OAKLAND (AP) — Look past the hot-shooting touch of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the pace-and-space attack under rookie coach Steve Kerr and the highlight-worthy plays the Golden State Warriors deliver every game.
Beyond the surface of the NBA’s biggest crowd-pleaser is an often disregarded trait: defense.
For the past three years, the Warriors have been a dominant defensive team disguised as an offensive juggernaut. They’ve taken that to the extreme this season, shutting down opponents on one end and running away from them on the other.
Of course, the latter is what seems to stick in the minds of most.
“It’s easy to fall in love with the offense,” Thompson said. “No one watches SportsCenter to watch the defensive rotations. You watch it for the highlight dunks, the Steph Curry dribbling exhibitions, his shooting and his passing. I think it’s easy to overlook it.”
Despite the prolonged absence of center Andrew Bogut, the Warriors enter Wednesday night’s home game against the Indiana Pacers as the league’s top two-way team.
They have the best record in the NBA at 27-5. They have the best home record at 14-1. And they have the biggest scoring differential at 10.7 points per game.
While the Warriors are shooting a league-high 48.3 percent, they’re holding opponents to a league-low 41.8 percent shooting. They also rank first in defensive efficiency (96.2), a trendy statistic that measures the number of points allowed per 100 possessions.
That’s right: the same franchise that captivated the country with Run TMC in the early 1990s and the up-tempo “We Believe” team in the 2007 playoffs is at the forefront of defensive efficiency.
So why, then, is there a lingering perception that the Warriors are just an offensive team?
“Probably because it’s really fun to watch Steph Curry and Klay Thompson play basketball,” Kerr said, chuckling. “The highlights show a bunch of 3s and the crowd going crazy. That’s my explanation.”
Kerr has gone out of his way to credit his predecessor, Mark Jackson, for laying the defensive foundation — which he said was so solid that his staff didn’t really change anything about the schemes other than the terminology players use to communicate.
The team has grown together and the personnel has slightly changed, though, such as adding 6-foot-7 guard Shaun Livingston to a team already loaded with length. The only other difference, Kerr said, is he challenged Curry to guard the other team’s point guard every night instead of the weakest perimeter player.
And more often than not, Curry has come through.
“We understand that (defense) is going to help us win games in the playoffs,” Curry said. “When that time comes, we can rely on it to get us through, hopefully, a lot of playoff series. It has been a focus and something we’ve seen the results of. There’s no other reinforcement we need to understand how important it is.”
The versatility on defense is what makes the Warriors special.
They switch on pick-and-rolls and off-the-ball screens at every position but center. That allows them to take away driving gaps and avoid tiring and unnecessary rotations.
Draymond Green has been brilliant starting at power forward, a job he has cemented even since David Lee returned from a left hamstring injury. Marreese Speights and Lee also have played surprisingly well as undersized centers with Bogut (right knee) and backup Festus Ezeli (left ankle) out indefinitely.
Players also credit the focus and attention to detail that has come with the addition of longtime NBA assistant Ron Adams, who is the de facto defensive coordinator. He sits with players before games to go over individual matchups and assignments depending on the opponents’ lineup.
The result has put seven Warriors in the top 31 in defensive rating — Bogut (ninth), Lee (12th), Green (18th), Curry (19th), Thompson (26th), Andre Iguodala (27th) and Harrison Barnes (31st) — and might exemplify as well as anything just how much the defense has been an all-around effort.
“It shows in the numbers, it shows in the games, it shows in the record,” Green said. “We’re going to continue to get better defensively and we’ll continue to grow. Eventually, people will catch on.”