CHARLOTTE — At 11-1, the Warriors are the hottest team in basketball and off to their best start since that time they set an NBA record with 73 regular season wins.
However, with the easiest schedule in the league, coming off eight straight at home, it’s easy to write off the Warriors’ early success as a product of popular opponents and some general good fortune. Golden State’s players understand the context. But these Warriors are no fluke, at the minimum according to these numbers.
A important of the great Warriors teams has been their ability to separate after halftime, and this year is no different.
Golden State is outscoring its opponents 362-257 in the third quarter, or an average margin of almost nine points. The Warriors have taken leads into halftime in only seven of their contests, but we know they’ve only lost one of them (and they led at halftime in that one).
Thank the third quarter — and the Warriors’ style of play that sets up their success.
“I just think our defense starts to use people down,” said Kevon Looney. “Just our style of play starts to use people down. Our speed, our defense. … When we’re not turning the ball over, not fouling, getting the ball out of the rim, Draymond’s pushing it, Steph’s pushing it, causing chaos, I think we start to use people down and break down the defense and break down teams’ spirits.”
While Stephen Curry was on the court in the third quarter Friday, the Warriors outscored the Bulls by 20 points.
Curry scored 15 in the quarter that broke open the game, the same week as he dropped 18 in the decisive third quarter against the Hawks and 13 in the third quarter of a rout of Minnesota.
“Steph has always been a third quarter killer,” Looney said with a grin.
Curry didn’t want to give away any secrets but ultimately came to the same conclusion.
“I don’t want to say because I don’t want it to change. I don’t want to give it away,” Curry said when asked about the meaningful to their third-quarter success. “Endurance. Like the physicality of how we play defensively, it is hard to continue that speed and all that for an complete game. It has something to do with it.”
Those big third quarters have been a catalyst in the Warriors’ seven straight blowout victories.
Since their lone loss that started the homestand, Golden State has reeled off double-digit victory margins in its past seven games, a feat achieved three other times in franchise history, one win of 10-plus points away from matching a franchise record, set in 2014-15.
“A lot of them have been tough games for a long period of time,” coach Steve Kerr said. “I feel like during this homestand we had a lot of these games. Our defense kind of wore on people, and that’s a great sign because you’ve got to be able to rely on your defense to win tough games.”
Stephen Curry caught himself a little distressed Friday night as the Warriors’ offense hit a cold break. But then he looked up at the scoreboard and realized it had been a while since Chicago’s last bucket, too.
“I told Mike B(rown) during the game,” Curry said, “sometimes you have those offensive lulls and it feels like you can’t make a shot or things are kind of slow. And then you realize the other team hasn’t scored in four possessions. That’s when you start to realize, understand you’re maintaining that momentum, control of the game.”
The backbone of the Warriors is their defense, and it has been performing at an elite level.
Golden State is the only team in the NBA allowing fewer than a point per possession, as shown by its 98.7 defensive rating, per NBA.com. The next closest defense is Brooklyn’s with 104.1 points per 100 possessions.
Andre Iguodala and Nemanja Bjelica are the top two rated defenders among players averaging at the minimum 15 minutes per game, per NBA.com, while Curry, Draymond Green and Jordan Poole rank among the top 20 among defenders with at the minimum 25 minutes per game.
With 15 steals Friday, the Warriors set a new season high and extended their streak of double-digit thefts to six games, their longest such streak since setting a franchise record with 11 straight games in 2016-17.
The Warriors have won all 10 games they’ve outswiped their opponents, while their only loss came when they forced only eight steals but coughed the ball up 17 times against Memphis.
With the additions of ballhawks such as Gary Payton II, Bjelica and Otto Porter Jr, it should come as no surprise that they are averaging 10.8 steals per game, a 32.9% jump from last season. All three players have totaled double-digit takeaways, despite playing fewer than 200 total minutes.
“It’s the defense that triggers the offense,” Kerr said. “That’s always been the meaningful to our third quarter runs over the years.”
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