OAKLAND — The Warriors rediscovered defense during their 122-105 win against the shorthanded San Antonio Spurs Saturday night.
Of course, the Warriors’ offense was good, too. They made 56.5 percent of their shots. Shooting guard Klay Thompson made 71.4 percent of his shots and scored a game-high 25 points. And backup center David West made 100 percent of his shots and scored 13 points off the bench.
But offense isn’t the Warriors’ issue. They can score. Everyone knows that.
Defense is their issue. If they have one.
The Warriors’ record is 43-13 — best in the NBA. But their defense, which used to be excellent, has been among the league’s worst since Jan. 1. Their 108.6 defensive rating in 2018 ranks 23rd out of 30 NBA teams.
“We sometimes take for granted the type of talent we have,” West said, “and think we can go out there and get it done. But we know we have to bring that consistent effort, play with a certain level of force.”
And they did.
After the first quarter Saturday night, the Warriors played elite defense. They allowed the Spurs to score only 68 points and shoot just 40 percent from the field.
But, the Spurs were missing four key players — two-time All-Star small forward Kawhi Leonard, backup power forward Rudy Gay, backup point guard Tony Parker and starting point guard Dejounte Murray. They’re injured.
Before the game, a reporter asked Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich who would start at point guard in place of Murray against the Warriors.
“Patty Mills and Derrick White,” Popovich said with a straight face. “We get an extra guy against (the Warriors), so they both get to start at the point. It’s going to be six against five.”
The Spurs in fact did not get an extra guy — playing with six people is against the rules. Mills started at point guard and finished with seven points and one assist.
The Warriors were missing none of their starters or key bench players.
Still, the Warriors had lost three of their previous five games coming into Saturday night. Their players said they were tired heading into the All-Star break. So Kerr gave them Saturday morning off. They usually shoot around the morning before a game.
“Our guys have been doing this for a long time together,” Kerr said. “Some days, you don’t need to shoot. It’s probably good for us not to on certain days. This is not a concern at all.”
But shooting was a concern early. The Warriors scored zero points during the first 2:33 of the game and fell behind 8-0.
Shooting was a non-issue for the Spurs in the first quarter. They made 15 of 24 shots (62.5 percent) and scored 37 points. The Warriors trailed by 10 after the first quarter.
Then, they quickly cut their deficit to two points with a nine-to-one run to start the second quarter. Shaun Livingston found Andre Iguodala for a wide-open dunk, then made two free throws. Iguodala found Draymond Green for a wide-open layup. And Thompson made a 26-foot catch-and-shoot 3-pointer.
With 4:44 left in the second quarter, the Warriors took their first lead of the game — a 46-44 lead. Stephen Curry received a pass from Kevin Durant and made a driving, uncontested layup. The Warriors would never trail again.