The Golden State Warriors had a surprisingly terrific start to their 2012-13 season … until the deficiencies they rather effectively cloaked behind clever scheming at one end and explosive scoring at the other suddenly could be hidden no more.
Andrew Bogut was supposed to be the answer, and he may still be at least part of it, but … not yet. Not Tuesday night.
The problem? Hapless defense.
“We’ve been a bad defensive club the last few games,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. “We own it. We look forward to getting better.”
After putting up a 30-17 record, the Warriors’ sorry defense began to kill them, to the tune of five straight losses before Tuesday night’s game at EnergySolutions Arena. Against the Jazz, Golden State fell 115-101. The irony in the whole of it is that the Warriors are stumbling with their best defender finally back again on the floor.
Bogut, the former Ute big man who was the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft after leading Utah to a 29-6 record and a trip to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 during his sophomore year, had been out or limited with complications from a broken ankle since being traded to the Warriors from Milwaukee last season. Given his new team’s early success, Golden State eagerly awaited Bogut’s return, even if it was physically compromised.
It’s been downright inglorious, thus far.
Being held to 20-some minutes, and held out of the second half of back-to-back sets, the 7-foot center hasn’t yet boosted the Warriors. Curiously, and much to Bogut’s displeasure, the team has drooped since he returned.
“We’ve had slippage,” he said Tuesday. “We know we need to pick it up.”
After Houston took a couple of turns shredding Golden State before the All-Star break, along with other conquering opponents, Bogut was disgusted and considerably more direct, telling the San Jose Mercury News: “Our defense one-on-one is horrendous, 1 through 5, not just one or two guys. We get beat, it’s like, ‘Oh help, someone help me!’”
Although he was tired of his teammates expecting him to clean up their defensive messes, Bogut didn’t excuse himself from the blame. He said all the Warriors had to improve their focus and effort. On Tuesday, the man whose No. 4 jersey is retired and hanging over at the Huntsman Center reiterated the need.
“Our offense is going to be fine,” he said. “We live and die with our defense.”
They died against the Jazz.
After another span of tough road games, the Warriors finish the season with 16 of their final 22 games at home. They have a real shot, if they just moderately follow through on Bogut’s advice, not only at making the playoffs, but at finishing in the middle of the Western Conference playoff bunch.
Bogut will have to play a major role, and he and Jackson are fully aware.
“Obviously, coming back from injury, it takes some time,” Jackson said. “He makes us a better basketball team. He makes me a better coach. We’re thrilled to have him back, and excited to have him at full strength.”
That last part will take awhile. His body has been his enemy of late. Tuesday night, he had no points and five boards in 15 minutes.
Just when Bogut started making a push for star status in the league a few years ago, having already overcome back, foot, thigh, nose and knee injuries, he broke his elbow, his wrist, and then his ankle in succession.
“The last few years have been frustrating,” he said. “I’m still trying to grind away, enjoying playing basketball.”
Along his NBA path, beyond the injuries, Bogut’s also experienced the ups and downs of life under the bright lights. Six years back, he flipped off a fan after being ejected for committing a flagrant foul. He apologized for that and paid a $25,000 fine. On another occasion, in an interview with an Australian newspaper, he ripped not just the NBA lifestyle, calling the players “arrogant,” but American culture, as well, saying: “That’s just the way the culture is in America — if you’ve got it, flaunt it, and if you don’t, you can’t. … The American attitude is, ‘We’re the best.’ That’s why the NBA guys who come from other countries, the Europeans, all sort of stick together away from the game.”
He was criticized all around for those comments, even though the thoughtful, articulate center was, at least in some ways, speaking the truth.
Bogut said he’s lived and learned.
Now, he seems to be settling in at Golden State, although calling him comfortable would be a stretch. He knows he’s landed on a team that has some potential, but he also has found as much anxiety as peace in that bit of fortune. After spending his pro career in competitively mediocre situations, making the most of this chance is a priority.
“We’re young, and we have a good nucleus,” he said. “But we still have a lot of work to do. The talent and personnel is there. We’ll just get better and better.”
Bogut also said he loves coming back to Utah, where he has fond memories of his college days. He follows the Utes from a distance, and is aware of their recent struggles. He added that he wouldn’t mind playing for the Jazz in the latter part of his NBA career.
“I feel like this is a place where it all started for me,” he said. “My journey to the NBA started through Utah. Salt Lake City … it feels like it was a part of my childhood. I came here as an 18-year-old kid. It’s always going to have a special place in my heart.”
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 1280 and 960 AM and 97.5 FM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.