OAKLAND – Steve Kerr understood the forces at work. He knew his Warriors, the top team in the NBA, would be in the comfort of Oracle Arena facing the already reeling and grossly undermanned Dallas Mavericks.
Motivation would be tough to summon, inspiration perhaps out of the question.
It showed. Though the Warriors led throughout the second half, they were pushed to the limit Friday night before regrouping and taking a 128-120 victory.
They won with potent offense, getting 46.7-percent shooting from deep. Klay Thompson had 40 points, Steph Curry 33, Draymond Green 19. The Warriors committed seven turnovers, a season-low, and outscored Dallas 47-1 on the fast break.
Yet the Warriors nearly lost because of porous defense.
“Our defense was horrific,” Kerr said. “Dallas exposed us. They ran great stuff. They made shots and they deserve all the credit in the world.
“But our defense was horrific. We lost focus time after time . . . we did a good job offensively, but defensively we were a mess.”
How nice it must be to offer such a stinging critique of a victory that raised the Warriors’ record to 65-7, pushing their home record this season to 34-0 and raising their overall home streak to 52.
The offense and the gaudy numbers, though, were not enough to wipe the disappointment off Kerr’s face.
But the feeling among the Warriors was much the same as that expressed by Kerr. They know they stunk on defense and nearly got bit by the Mavericks, who were playing without Dirk Nowitzki, Deron Williams, Chandler Parsons or Devin Harris. That’s three starters and a top reserve.
“For the most part, we weren’t locked in on the defensive end,” Green said.
“It was a lack of communication and IQ for the personnel we were playing against,” Curry said. “They had guys out, so other guys can relish the opportunity to come in and make an impact.”
With guard-forward Wesley Matthews and forward Charlie Villianueva playing starring roles, Dallas outscored the Warriors 62-56 in the second half. Matthews had 21 points after halftime – 18 in a dazzling third quarter – and Villanueva had 16.
Who could have imagined the Mavericks, without Nowitzki and Parsons and Williams, shooting 51.4 percent (18 of 35) from beyond the arc?
“We just were not as disciplined as we should be,” Thompson said. “We were jumping on pump fakes, not sticking to the game plan or sending guys the right way. We can’t do that if we want to play in May and June, especially against a team we might see in the first round.”
The Warriors led by 14 at the half and by as much as 18 in the third quarter. But the Mavericks (35-37) were in no mood to go away. They cut it to eight (102-94) early in the fourth quarter, to four (114-110) with 3:52 left and to three (116-113) with 3:19 remaining.
On a night when the Warriors figured to have their stars sitting in the fourth quarter as the reserves put the game on ice, Kerr couldn’t afford to go that route.
“That’s what happens when you don’t defend the way we’re capable of defending,” Green said. “Regardless of what you’re doing offensively, they’re still able stay in the game.”
The Warriors finally put it away for good with a 10-3 run, getting big 3-pointers by Harrison Barnes and Thompson, to take a 126-116 lead with 40.9 seconds left.
They did plenty of work, but they also know they got away with one.
“We’ll have a lot to show them on the film, defensively,” Kerr said.
“We’ll do a better job of it,” Thompson said. “We can take a lot away from this game and get better.”