Here is a link to my Wednesday column about the Warriors’ new and improved D. The full text runs below:
OAKLAND — Remember when Stephen Curry made Russell Westbrook look doofus-like Monday night? There was Curry’s behind-the-back dribble. There was Westbrook frozen like a marble statue. There was Curry driving to the hoop for the easy layup.
Well, forget that play. What you saw merely was the end of things — and you’ve seen Curry do it a million times. What preceded the behind-the-back shenanigans was the real news, the new news.
Westbrook, a hot shooter and all-around terrific player, tried to take a shot. Curry was all over him. Curry made his life miserable. Westbrook took the shot anyway. Missed. Curry forced him to miss. Curry grabbed the rebound. Curry dribbled down the right side and proceeded to fake out Westbrook with the behind-the-back magic and what came after.
So, what are we talking about today?
Defense. Just defense.
We all know the Warriors are one heck of a team. We all know they can ring up numbers like a cash register gone berserk. What’s new this season is their defense, their D, their ability to just say no.
Credit former coach Mark Jackson with instilling the idea of defense. Credit Steve Kerr and his staff for the full flowering of the idea.
Case in point. Curry. Not that he was a defensive liability. But he was no brick wall, either. Last season, he didn’t guard the opponent’s point guard. Klay Thompson did. Curry guarded the 2 guard or the small forward, whoever was the weakest. The Warriors were always making adjustments to help Curry, always compensating for him.
Not how you want your superstar to be.
This season, Curry guards the opponent’s point guard. Started Monday’s game on Westbrook. Made Westbrook’s existence hell. Westbrook sank 5 of 21 shots. Pure hell.
Here is Curry at Tuesday’s workout talking about his new mentality: “We understand (defense) is going to help us win games in the playoffs, help us get through, hopefully, a lot of playoff series. It has been a focus. It has been something we’ve seen the results of. There is no other reinforcement we need to understand how important it is.”
And that means Curry is now a two-way player. He used to be, more a less, an offensive star — that gorgeous jumper, swish — and a supporting player on defense. Now, he’s one of the tough guys. He puts out effort on offense and refuses to rest on defense. And the Warriors have become what you see.
Draymond Green is a flat-out great defender. You can’t keep him off the court he’s so good. He can guard the point guard. He can guard the center. He can guard all five positions. An opponent can make him switch to guarding a guard, forward or center and the opponent still can’t take advantage of him.
In one sequence from last season’s playoffs against the Clippers, he took the ball away from big Blake Griffin and then defended point guard Chris Paul the next play.
Here is Green on playing defense: “When I’m guarding someone, I don’t want them to score. When they score, it bothers me no matter who it is. Defense is completely an attitude. If you want to do it, you’ll figure it out.”
How does he feel if a player blows past him and scores?
“Pissed. Even if I guard the hell out of somebody and I make him take a tough shot and they make it — it’s going to happen — it pisses me off. It also pisses me off if I know Steph got beat and I wasn’t there to help. It’s just like life. I don’t think you’re really living if you aren’t helping anybody else.
“When I first got here, people always said the Warriors are ‘finesse.’ In other words, they’re talented and they’re skilled, but they’re soft. It’s been something we had to get off our back. We’re not going to be punked. Nobody’s going to bully us. We’re not going to go lay down for anyone. Nobody’s going to press up in us and we’re going to back down. That’s the attitude we go out there with.
“My first year, a team would press up in us and you’d see us on our heels. Now, a team presses up in us and we go back at them. ‘Let’s get layups.’ That’s the mindset.”
Factoid: After beating Oklahoma City Monday night, the Warriors led the league in both field goal percentage (.483) and holding opponents to the lowest field goal percentage (.418).
Get to know Ron Adams. He is the Warriors’ assistant coach overseeing the defense. He is an intellectual and a soft-spoken man and he preaches a creed. “Stop the other guys.”
“Statistically we are considered a really good defensive team,” Adams said Tuesday. “We’re a team that has to grow — our connectedness and our sophistication of communication. We’ve had a very consistent season so far defensively. I would say we’re good and we’ve got to get better.
“What pleases me the most is we have people who have improved defensively who, maybe, weren’t noted for their defense. Steph is one of them. Mo (Speights) has grown. David Lee has grown. I’ve only mentioned three players. I think Draymond Green is having a fabulous defensive year and improved a lot from the past. We’re starting to move more as a unit, staying connected in the stuff we do.”
From the bench, Adams will yell key words at his defenders. He has an entire defensive lexicon.
“Stick” means keep your position on the ball, put pressure on the pass.
“Contest” or “challenge” is about obstructing shots. “It means using the right fundamentals to make shots difficult,” Adams said. “Because that’s the moment of truth defensively. You shoot the ball. I’ve got to have a response to that.”
There is even defensive play calling. Think of Patrick Willis calling out the defensive plays for the 49ers.
Adams: “If a man is setting a screen for a pick and roll, our 4 and 5 players, our big players, call out our coverages. We’d like them to say it three times. Doesn’t always happen. Our bigs are never wrong, so whatever they call the small has to respond to it.”
And finally, how have the Warriors escaped being known as soft defensively?
“Soft, when it’s used in our league, refers to how physically a team plays. We are becoming more physical. I would not say we are top drawer, but we’re developing a mentality towards that. Being physical is an interesting thing. It doesn’t mean you have to be a big strong guy. It’s a mindset for scrapping, of second and third effort, of being able to hit bodies. You have to be able to do that, but that battle doesn’t always go to the most brawny.
“We’re making strides in that. We’re making that stride collectively. It’s a mindset. It’s a way of acting and doing. Hopefully we have made strides.”
Well, yeah. The Warriors used to be Bambi. Now they’re Godzilla.
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