Before the season began, I thought the Warriors would be in the mix for one of the final playoff spots – if center Andrew Bogut was mostly healthy.
So much for that prediction.
Bogut wasn’t healthy for most of this season, and yet the Warriors were more than in the mix for one of the final spots; they’ve clinched a playoff berth with a week to go in the regular season and they’re next goal is to secure the No. 6 seed heading into the postseason.
A lot went right for the Warriors, who are making the playoffs for just the second time in 19 years. Here are the top five reasons Golden State is back in the playoffs:
The 3-point shot
Few NBA teams use the 3-pointer to their advantage more than the Warriors. There are other teams that take more 3-pointers than the Warriors, but no team makes them at a higher rate.
As a team, the Warriors are shooting 40.2 percent from beyond the arc. For goodness sakes, it was only in 1984 that Darrell Griffith individually led the league in 3-point percentage at just 36.1 percent.
The 3-point shot may be skewing the game more and more in favor of smaller players, but as long as it does the Warriors may as well take advantage.
Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are prolific 3-point shooters, and Jarrett Jack is shooting 41 percent from out there. Rookie Harrison Barnes also has shown the ability to make open 3s.
[STEINMETZ: Should Warriors let Curry keep running the point?]
The Warriors have built an offensive foundation on long-distance shooting, and why not? They do it better than any other team out there.
There are no lock-down defenders on the Warriors, but that didn’t stop them from doing enough at that end of the floor to be successful.
When it comes to defense, the Warriors aren’t a team that “gets after you,” and that passivity in a way works to their advantage. What the Warriors found a way to do this season was lull their opponents into perimeter shots, many of which were contested. Of all the defensive statistics that are out there, the most important one may very well be 3-point field goal percentage defense.
Opponents are shooting 34 percent from 3-point range this season, which ranks the Warriors No. 5 in the league. So, it’s not hard, really. The Warriors have made 3-point shots this year and have defended against them well.
Doing their work early
There is little doubt the Warriors played their best basketball early in the season – like the first two months.
But so what? Wins in November and December count as much as they do in April. The most impressive stretch for the Warriors came during a seven-game road trip in early to mid-December.
The Warriors went 6-1 on that road trip, beating the Brooklyn Nets, Atlanta Hawks and defending champion Miami Heat.
They got off of that road trip with a 15-8 mark, and then they rode a bunch of home games to a 22-10 mark come January.
There were bumps in the road here and there on the way in, but nothing too unexpected. They struggled in February and early March, losing 10 of 13 games during one stretch. But even during their down periods they were at least a half-dozen games above .500 and always on the inside looking out of the playoff chase.
This is always an area that can be difficult to pinpoint and yet relatively simple to spot. It seems apparent the Warriors players like each other, and, at the very least, respect and respond to coach Mark Jackson.
Before training camp began, all the Warriors players – minus Andris Biedrins – arrived early and held their own pre-training-camp workouts.
While Biedrins’ absence was a minor stir, the big picture was that everyone else was there and participating. From then until now, the Warriors have maintained a closeness.
Think about it … Did the Warriors even have a minor issue this year? Not really. And certainly nothing between or among players. Outside of some bumps with Bogut and his health, the Warriors have been one, big, happy family.
There are no playing time issues, no touches issues, no pecking order issues. It’s been a year of smooth sailing for the Warriors.
Maybe down the line there will be a time to dissect Jackson as a coach, and really get into some strengths, weaknesses, etc.
But now’s not the time. Right now you’ve got to give Jackson credit for getting the Warriors to the playoffs. Many had the Warriors contending for the postseason, but few, if any, had them entrenched in the top-eight all season long and certainly not with Bogut ailing.
Jackson figured out a way to get the Warriors to play with confidence from the start of the season. From the first day of training camp, to the regular-season opener, to Tuesday’s clincher against the Timberwolves, Jackson made it clear he thought his team was good and was a playoff team.
He maintained that despite evidence to the contrary. Curry, Thompson and David Lee had never made the playoffs before this year. And the two other starters, at least at the beginning of the season, were rookies Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli.
As the season went on, the Warriors played with more and more of a swagger. They didn’t panic, either, during those times things did get a little tough.
A lot of that has to do with Jackson.