OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Golden State Warriors beat the Atlanta Hawks 105-100 in an imperfect performance that was saved by Draymond Green's crunch-time defense. It started as the inversion of the season's beginning, with Klay Thompson pacing an otherwise listless squad. Thompson (20 points total) went for 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting in the first half as Golden State's other stars struggled.
There was something dreary and unfocused to those first two quarters, as the Warriors piled up 11 turnovers and ceded seven offensive rebounds. Kevin Durant wasn't quite his brutally efficient self in the first two stanzas. Defensively, Golden State suffered from Atlanta forcing so many switches. In the chaos the Warriors gave up penetration to Malcolm Delaney (nine points on five shots) and Dennis Schroder (24 points on 19 shots). Both targeted Stephen Curry, who had one of his worst defensive performances of the season.
Someone had to step up, and on Monday night it was old hand Andre Iguodala, former NBA Finals MVP and permanent curmudgeon. When the Warriors are off their collective game, his presence has often been palliative, a quick fix to issues that should unravel an evening. Iguodala gave the Warriors a much-needed spark, confounding the defense with his herky-jerk strobe light effect movements. Iguodala finished the game as a team-high plus-18.
When asked how he gauges his positive impact in the absence of individual numbers, Iguodala deadpanned, "I look at the numbers." He then explained, "I know my role on this team. I know what I'm capable of defensively and some of the things I do comes really easily to me. I overlook it. I actually overlook it just like the regular fan does, but I enjoy doing it."
Iguodala has mostly hung back on the periphery of games so far, and it's an open question as to how much Iguodala the Warriors are getting this season and when.
That's an intriguing and important question for the Warriors, but not the immediate concern in a Monday night game that nearly slipped away. It was saved in part by Durant waking up in the second half. He checked into third-quarter action and immediately unleashed a transition-trailing 3-pointer. Durant has been proficient with that shot in this offense and it appeared to spark him this time. While he certainly enjoyed seeing that shot fall, Durant perhaps took more joy in Ian Clark beating the third-quarter buzzer with a 3-pointer of his own. Clark's reward for the exploit was a maniacal Durant, screaming into his face.
The Warriors surged ahead in the fourth quarter and held off a few Hawks runs. Helpful in the effort was switching the Schroder assignment to Thompson, who -- again -- did well defensively against a smaller point guard.
In the final minute with Hawks down four with the ball, it was Draymond Green who continued the job on Schroder. Isolated one-on-one, Green absolutely dominated the point guard, ending a possession in which Schroder got nowhere with a resounding spike of a block off Schroder's face and out of bounds. On the next defensive possession, Green rejected former teammate Kent Bazemore at the rim and finished off the play by poking the ball off Bazemore's leg.
Green said of his blocks that ricochet off the offensive player out of bounds, "I love those because it's like a double slap in the face." He later added, "When you get the shot blocked and it go off on you out of bounds? It's ahh, it's pretty funny. So, I like those. They're pretty cool."
When asked about the prospect of winning DPOY, Green turned his attention to Golden State's overall defensive reputation.
"People have kind of counted our defense out, with Bogut leaving," Green said. "And that kind of pisses me off. It's not necessarily about that award. Awards, they are what they are. I've never been a guy that prides myself on those but it'd be cool to win absolutely, but like, my goal coming into this season is to win a championship. In order for us to win a championship we've got to defend. Well, the world says we traded our defense away when we got KD. I disagree. So, I think our defense actually has the upside to be better."
Unlike so many other Warriors games, this was not a particularly pretty offensive performance, especially at the end. But, sometimes defense is decisive. It's an argument Green might be keen on making as he pursues a Defensive Player of the Year award while vigorously defending Golden State's status as a top defensive unit. We associate "closer" with the league's great scorers, but defense counts just as much. Green was clutch on Monday night. He just didn't happen to score a point in the fourth quarter.