By Zaheer E. Clarke
Written March 21, 2016
Published March 29, 2016, in the Jamaica Observer
Little over a week ago, I declared to the loyal followers of my blog and Facebook page that I have found the formula of how teams can beat the Golden State Warriors. Interestingly, after last Saturday night’s victory by the San Antonio Spurs over the Warriors, 87-79, it seems Spurs’ head coach Greg Popovich and his team of assistant coaches have also pounced upon the formula. Did the Spurs organization covertly hack my personal computer and copied the formula I spoke openly about before their matchup against the Warriors last Saturday? You just never know. Let’s hear what my IT people say after they scour my laptop for any trace of a clandestine operation.
On a serious note, the Warriors and Steph Curry have been on a tear all season, threatening to erase the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls record of 72 wins and 10 losses in an NBA 82-game regular season. In addition, Curry’s second successive MVP title, a foregone conclusion, awaits his smoking lethal hands at the end of the regular season. Still, he and the Warriors’ ultimate goal this season is to win their second consecutive NBA championship. The Warriors and Spurs are the clear favourites to win the 2015-16 NBA title and their highly efficient team-style of play is a foretaste of the near futurity of the NBA.
After their loss to the Spurs, the Warriors slipped to 62-7 after 69 games. Whether they eclipse, match, or fail to overhaul the Bulls’ record, the question is, how can NBA teams beat a healthy Golden State team in a single game and possibly over a playoff series? If you are unsure of the answer, here is the formula for success.
ROAD GAME & INFERIOR OPPONENT
Firstly, the best bet to catch the Warriors slipping is on the road and against an inferior opponent. Statistically, the Warriors have suffered all seven losses on the road, 30-7, and are a perfect 32-0 at home. On the road, however, with the exception of the Spurs, the six other teams that have beaten the Warriors are a combined 60 games below 0.500. In the games they have lost or came closest to losing, specifically, their worst ten games of the season, only the Spurs as an opposition currently have a record of more than two games above 0.500.
Secondly, and more importantly, teams will need to play suffocating perimeter and interior team defense against the Warriors for 48 minutes and possibly beyond in order to beat them. The Spurs showed us that last Saturday, limiting the Warriors to their lowest game total all season, 79 points.
The Warriors are oftentimes mistakenly considered a team only efficient in three-point shooting. Truthfully, the Warriors are the number one three-point shooting team in the NBA at 41.5%, and the only team above 40%. Unsurprisingly, they take the most attempts per game of any team in the NBA at 31.1 attempts per game, and only the Houston Rockets shoot the three-pointer at a higher frequency in their offense, 37.3% compared to 35.3%. Nevertheless, the Warriors are also the best two-point shooting team in the NBA at 52.8%. Henceforth, teams cannot defend the three-point line only. They’ll be required to defend the entire court, non-stop, for 48 minutes.
In all seven losses endured this season, the Warriors have shot 40% or less from the three-point line and less than 48% overall from the field. Henceforth, smothering, suffocating defense is the best way to make the Warriors’ offense humanlike. No team hits open shots (closest defender is 4-6 feet away), or wide open shots (closest defender is more than 6 feet away), better than the Warriors at 50.1% and 49.5% respectively. Their percentages fall back in the pack and closer to the NBA league averages when they take shots that are tightly defended (closest defender is 2-4 feet away) or very tightly defended (closest defender is 0-2 feet away).
Even though the Warriors are an NBA-best in 2-point and 3-point shooting percentage, they are ranked mid-table at 17th in free throw shooting percentage at 76.1%. Interestingly, the Warriors have lost the defensive rebound battle in the games they have lost, and in five of those seven games, the opposing team committed more fouls than the Warriors, the NBA’s fourth-ranked defensive team.
Clearly, on the defensive end, teams will need to play deep into their bench; crash the defensive boards and limit the Warriors’ second chance opportunities; disrupt the Warriors’ offensive fluidity through intelligent fouls and smothering defense, thus, hindering their ability to find the best open shot; and lastly, put them on the free throw line when required. If all fails, teams can consider throwing the kitchen sink, and then some, at the Warriors in order to beat them.
In some parlours of cricket, you hear so-called pundits speak of scoreboard pressure. In basketball, it seems for the Warriors, there is some merit to it. The Warriors started the season 54-0 in games they led or had a share of the lead at halftime, or after the third quarter. The latter of the two streaks came to an end with the Warriors’ loss to the Spurs last Saturday.
Interestingly, though, after the loss to the Spurs, the Warriors are 8-7 in games they trail at halftime and 8-6 in games they trail after the third quarter. Also fascinating is that the Warriors are 5-5 in games they trailed after each of the first three-quarters and 5-6 in games they have trailed, after both the halftime interval and the third quarter.
Of note, five of the seven Warriors’ losses saw them trail by double-digit deficits after the third quarter of those games. With six of the seven losses for the Warriors coming in games they trailed after the third quarter, undoubtedly, in order to improve their chances of beating the Warriors, teams will need to break the Warriors mentally by outscoring them in each of the first three-quarters, and hopefully, by significant margins.
PRISTINE OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY
This season, the Warriors have been famous for practically winning games by the end of the third quarter and eventually resting their star players for the fourth quarter. The body of the Warriors work in demoralizing and dismantling a team takes place in the second and third quarters. Grippingly, the Warriors are 45-0 in games they have matched or outscored their opponents over the second and third quarters combined.
All seven losses for the Warriors have come in games they have been outscored over the second and third quarters combined. As luck would have it, the Warriors are 1-5 in games they have been outscored in the first quarter, and then outscored over the second and third quarters combined. Outscoring them in the first three-quarters is one thing, however, teams must be significantly more efficient overall at the offensive end. In six of their seven losses, the opposing team has shot a better field goal and effective field goal percentage. The sole anomaly among their losses in this regard, and in several other categories stated above, was the game against the Denver Nuggets at high altitude. I guess if you can’t beat them by being more offensively efficient, maybe, playing against them where the air is thin and they are deprived of oxygen will thicken your chances of beating them.
In summary, you stand a tremendous chance of beating the Warriors, if you play them on the road; your team is likely inferior to theirs; you can play suffocating defense; your team can produce that pristine offensive game when needed; and you keep outscoring them quarter after quarter for the first three-quarters, and hopefully beyond. If not, then it’s goodbyes after the game and on the next one as you head to the locker room to take a disheartening shower. All you’ll hear is better luck…
Until next time…
© Zaheer Clarke
Writer’s Note: All data for the writing of this article was obtained from NBA.com, ESPN.com and Basketball-Reference.com on March 20, 2016.
Zaheer E. Clarke is a sports analyst, lecturer, and author of the award-winning blog, Zaheer’s “Facts, Lies and Statistics”.
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