Warriors’ worst habit sabotaging season as it surfaces again vs. Bucks

Warriors’ worst habit sabotaging season as it surfaces again vs. Bucks originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

The Warriors have developed a nasty habit that explains, above all other reasons, why they’ve fallen into the lower third of the Western Conference and have not been able to escape.

Their defense will, like clockwork, have a quarter in which it abandons them and invites defeat.

If Golden State can’t shake this trend, and quickly, pushing their record back above .500 will be but a dream.

It was on display again Saturday night in Milwaukee. Though the Warriors – without Stephen Curry – were clear and deserved underdogs, they gave the Bucks fits for three quarters. Their bid for an upset on the second night of a back-to-back set died when the defense crumbled in the fourth and welcomed a 129-118 loss at Fiserv Forum.

“The guys competed really hard,” coach Steve Kerr told reporters in Milwaukee. “A tough back-to-back, playing against a great team, I thought we really gave a great effort. The game really slipped away from us in the fourth. They scored 46 points.

“It felt like we had decent control of the game, defensively, until that fourth. And then, they got loose.”

Trailing 83-81 through three quarters, the Warriors (18-21) gave up those 46 points on 70.4-percent shooting. After a Jonathan Kuminga 3-ball tied it at 98-all with eight minutes left, Golden State was outscored 31-20.

“There were a couple breakdowns,” Kerr said. “The key was Khris Middleton got going. And when he got hot during that stretch, that helped Giannis [Antetokounmpo] get free because we had to pay so much attention to Khris.”

Milwaukee (27-12) scored 75 points in the second half, becoming the fourth consecutive opponent – and fifth in six games – to blister the Warriors with at least 70 points in one half.

This is the fourth consecutive game in which an opponent smacked Golden State with at least one quarter of 40 points or more. The Chicago Bulls rang up 45 in the second quarter on Friday, the New Orleans Pelicans struck for 46 in the first on Wednesday and the Toronto Raptors posted 40 last Sunday.

The Warriors were 1-3 during that stretch. They are 3-7 over their last 10 games, and only twice have opponents not cracked the 35-point mark in any quarter. Golden State won both of those games, against the Orlando Magic and the Detroit Pistons.

As for the other eight games, well, math says Golden State is 1-7.

This slide has come mostly without the team’s best defenders, as Draymond Green has missed the last 15 games and Gary Payton II has missed the last six. Chris Paul, a solid and smart defender, has missed the past four games.

“It’s a little bit tough because we have so many people out of the lineup,” Brandin Podziemski said. “The rotations are in a jumble and has been throughout the year. I think when we get healthy and have everybody back, we’ll be solid.

“But most of it comes down to effort and wanting to do it. Like Steve said, these last two games we’ve shown that we want to do it. NBA teams are really good at scoring.”

Perhaps the most puzzling element is that the Warriors have proved capable of terrific defense. The held the Bucks to 21 points in the second quarter one night after holding the Bulls to 20 in the third.

In a game neither Green nor Payton played, Golden State held the mighty Boston Celtics to 27.3-percent shooting in the fourth quarter to force overtime on Dec. 19 and come away with the victory.

So, it’s not a matter of ability.

Yet the Warriors over their last 10 games rank 30th – dead last in the NBA – in defensive rating. To emphasize the point, the Pistons, who might lose 70 games, are playing better defense.

Former assistant coach Mike Brown, who coordinated the defense under Kerr before being hired as head coach of the Sacramento Kings, was passionate about defense and his stickler approach generally was effective.

Veteran coach Ron Adams, a defensive specialist and one of Kerr’s first hires upon signing on as head coach in 2014, remains on Kerr’s staff but in a diminished role. He no longer sits on the front bench.

And Kenny Atkinson, who inherited the defensive coordinator role upon Brown’s departure, clearly is struggling to get desired results.

“The first step is just playing harder,” Kerr said. “And the last two nights, our guys have really played hard and competed the whole way through. And that’s non-negotiable.”

The trend of poor defensive play is turning the season upside down. Yes, help is on the way. Green could return as soon as Monday in Memphis. He’ll help.

But it’s unreasonable to fair to expect even Draymond to immediately repair the league’s worst defense.

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