OAKLAND - Since training camp opened more than eight months ago, the Warriors have been searching for the requisite energy on defense.
The trend has carried to the postseason, as the team is near the bottom of the league in total defense. For weeks, the toll of defending a title, and battles with complacency have hindered the champs.
But, as Tuesday's 116-94 Game 1 victory over the Portland Trailblazers proved, the Warriors can still summon a championship-level defensive performance when called upon.
"I thought our defense was really locked in," Warriors forward Draymond Green said following the win.
In the victory, the Warriors held Portland to just 36 percent from the field, including 25 percent from 3-point range. Green, the team's defensive anchor, finished with three blocks and two steals, helping force the Blazers into 21 turnovers.
For the last four seasons, Portland's offense has revolved the high scoring backcourt of CJ McCullum and Damian Lillard. This season, Lillard averaged 28.3 points, 2.0 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 1.0 steal against the Warriors. Two days ago, McCullum scored 37 points, helping the Blazers beat the Denver Nuggets in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals. On Tuesday night at Oracle, the finished a combined 11-of-31 from the field.
"They are tremendous backcourt," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "We're well aware of what they are capable of. So we're playing a lot of attention to them. Just trying to stay all over them if we can and not give up anything easy."
For nearly a decade, Golden State has been one of the top defensive units in the league. Since 2013, the Warriors have finished outside of the top-5 in total defense in just two seasons. However, for much of this year, the Warriors have failed to find Tuesday's defensive intensity. As Golden State battled through injuries, and at times an overall lack of focus, the team finished 11th in the league. In the postseason, the Warriors are 10th out of 16 teams, giving up more than 110 points per game. Even in Tuesday's win, Golden State gave up 31 free throws, and a host of lapses as the Blazers cut a 17-point lead down to six in the third quarter.
"We made a few mistakes that we can fix, and also I think we can rebound a little better. You're going to give some of that when you play them the way we're playing them but we are still clean that up.
Throughout the Warriors' run, they've been able to summon the necessary energy on the defensive end to smother opponents on call. While Tuesday's performance was the latest example of their defensive dominance, Golden State knows the consistency that's eluded them will be needed going forward.
"You always figure some things out," Kerr said. "You see some things. You recognize some patterns when you go back and look at the tape. We'll look for areas where we can get better."