The Warriors led by at least 20 points throughout the entirety of the fourth quarter of their dominant victory over the Knicks Tuesday night. If the outcome seemed refreshingly de-stressed to you, well, you’re not the only one.
Klay Thompson was admittedly in a good mood after scoring 43 points against New York — on only four dribbles — so you can forgive him if he came off slightly hyperbolic. That said, Klay isn’t entirely off-base.
There’s no denying the first half of this Warriors season has often felt like a slog compared to the last four long journeys to the Finals. The Dubs are currently 27-14, good for a 54-win pace at the halfway mark (which would stand as the worst record of the Steve Kerr era).
Not only are the Dubs on pace to win fewer games, but they’re also winning those games by a smaller margin.
And the victories of the blowout variety have been fewer and farther between.
Tuesday’s win over the Knicks was the Warriors’ eighth win this season by 20 points or more, but half of those dominant victories came within the first eight games of the season. In the 33 games since, they have just as many 20-point losses as they do 20-point victories — and all four of those blowout losses shockingly came at home.
The Warriors have posted an average point differential of plus-5.0 points per game so far this season, the sixth-best mark in the NBA. That would be their worst point differential in the five-year Steve Kerr era, and particularly so through the first half of each season that comprises it.
Through the first 41 games of the 2017-18 season, the Warriors produced an average point differential of plus-9.8 points per contest.
In the first 41 games of the three seasons before that, Golden State posted positive average point differentials of 12.6, 11.1 and 12.1 points per game, respectively.
So, what gives?
Obviously, rosters change from year to year. Injuries happen. Teams go through slumps. But ultimately, it all comes back to the Warriors defense.
It simply hasn’t been up to the level we’ve seen over the previous four seasons, and that’s true even when accounting for league-wide pace being at an all-time high.
Golden State’s defensive rating of 108.9 points allowed per 100 possessions has certainly been inflated by that increase in pace, but that number ranks 16th in the NBA, technically in the bottom half of the league.
The Warriors have only once finished outside the top-10 in the NBA in defensive efficiency since Steve Kerr took over, and that was last season, when they finished 11th.
So, the Warriors aren’t necessarily blowing teams out less often. But they are getting blown out by the opposition more often than they have in years past, and the non-blowout games have been closer than ever before.
If they can get back to the level of defense we’ve become accustomed to seeing throughout their dynastic run in the second half of the season, we’ll see more easy victories like that of Tuesday night.
Walking off the court tonight, Klay Thompson turned to Stephen Curry and said, “When’s the last time we blew somebody out? 2016?”
— Connor Letourneau (@Con_Chron) January 9, 2019