- Programming Note: Watch the premiere of Trayce Jackson-Davis' full “Dubs Talk” interview with Monte Poole and Kerith Burke at 5:30 p.m. PT tonight on NBC Sports Bay Area before "Warriors Pregame Live"
SAN FRANCISCO – The Warriors have given the basketball world many reasons to shut the door on their season. Before doing so, consider two NBA teams that recently were revived in the middle of a season.
Please bear with me.
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The 2021-22 Boston Celtics through their first 47 games spent more time below .500 than above it. They recovered, winning 28 of their last 35 to reach the NBA Finals where they lost to the Warriors.
Those Celtics, a young core with first-time head coach Ime Udoka, are not these Warriors. But they are proof that corrective action can ignite a turnaround.
The other example? This season’s New York Knicks. From October through December, they were giving away buckets like candy on Halloween. They were 17-15, eighth in the Eastern Conference. They were 20th in defensive rating (115.5) when the calendar flipped to 2024.
The Knicks on Dec. 30 acquired forward OG Anunoby from the Toronto Raptors. The elite defender made his debut on Jan. 1. Voila! New York is an NBA-best 13-2 in January, and its 104.0 defensive rating this month ranks No. 1. They’re in fourth place.
Golden State Warriors
Which brings us back to the Warriors. Can defensive ace Draymond Green make a similar impact? If Golden State is to gain traction, it absolutely must start with defense?
During Green’s suspension, which lasted 12 games with an additional four games to ramp up to game shape, the Warriors fell from 16th (113.6) in defensive rating to 24th (117.7). An atrocious two weeks in January dropped them to last place for the month, and they’re still at the bottom.
In the four games since Draymond’s return, the Warriors were 22nd in defensive rating. It’s not much, but it hints at improvement.
“He was incredible the other night,” coach Steve Kerr said Monday, referring to Green’s near triple-double against the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday. “The force with which he plays, the defensive communication, the rotations, the little plays he makes defensively to cover up for someone else's mistake. He's brilliant.”
With Draymond making his first start in more than six weeks – and doing so at center, rather than forward – the Warriors posted a decent 114.2 defensive rating in the double-overtime loss to LA. He was missed in nearly every way, but most appreciably as a defensive catalyst.
Green’s absence, along with those of Chris Paul and Gary Payton II, deprived the Warriors of three impact defenders. Paul is a defensive communicator. Payton is a defensive playmaker. Green does both.
“CP and I are two of the more talkative guys on our team when it comes to the defensive end, with (Kevon Looney),” Green said. “With us two missing the majority of the month, that takes that aspect away. We know what GP brings on the defensive end. That changes things.”
Another part of the defensive equation, Green reminded, must be considered. Such absences force players who might otherwise be very good defenders to move into unfamiliar territory. They’re trying to do what’s normal to them but also what Green, Paul and Payton do as a matter of routine.
“You have roles, you have responsibilities, you have tendencies,” Green explained. “If you're on the court with me, you're probably not going to communicate as much because you're comfortable with how much I'm going to communicate.
“You remove that, and you expect someone to just fill that role. That's not easy. That's a totally different responsibility. It makes a big difference.”
But when I asked Draymond if the midseason revivals of the Celtics two years ago and the Knicks this season were examples that might provide reasons for Golden State to believe, he needed only a nanosecond to reply.
“I don’t think we need to look at any team in the NBA to get belief on anything,” Green said. “I don't know which team to look to for belief, outside of ourselves. We have a great enough standard that we've set, that you can look right on the wall or right to the guy next to you and know what it takes to win and compete at the highest level.
“I never look around the NBA for belief or away something should be done because I think I’ll have quite the hard time finding it.”
This, clearly, is a man who sees the door to the season still very much open for the Warriors. With a 19-24 record, sitting in 12th place in the Western Conference, they’ll need a truckload of shovels to dig their way out.
And here come the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday night. They were blown out Monday night in Portland, but that was without reigning MVP Joel Embiid (left knee) or rising star Tyrese Maxey (left ankle). There is a chance one or both could return to face the Warriors.
A loss would send Golden State on the road with a 19-25 record. The last time the Warriors entered February with an uglier record, they finished 15-50.
A win – with a strong defensive performance – would give them a block upon which they can build something other than words behind their faith.
“Playing the Lakers the other night reminded me that a year ago they were in the play-in,” Kerr said. “They had to win two games if I'm not mistaken (that’s correct), but they were in the play-in and they made the conference finals.
“So, we have every opportunity to make something out of this season. We don't have quite half the season, but almost half the season. We have some guys who are out who we will get back before too long, and we have areas where we can improve. I have no doubt we can make something special this season.”
The Warriors have 39 games to find their best basketball. Plenty of time to climb into the top six in the West, though the play-in tournament looks far more realistic.
It can be done, though. Because it has been done before.