NEW ORLEANS -- The fortunes of an NBA offense fluctuate. Shooters get hot for a week or two, then the cylinder shrinks and the points dry up.
A sound defense, in contrast, is supposed to be slump-proof. There might be nights when the process doesn’t yield the intended results, when a scorer goes ballistic and the opponent’s prayers get answered. But if a team masters the defensive schemes and -- as coaches are fond of saying -- competes, it can’t be kept down for long.
The Golden State Warriors had been such a team since opening night. With the acquisition of Andre Iguodala and the health of Andrew Bogut, the Ws have hung around the top five in defensive efficiency all season.
But over the past week, the Warriors have hemorrhaged defensively. On Wednesday night on their home floor, they gave up 123 points in 103 possessions to Denver. In Oklahoma City, authorities are still investigating the crime scene from Friday night, when Kevin Durant went off for 54 points while the Thunder scored 127 points in 99 possessions.
And in the first half on Saturday night in New Orleans, the beat went on -- 52 points in 44 possessions to a Pelicans team playing without Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson and Jason Smith. By halftime, it was apparent: The Golden State Warriors were in a defensive slump, a funk every bit as abject as an offense that can’t find the basket.
“It’s the mental aspects of the game,” Iguodala said. “You can be sluggish. You can go through slumps as a team defensively.”
If the Warriors experienced such a slump, they snapped out of it at halftime. After trailing for virtually all of the first half, the Warriors ground the Pelicans into a fine powder in the second, surrendering only 33 points after intermission to cruise to a 97-87 win.
“It’s not a function of inconsistency,” Bogut said. “We just have to buy into our defense and move around like we know we can. The last two or three games for us we’ve just been lackadaisical defensively and have tried to win it offensively. It’s easy to get caught up in that and try to get your numbers, and so on. I think when we commit to being a good defensive team, we win games.”
Durant went unconscious on Friday, so let’s give Golden State a mulligan for that game. But the debacle against the Nuggets and the first half in New Orleans were unsightly. Skeptics who were slow to buy into the notion that the Warriors could ever excel defensively would point to the backcourt personnel and David Lee at power forward as liabilities too pronounced to build an elite defense around.
During this recent defensive slump, that’s precisely what the evidence showed. On Wednesday, Stephen Curry repeatedly got drawn to the ball while guarding the perimeter, while Klay Thompson died on screens as a matter of routine. And in the first half on Saturday, the Pelicans fed Anthony Davis one-on-one against Lee relentlessly.
“We lost the scout,” Iguodala said.
By losing “the scout,” Iguodala meant that the Warriors were forgetting to factor what they knew about their opponents when hunkering down to defend.
“A scout is: This guy likes to go right, so don’t let him get to his right hand,” Iguodala explained. “Ty Lawson got to his right hand a lot that game. [Evan] Fournier got left. [Randy] Foye got right. Wilson Chandler got right a bunch. Once they got their rhythm, they got their rhythm.”
So far as the first half against the Pelicans, the Warriors lost the scout on Davis, who went for 21 of his 31 points before halftime.
“We were a little inconsistent in the first half, and gave Davis quite a bit in the first quarter,” Lee said. “In pick-and-roll, when he was diving down the middle, our weakside [defense] wasn’t pulled over enough.”
After halftime, the Warriors were vocal defensively. Calls came from the backline. Iguodala could be seen directing traffic from the wing. The Warriors realized that with the likes of Greg Stiemsma, Jeff Withey and Alexis Ajinca on the floor -- and to some extent Darius Miller and Brian Roberts -- they could take liberties and flood the strong side of the floor with impunity. They keyed in on Davis and Eric Gordon.
“We made some adjustments at halftime,” Lee said. “More than anything, our effort just picked up all the way around. And I want to give myself some credit for being a great rim protector ... I’m just kidding.”
Cue laugh track -- but amid the festive Warriors locker room after the game, the business of defending the floor became serious again. Golden State found its scout in the Crescent City.