Draymond Green: Warriors not immune, must 'clean up defense'

ByNick Friedell ESPN logo
Monday, October 22, 2018

DENVER -- Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green has carved out an All-Star career for himself based largely on his defensive prowess. As he watches scores skyrocket all over the NBA during the first week of the season, Green articulated what many around the league believe.

"It's been called pretty tight," Green said after his team's first loss of the season, a 100-98 defeat to the Denver Nuggets. "We were told that. Defense isn't really an emphasis anymore in this league. So I think you're seeing it all around the league with these high scores. We know what the emphasis is. Just got to be better, and we haven't done that in three games. Maybe we win two of them, but it caught us tonight."

Green and the Warriors weren't using the extra foul calls as an excuse; they were just speaking more about a new reality. After being whistled for 29 fouls and sending the Nuggets to the line 46 times, the Warriors have been called for 81 fouls through the first three games of the season.

Across the league, 10 of 30 teams are giving up at least 120 points per game. Through the end of play on the first Sunday last season, just two teams were giving up 120 on average. The Nuggets are the only team giving up fewer than 100, while every team is scoring at least 100.

Green was asked how they fix the foul problem.

"I don't know," Green said. "Some of them are questionable. Like Klay's one,Gary Harrisis a hell of a cutter, you got to be into his body. He's flying off the screen to his right hand, he's great at that. So you body up and then you get called for going over the screen, I don't know what you do right there, but in the same sense, some of the fouls we have are just dumb as hell. Like we're in the bonus like six, seven, eight minutes to go in every quarter, we're still fouling -- so I think some of [the calls] are a bit questionable, and then some of them are on us, just ridiculous."

Green made it clear that it's on the Warriors to play better as a whole.

"We got to be smarter," he said. "We can't sit there and act like every foul call on us is wrong throughout the course of the game. The officials are going to get some wrong, that's just the nature of the beast, they're human, that's the game we play. To clean that up, to combat that, we can't have the stupid ones because what they do is an inexact science. So they're not going to get them all right, how do you combat that? Clean up our defense, stop using our hands as much, stop reaching. And right now we're not doing a good job of that."

Warriors star Stephen Curry thinks his team will adjust, but he acknowledged that the game is being called differently than it was in the past.

"A lot of it is just the speed of the game," Curry said. "You can't really simulate defensive possessions like that in the offseason, you got to kind of adjust on the fly. It's definitely called differently this year early, they've demonstrated that. So we got to adjust if that's the way it's going to be consistently. But that's a common theme the first three games of the regular season, why teams have had a lot of momentum early, it's because we put them on the free throw line. Obviously, you know how that affects the game in terms of easy points and also slowing the game down. We got to make adjustments."

Kevin Durant thinks his group will make those adjustments over time.

"We're a physical team," Durant said. "I think we've been a physical team the last few years. Obviously with the freedom-of-movement stuff, we have to be a little bit more cautious before the play. I think what makes a good defense is that you do your work early before the play starts, and sometimes we're a little bit too physical, so we have to calm that down a bit, still try to play aggressive. Just try to find that balance."

Through the first week of the season, it's the Nuggets who have found that balance, racking up three consecutive wins while holding opponents under 100 points each night. They are the only team in the NBA to have done that through three games, according to ESPN Stats & Information tracking. It's a run that was encapsulated at the end of Sunday night's game when Warriors center Damian Jones went up for a dunk that would have tied the game in the final seconds only to have the ball stuffed by Nuggets big man Juancho Hernangomez at the rim.

"You can talk game plan and you can talk strategy, but at the end of the day, for me, defense comes down to pride," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said after the game. "Do you want to go out there and give it everything you have to defend? The second part of that is the multiple effort. We are flying around. ... Last year we were much more of a single effort team, and the thing that stands out to me is keeping three straight opponents under 100 points means our guys care about it, they are committed to it, and the multiple effort is there."

The Warriors still had a chance to win, despite several stretches of disjointed play, with coach Steve Kerr noting that at times it was "some of the worst basketball" he'd seen during his four-year tenure with the group. He was proud of his players' ability to claw back after being down by as many as 13 points, but he knows they have a lot to clean up despite a 2-1 record.

"It seems like every game we're coming out and committing four fouls in the first five minutes," Kerr said. "It happened in preseason, it happened in all three games now. We got to correct it. We talk about it all the time. We drill it all the time. We drill defensive drills without reaching, without grabbing. So you got to just keep drilling it, and it has to become something that becomes a habit with our team, but we haven't gotten there yet obviously."

Green, who missed several weeks in preseason because of a sore left knee, say he's still not in a rhythm "at all," but is confident it will come back as he gets his legs underneath him.

"We're just not executing," Green said. "We're turning the ball over a lot. Part of it is we're playing against a set defense every time. They shoot 44 free throws or something like that? You're playing against a set defense every time, your execution matters a little bit more than if a team shoots 21 free throws. That's 10 more possessions than if you didn't play a set defense. It's a combination of things. Just got to get better on both ends."

The Warriors also aren't shooting 3-pointers like they normally do -- going just 7-for-29 on the night. They are now just 24-for-84 from beyond the arc on the season.

"I don't like the looks we've been getting at all," Kerr said. "We have not been executing. I thought we executed well against Utah. But this game we did not execute. Oklahoma City we did not execute. We're standing too much. We've got to make some adjustments. The second unit -- we've gone away from what our identity was the last couple years because the personnel has changed. So we got to establish something with them, but what we're built on is ball movement, cutting, screening, and it just seemed like we had one iso after another. So we're not where we need to be yet."

Does Green think the league is in a better place with all the points that teams are piling up these days?

"It depends on who you ask," Green said. "For defense lovers, no. For offensive-minded people, yeah. It depends on who you ask."

Green wouldn't mind seeing games go back to being called the way they were last season, but he knows the Warriors will have to adjust with the times.

"I like to play defense," Green said. "So I don't know. It is what it is."

Information from ESPN's Stats & Information was used in this report.

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