“Taking care of business” is a phrase that is often associated with an approach that is no-nonsense, stoic, and often mundane. But on those occasions when the Golden State Warriors take care of business, it often evokes opposite sentiments, especially from Warriors fans: joy, happiness, and appreciation at watching an all-time great team do what they do best.
The Warriors took care of business against the Memphis Grizzlies sans their star point guard in Mike Conley. Without the focal point of their offense, the Grizzlies ran into a focused Warriors defense — a defense that, when running on all cylinders, is arguably the best there currently is in the NBA.
Advanced statistics are often reliable and are hard to argue against, but they also do not tell the full story. According to NBA.com, the Warriors — often touted to be one of the best defensive teams of the modern NBA era — are in the middle of the pack in terms of defensive rating, allowing 108.7 points per 100 possessions, good for 15th in the league.
Taking this fact as it is, one would think that the Warriors are a mediocre defensive team. While there have been instances during this season where the Warriors have been scored on as easily as water flows through a sieve, there have also been games where shootouts and blowouts have inflated that number. Furthermore, when they are focused and locked down, the Warriors stop being a sieve and transform into a solid brick wall.
Their defensive effort on Monday night against the Grizzlies was a solid display of what the Warriors are capable of against any team in the league, should they decide to exert a significant amount of effort on the defensive end. Limiting the Grizzlies to just 93 points for the night, the Warriors also posted a defensive rating of 93.0, well below their current average for the season.
Furthermore, the Warriors limited the Grizzlies to 36-of-79 shooting (45.6 pecent), and 7-of-25 shooting from three-point range (28.0 percent).
Let’s take a look at the film and appreciate some of the more notable defensive sequences from the Warriors.
Part of the reason as to why the Warriors have been defensively challenged at times during the season is simply due to lack of focus and effort. During the long, 82-game grind that is the regular season, it is understandable that a team like the Warriors is prone to lulls and periods of going through the motions, especially when they are practically expected by everyone to win the championship at the end of the season.
In this sequence, the Grizzlies almost take advantage of a defensive lull by Kevin Durant. Durant allows his man to get past him for a backdoor cut, and a well timed bounce pass almost nets the Grizzlies an easy two points. But Durant makes up for his mistake by poking the ball before it can be brought up for the layup. What could have been a routine bucket for the Grizzlies ended up being a turnover and a great last minute recovery from Durant.
Again, the Warriors are caught in a precarious position defensively when they are slow to get back in transition defense off of a missed layup. Klay Thompson is the only player on the other side of the court. He does a great job of timing his jump to coincide with the layup attempt, resulting in a blocked shot that served to delay the inevitable putback bucket from the Grizzlies. In the end, the Warriors’ lack of collective effort on transition defense cost them this possession, but Thompson showed great effort in trying to make the Grizzlies’ lives a bit more difficult than it should have been.
Thompson has often been touted as one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, despite being treated as somewhat of a pariah by advanced defensive metrics. Coupled with his elite three-point shooting ability, he is perhaps the best “3-and-D” player in the league today.
While perimeter defense is his specialty, Thompson has also shown to be an excellent post defender. Part of the reason why the Warriors are keen to use a switching defensive scheme is the fact that they possess several lengthy defenders who are capable of holding the fort against bigger players. Thompson’s 6-foot-7-inch frame allows him to defend much bigger and lengthier players down low without a hitch.
In this possession, Thompson gets switched onto the bigger Jaren Jackson Jr., who gets deep post position in the paint. But Thompson stands his ground, and when the entry pass is made, he uses his long reach to poke at the ball in order to keep it away from Jackson’s hands, resulting in a steal for the Warriors.
Here is another example of excellent post defense from Thompson. Against the even bigger Marc Gasol, Thompson allows Gasol to create some space with a momentary face-up move. When Gasol returns to having his back facing the basket, Thompson uses the small blind window during Gasol’s position switch to swipe down on the ball cleanly, allowing the Warriors to steal the ball and transition from defense to offense courtesy of a quick layup from Draymond Green.
Thompson gets his hands on yet another pass during this sequence, where the Grizzlies attempt to sneak one of their players on a backdoor baseline cut. However, Thompson sniffs out the pass and gets the deflection, leading to Quinn Cook gaining possession of the ball and proceeding to play hot potato with Andre Iguodala on the other end of the floor, resulting in a three-point bucket for the Warriors’ resident senior citizen.
While Thompson has proven himself to be a live and pesky defender down low, Durant has also improved his post defense as of late. Durant’s length has given him much potential to be an elite defender, as much as it has helped him become an all-time great offensive player. Last season, Durant used his length to great effect, averaging 1.8 blocks per game — enough to be included in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year, before having a defensive drop-off as the season progressed.
This season, Durant hasn’t been as proficient in blocking shots, averaging only 1.0 per game. He has shown, however, that when he has the energy and effort to expend, he can be the elite defender that everyone expects him to be.
He gets his second successful swipe of the game by playing incredible post defense. Using his long frame and deceptive lower body strength, Durant is unmoved by the attempt at bullying him down low. When the ball is finally exposed, Durant makes the clean swipe look easy.
Durant’s shot-blocking ability finally shows up during this sequence. Gasol gets the ball and manages to have his way with Jonas Jerebko down low. It seems as if Gasol is about to get an easy bucket up close, but Durant is there to provide help defense, meeting Gasol up top and easily swatting his shot away.
It also helps that Durant is comfortable with sagging off of Kyle Anderson, who is not particularly known to be a shooting threat.
Not wanting to be left behind, the Warriors’ defensive maestro gets in on the defensive effort in this sequence. Green shows his ability to recognize developing plays by backing off toward the paint and preparing for an off-ball cut inside. His recognition of the play pays off, as he meets the attack head on and forces the miss up top. This immediately flows into a Stephen Curry three-point shot on the other end, showing that teams who miss against the Warriors are often made to pay for it right away.
Green shows excellent anticipation and great fundamentals during this sequence. Green and Curry defend the Grizzlies’ pick-and-roll by trapping the ball handler against the sideline. An attempt to release pressure is made by passing the ball to the roll man, but Green — who himself is familiar at playing the role of being the pressure release in the pick-and-roll — has his eyes locked on the ball and his hands held up high. The ball gets deflected by Green, leading to another steal and forcing the Grizzlies to foul in transition to prevent an easy bucket.
Considered by some to be Green’s protégé, Jordan Bell has had a tough sophomore season. Offensively, his penchant for mishandling the ball and being hesitant and shaky around the rim has relegated him to being the third-stringer in the Warriors’ young center-by-committee rotation, before a season-ending injury to Damian Jones promoted him to the backup center role. Defensively, he is still jittery and easy to bait with pump fakes; he is often victimized by crafty players who take advantage of his addiction to jumping at the slightest indication of a shot being put up.
While Bell has a lot of issues to resolve, he still shows flashes of the potential that the Warriors believe he still has. In this sequence, he displays great anticipation by intercepting a routine pass and finishing on the other end with a two-handed dunk.
To some observers, this win against a shorthanded team was as routine as a win could get. But when the Warriors are complete, healthy, and focused on playing their best, they can make any win against any team look routine and simple. In the case of Tuesday night, the Warriors were able to play their brand of defense: pesky, agile, and versatile.
And the Warriors were indeed pesky. Averaging 7.0 steals per game — good for 22nd in the league — they shot past that average by getting 10 steals against the Grizzlies. Overall, the Warriors forced 16 turnovers and scored 27 points off of them, well beyond their season average of 16.7 points scored off of turnovers, which is ranked 2nd in the league, per NBA.com.
While this defensive effort won’t look as easy against other teams, especially against the cream of the crop from both conferences, it is a reassuring sign that the Warriors are slowly finding their groove defensively. Everyone knows that the Warriors can turn on the switch offensively — and it is a sight to behold once the Warriors decide to max out the sliders against any team that is put in front of them.
But while it is not as pretty or eye-catching — nor is it the reason why most fans watch the NBA — defense is as much of a factor as offense in helping the Warriors pave a path of destruction through the rest of the league. Whenever the Warriors are locked in defensively, it often serves as the catalyst that flows straight into their offensive success.
If the Warriors manage to sustain their defensive intensity throughout the rest of the season, then the entire league must take heed of Michael Corleone’s words from The Godfather.
“It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.”
Thirty-one down, 51 more to go.
Stay Golden, Dub Nation.