OAKLAND – The lofty perch in the standings was gone. The commitment to getting away from the old Golden State ploy of hoping to outgun opponents was gone and the swagger was gone. And, by Wednesday night, so, too, was any attempt by coach Mark Jackson to downplay how much the Warriors have regressed on defense.
“We’ve been bad,” Jackson said.
This was not the usual Jackson projecting calm and staying the course with unbending optimism. Still optimistic because the Warriors have proven capable of playing very well, yes. But unbending left somewhere around the time they lost 10 of 15 to fall to sixth place in the Western Conference, and closer to No. 9 than No. 5.
Even the wins were becoming concerning, as in beating the Raptors on Monday but giving up 118 points in the process. The backslide on defense, after admirable gains the first half of the season drew raves for Jackson in changing the Golden State reputation, had reached crisis levels.
“We haven’t been good,” he said Wednesday before the game against the Kings. “Overall, we haven’t protected the paint, we haven’t controlled the perimeter. There was a time when our defense was in the discussion for the best in the game, and we’ve gone through a tough stretch. If we expect not just to make the playoffs, but if we expect to do the damage that we want to do, we’ve got to be better. And we understand that.
“One thing one of my coaches used to tell me is ‘Let’s do it as hard and effective and efficient as possible so that me, as a coach, can identify whether I need to make an adjustment or not.’ We haven’t been getting after it the same way that we did earlier, for whatever reason. At the end of the day, when you are a great defensive team or a very good defensive team, which we were, you’ve got to committed top to bottom. Especially if you don’t have a lockdown defender. Our two best defenders basically haven’t played. That’s [Andrew] Bogut and [Brandon] Rush. We’ve struggled at times containing the basketball, we’ve struggled at times protecting the paint. But we’re not going to panic. I think every team goes through it. We’ve got to find a way to win, continue to work hard and get it back.”
Someone asked Jackson how the Warriors can improve their perimeter defense.
“Our defense in general,” he corrected.
But particularly in the halfcourt, the questioner persisted. The perimeter defense.
“I don’t want to let anybody off the hook,” Jackson said. “Our defense is bad. And part of the perimeter defense is also pick-and-rolls where big guys have got to protect and hold the fort down. We’ve got to defend. We’ve got to be into the ball, our perimeter guys. Our big guys have got to be up. We’ve got to protect the paint. We’ve got to force teams to beat us where we want them to beat us instead of what they do best. When we were at our best, we did those things. But we have not for the past month. But, make no mistake about it, we put ourselves in position to be able to withstand a tough stretch, a bad run, and I give my guys a lot of credit. I got a lot of confidence in them and we’ll be just fine.”
Beating the Kings 87-83 will help, because it was a win and because the win came with the opponent shooting 39.8 percent, less than even Sacramento’s poor season-long mark of 44.2 percent coming in. But the Warriors struggled to beat a team bound for the lottery, just like Monday against the Raptors and the one-point win over the Timberwolves on Feb. 24 and leading the Suns by four with 4:20 remaining before winning by 10 on Feb. 20.
This is not the same Warriors as the first half of the season, especially on defense, and this is not the same Jackson. Nobody is being let off the hook.