Anyone who has followed the Warriors over the past few years will tell you the team’s recent start to the season is anything but reminiscent — with exception to Kevin Durant’s Final’s mirroring left-wing shot on Wednesday — of the championship team the Bay Area knows and loves.
Sloppy passing, lackadaisical defense and blown double-digit leads have tormented the team through its first five games of the season, especially against the Rockets and Raptors. Though a slow start may be of growing concern to many other teams in the league, Golden State is far from worried about slow season progression.
Instead, the Warriors (3-2) are using recent errors to build a playoff team that head coach Steve Kerr said he believes will be better than last year’s team — eventually:
“If I asked our guys to bring the same level of focus right now that I did against Cleveland in June, we’d be done by December.”
“Our guys would all be fried and burned out. It really is about developing good habits and building up to a point where the energy of the latter part of the season or the playoffs can take over. Early in the season the focus has to be on the details.”
The details are mainly focused on two major aspects of play: focus and communication. Wednesday’s game against Toronto solidified that fact for the Warriors as they again started off strong, but lost momentum before regaining it late and turning a 14-point deficit into a five-point win. Draymond Green was responsible for six of the Warriors 17 turnovers, and the final push didn’t come until the final minutes of the game. Stephen Curry took accountability for the careless turnovers at Warriors practice on Thursday:
“Most of it is self-inflicted. I threw a terrible behind the back pass to DeMar DeRozan, who’s not on my team.”
He did admit that with the way the Warriors play, mistakes like that will naturally happen because they like to take chances:
“Coach tells us to hit singles all the time and we try to focus on that, but during the game we like to be creative and force the issue a little bit.”
Curry said he sees teams like Houston and Toronto now evening the playing field with high shooting percentage, so minimizing errors like fouls and errant passing is key to keeping the Warriors’ edge and to win the possession game. This will be a an important factor in Friday’s game as the Washington Wizards enter the game shooting 45 percent from the field. Golden State leads the association at 51.5 percent.
Kerr has given the team a little leeway for “creativity” early in the season. However, he thinks now is the time for them to start paying attention to details and taking care of the more minute fundamentals. When asked what intensity he felt the team should be playing at this point in the season Kerr laughed:
“Um, a little more than we have right now. … Our mentality has to change. There is kind of a game-long epidemic of losing focus.”
This falter in focus has been detrimental to the team losing its heavy leads to teams like the Rockets and the Raptors, but to Kerr the Warrior leads throughout the game have nothing to do with the team becoming complacent or overconfident. The leads attained have been deceptive in the team’s first five games because even with the lead, Kerr said, they never felt like they were in control of the game.
Although the Warriors continue to shine offensively, the breakdown of communication is also glaring on the defensive end. Said Kerr:
“Trading baskets is not a formula for success. Trading baskets for us can mean plenty of regular season wins, but it’s not going to mean anything in terms of winning a playoff series. Our communication has not been great defensively.”
The coach said it still feels like the team is playing pickup ball, a sentiment Curry agrees with in terms of defense:
“We just haven’t been able to put a whole 10 minutes, a whole quarter together in a row. It’s been 2 minutes here and then going on a 5 minute dead streak.”
One saving grace has been Curry’s aggression at the rim, giving him a record-setting 47 consecutive free throw makes to start the season on an average of 9.4 attempts per game, a streak Kerr called “incredible”.
“Steph is off to a good start. It’s ironic because he’s not shooting the three as well as he will, obviously.”
Curry, a career 43.7-percent shooter from beyond the arc, has made just 19 of 52 attempts (36.5 percent) thus far.
Kerr said he’s much more interested in Curry’s free-throw percentage than he is his slow-starting three-point game, saying his aggression at the rim is a “good sign” for what’s to come in the season.
Both Kerr and Curry have alluded to the fact that Curry is mentally and physically in the best shape yet. But the two-time MVP is trying not to concern himself with setting records and is using his streak to continually better his game:
“Honestly, this past game was the first time I actually thought about it. I’m going to try to turn it into an opportunity just to be more laser focused on mechanics and rhythm of shooting free throws until the streak is over.”
Golden State will be going into Friday night’s showdown with Washington with a seemingly healthy roster, however, Shaun Livingston will not be available, as he is attending the funeral for the brother of Dallas Mavericks guard Devin Harris.
The Wizards are coming into the game 3-1 and provide a strong shooting guard with Bradley Beal with a 45.3 field goal percentage compared to Curry’s 46.5 percentage and John Wall leads the Wizards in assists with an average 9.8 per game, topping Green’s 8.4.