Defense first: This year's squad not your father's Warriors

Defense first: This year's squad not your father's Warriors
March 10, 2014, 3:45 pm
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Where everybody used to love the Warriors because most people felt like they could get their numbers and run us over, it seems like a lot of people hate us now.
Draymond Green

Programming note: Mavericks-Warriors coverage tips off Tuesday night at 7:00 with Warriors Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area (territory restrictions apply)

OAKLAND – The 21st century eye is drawn to pyrotechnics, to the flash and pizzazz of the moment. In the NBA, that means men taking flight for soaring dunks and whipping behind-the-back passes and swishing picturesque 3-pointers.

And the Warriors, a historically fantastic offensive club, can deliver all of that, inspiring their fans to do happy dances, their eyes singing songs of joy.

It's so appealing that folks, even those who study the game, might ignore the essence of this team's growing success.

While folks are gawking at Stephen Curry's incredible array of shots and Klay Thompson's dazzling scoring sprees and David Lee's crafty methods inside, the Warriors have quietly become one of the stingiest defensive teams in the league.

We say "quietly," because not everyone has heard. TNT's popular panel of analysts like to describe the Warriors as relying on offense – jump shots in particular – and some of the team's own fans continue to fixate on that end of the court.

[PHOTO GALLERY: Power Rankings: Warriors on fringe of Top 5]

Forward Draymond Green did an interview with a Phoenix TV station prior to the game against the Suns on Sunday night. He vividly recalled the interviewer describing the Warriors as an offense-driven team.

"I'm thinking, 'Dude, what stats are you looking at?' We're top seven or eight in just about every defensive category," Green said after practice Monday.

"You can't blame him, because that can easily slide under the radar when you can score the ball as we can. It's hard to blame someone for thinking we're an offensive team, because of the way we run, because of the way we play."

Because of, well, the Curry and Thompson jump shots and their splashy nickname, and because of Lee's one-dimensional (offense) reputation.

And there is a tradition to live down, too, as each time the Warriors have drawn national attention over the past quarter century, it has been with Don Nelson as the coach. His credo: Offense today, offense tomorrow and offense forever.

[INSTANT REPLAY: Warriors hold off Suns, reach 40 wins]

The Run TMC Warriors were about the offense. The "We Believe" Warriors were about the offense. The "We Belong" Warriors of last year were mostly about offense, though defense started to become less of a foreign concept.

Now it's taking effect. The Warriors are No. 3 in rebounding (45.5 per game), No. 3 in field-goal percentage defense (43.4), tied for third in 3-point percentage defense (34.3), tied for second in assists allowed per game (19.7), eighth in points per game allowed (98.7) and eighth in blocks per game (5.2).

The "We Believe" team of 2006-07 was dead last in points per game allowed (106.9), 24th in 3-point percentage defense (36.6) and 19th in overall field-goal percentage defense (46.1).

Today's Warriors have appreciably better defensive numbers and only slightly worse offensive numbers. The '06-'07 teams averaged 106.5 points per game, second in the league. Today's bunch is at 103.5, 10th in the league.

"The Warriors were the highest scoring team in the league for a lot of years," Green said. "What was the missing piece? Defense."

But the reputation sticks, even if it's no longer true.

"We have a group of guys that are fully aware of how we have to win ballgames and how we've been so successful," coach Mark Jackson said. "And they embrace the fact that it's been key on the defensive end."

When the Warriors sloughed off on defense in the first half against the Suns, allowing them to shoot 56.1 percent, the halftime focus was on defense. Not mostly, but totally.

[REWIND: Third quarter dominance ignites Warriors past Suns]

"We didn't even watch the offensive clips at halftime," Green said. "We watched our defense. When the offense came up, coach told them to turn it off. We didn't need to see that. We knew whatever we wanted on the offensive end, we could get. We had to come out and stop them defensively."

And that's what happened. The Warriors cranked it up and erased a five-point deficit and built a 16-point lead. All with 12 minutes of intensified defense.

If center Andrew Bogut isn't discouraging drives, Andre Iguodala is picking off passes on the wing. If Green is swiping somebody's dribble, Thompson is forcing a 3-point shooter off his spot. And everybody has gotten into the habit of communicating, an underrated but required element of defense.

Opponents are noticing. Coaches and players are praising the defense. They have come to realize these are not the same old Warriors.

"Where everybody used to love the Warriors because most people felt like they could get their numbers and run us over," Green said, "it seems like a lot of people hate us now."

In the NBA, hatred tends to be a form of respect, if not outright flattery. If opponents keep noticing what the Warriors do on D, it won't be long before everybody else catches on.

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