more,” Chris Paul told reporters at Spectrum Center. “Starting to get in the right spots. I think we’re showing what we’re capable of if we defend.”

Defense is not a sexy topic. It generally gets the short end of video highlights. But it is, and always has been, crucial to the Warriors’ success. Never more than this season.

Even though this victory was needed to get the Warriors back to a season-high-tying five games over .500 (39-34), they have been a very good team – but only when they defend at peak level.

The Warriors’ most encouraging month this season was February, during which they went 11-3 with a 108.9 defensive rating that ranked fifth in the league and second in the Western Conference. That was enough to inspire faith in rising to sixth in the West, escaping the conference play-in tournament relegated to teams finishing between seventh and 10th.

Though that goal remains mathematically in play, the Warriors seem destined to finish closer to 10th than sixth – all because their defense fell into the habit of missed assignments, slow closeouts and breakdowns that resulted in seven losses through their first 12 games this month.

The Warriors’ 115.6 defensive rating during those 12 games, the last of which came in the loss at Minnesota, ranked 21st in the NBA.

In the three games since Green’s pleas, the Warriors have looked like a different team, as each of their opponents was held under 100 points and the team’s 100.4 defensive rating for those games is the best in the NBA during that span.

“Everyone’s engaged,” rookie center Trayce Jackson-Davis said. “I feel like to start out the game our engagement on the floor, talking, and then that carries over for the rest of the game. If we have a good start on the defensive end, I feel like that just continues.”

Green played 28 minutes and never shut up. Kevon Looney, another talker, played an impactful 10 minutes. Andrew Wiggins once again looked worthy of the nickname “Two-Way Wiggs.”

With Jackson-Davis chiming in, too, it’s clear his burgeoning partnership with Draymond is becoming more proficient.

“Wiggs is playing great,” coach Steve Kerr said. “He put a lot of pressure on the ball again tonight which is important for us. And I like the Draymond/Trayce combination, having Trayce as a shot blocker; he had three of them tonight.

“With Draymond playing middle linebacker back there, that’s a good combination. It’s a different look for us but it’s been effective.”

The Warriors held the Hornets to 40.5-percent shooting from the field, including 26.1 from distance. Charlotte is among the worst teams in the NBA, but that hasn’t stopped other sub-mediocre opponents – the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors, to name two – from lighting up the Warriors.

This latest turn of events is enough to persuade the Warriors once again into thinking they’re onto something good enough to charge down the final stretch of the season.

“We're in a pretty good groove,” Kerr said. “This is the best Wiggs has been all year. Trayce is coming into his own. Gary Payton (II) looks fantastic. We're coming along well. Obviously, we're in a fight with a lot of teams.”

That fight will be intense, as the five teams between seventh and 11th are within five games of each other. That fight cannot be won without stellar defense.

With Draymond’s goading, the Warriors have taken their defense to its highest level this season. It’s loud, as it must be for them to prosper, for they’re in trouble if it goes quiet again.

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