Lacking sexiness, the Warriors defense is under the radar, rarely discussed, yet they have the best defensive rating in the playoffs at 96.9. No other team has a defensive rating below 100. The next best, of the teams still in the hunt, are the Boston Celtics with a defensive rating of 105.3. Why is no one paying attention to what the Dubs are doing on the other end of the court? For starters, the Warriors defense isn’t a glamour subject when you have James Harden out there choking and John Wall hitting game winners and driving his team to a Game 7. But it is because of the Warriors defense, paired with skilled offensive players, that has the Warriors an almost [yes anything can happen] slam dunk to make their third straight trip to the NBA Finals.
The Western Conference Finals series with the Spurs brings up, as a matter of public record, the consistency of the Spurs organization and the brilliance of Gregg Popovich. What other coach could lose his best player, lose his trusted floor general, and then win an elimination game on the road by the third largest victory in NBA playoff history? That would be no one. The San Antonio system is one in which players are plugged in and they do their job. The same can be said of Golden State. Players are plugged in and they do their jobs. The Warriors have taken it one step further. A coach is plugged in and he excels as well.
In October, Spurs-Warriors kicked off the opening night of the season. The Warriors had no answer for the Spurs length. Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge in the post with Kawhi Leonard roaming the court, unguardable, led to a Warriors loss. Even then no one said the Spurs were the better team, but that the Warriors defense needed to to improve.
November, December, January, February, March, Golden State created a minimum of 14 turnovers per game. In March, teams scored 99.1 points against them. No one thrived from the perimeter and it didn’t matter if the game was in Oracle or in Sleep Train Arena. If you launch threes against the Warriors, you are making them 32% of the time.
On the season, the worst three point shooting teams in the NBA, the Magic and Thunder, shoot the long ball 32.6% and 32.8%. The 28 other NBA teams shot over 33% on the year, except when they played the Warriors, then everyone was the Magic and the Thunder.
In the playoffs, the Warriors are forcing teams to shoot-surprise, surprise- 32.5%. The Spurs are shooting 36.3% in the playoffs. Golden State’s success dictates that number must come down. The Warriors are giving up less than 100 points per game, 98.7. In the semi-final series, in three of the last four games against the Utah Jazz, the Jazz scored 94 points, 91 points and 95 points in the elimination game.
Note to everybody: when you are the best offensive team and the best defensive team, the league is in big trouble.
Simply, the Warriors defense is creating chaos. It is suppressing everything their opponents want to do. Against the Warriors everyone is an 8th seed and it always happens at some point in the series, the one thing you can count on: a look of stunned disbelief, shell shock, and then depression. It happens when you think you are one thing and the Warriors talent and defense tells you via their performance, fall back you ain’t that tight, you are so not on our level.
The Jazz missed 67% of the threes they took. They had 44 turnovers in 4 games. They averaged 19 assists. Rudy Gobert didn’t help the Jazz on the offensive boards any more than the Warriors offensive rebounders by committee hurt them. Both teams had 28 offensive rebounds for the series. Yes, the difference in the series was shot making. The Warriors had two 24 point scorers (Steph Curry, Kevin Durant) while Utah only had one (Gordon Hayward). But the defensive ratings tell the story of what happened in Jazz vs. Warriors.
Draymond Green, Zaza Pachulia and David West had a defensive rating of 95.0. Kevin Durant had a defensive rating of 101.0. For the Jazz, their lowest defensive rating was Joe Ingles at 110. Defensive stalwart Rudy Gobert had a defensive rating of 113.
The Warriors cause teams to doubt themselves. They create negative energy and insecurity and slumped shoulders. Defeat starts in the mind. The Warriors, as an offensive unit that is lethal and explosive and hyper-confident, understand they can beat you shot making. They know they can stop you from scoring.
It is hard to look at the regular season and make accurate predictions (though everyone tries) about the playoffs but against the Spurs this was the pattern.
- October 25th: 21.2% from three. 16 turnovers. Defensive Rating 131.3. Loss. 29 point beating.
- March 11th: 29.4% from three. 15 turnovers. Defensive Rating 113.0. Loss. 22 points of ugliness.
- March 29th: 50% from three. 7 turnovers. Defensive Rating. 109.0 Win. 12 point margin of victory. Warriors got groove back.
The one game in the series the Dubs made threes and played shut down defense and didn’t turn the ball over they beat the Spurs. So the recipe seems pretty simple on how to get to the third straight NBA Finals: make long shots, contest shots and avoid, at all costs, laziness with the ball. And one other thing. Don’t get fooled by the lack of Spurs “stars”. Jonathan Simmons can hurt you and so can Dejounte Murray. They are Spurs. They do what the Spurs do.
What the Warriors do is make life miserable. Wing defenders Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston are too quick for the Spurs. They contest shots. Always. When the Spurs try to drive, there should be Green or Iguodala or Thompson or Pachulia. When the Spurs try to pass the ball, the Warriors should be in the passing lane and create a turnover. Should be isn’t the same as will be. It was a contested three that lost the Warriors the title. Contested shots are the bane of NBA coaches. You can’t draw up a play that will keep a Kawhi contested shot from going in.
Golden State covers too much ground too quickly and the Spurs are old and have to adjust to their speed. Manu Ginobli and Pau Gasol are not going to wake up and be 24 years old with quick hands and a sprinters stamina. And so this is the damage the Warriors are laying on the Spurs in a perfect world, causing them to go to Plan B and Plan C, all because the Warriors are beating them up and they don’t know how to adjust to the Warriors defense that is stopping them.
Defense wins championships. The Warriors and their defense are halfway there, halfway to a title. 8 wins down. 8 wins to go. It’s something to talk about. But no one will.
photo via llananba