The Golden State Warriors held the Brooklyn Nets to 102.1 points per 100 possessions. In the half court, they allowed only 89.5 points per 100 possessions. Both marks are equivalent to the best in their respective categories.
More importantly, the Warriors were able to hold the Nets to a 16-of-26 clip at the rim — a 61.5% clip which is at the 32nd percentile in the league, at a 31% rim attempt rate which would rank at the 37th percentile in the league, per Cleaning The Glass. Moreover, they were able to keep rim attempts contained without sacrificing perimeter defense; while the Nets attempted 43% of their shots from beyond the arc (83rd percentile), they were only able to knock down 13 of their 40 attempts from that range (32.5%).
(To be fair, the Nets did miss open shots, but that fact isn’t mutually exclusive from the Warriors’ effort and tenacity on defense.)
The Warriors’ defense did its job — something that’s been pretty much the exception as opposed to the norm this season. They came into this game as the 21st ranked defense with garbage time eliminated; in the half court, they came in as 19th. The fact that a key defensive wing in Andrew Wiggins wouldn’t be available should’ve made things more difficult.
But key people on defense stepped up — especially Gui Santos, a rotation plug-in to compensate for Wiggins’ absence and Klay Thompson’s struggles.
Santos — a 6-foot-8 wing with a 7-foot wingspan — provided the requisite hustle and energy off the bench and was rewarded with closing-lineup minutes. He was especially notable on the defensive end for a couple of stops that he had a huge hand in causing.
The possession below, with Santos defending a wing isolation against Cam Thomas, was a team effort — but as with almost every defensive possession in the modern NBA, being able to contain things at the point of attack makes life a whole lot easier for the entire defensive unit.
Which Gui was able to do:
With Santos being able to stay in front to stifle the drive, Jonathan Kuminga is able to effectively “trap the box,” rotating to help stuff Thomas’ shot attempt. Brandin Podziemski, meanwhile, successfully sinks in against Nic Claxton to eliminate a possible dump-off. The Warriors get the stop and unleash Kuminga in transition, where he has been scoring 1.402 points per possession — fourth in the league among 108 players who have tallied a minimum 100 transition possessions, per Synergy.
Santos also flashed an understanding of the concept of “gap” or “nail” help — helping off near the slot or wing to stunt, dig, or fully switch against a drive in order to stifle middle penetration. His timely dig on a Mikal Bridges drive at the nail forces another stop, triggers another fastbreak situation, and generates another bucket:
This is pretty much what everyone wanted to see from this Warriors defense all season long: containment up front lessens the chances of a breakdown happening at the back. Fewer breakdowns equals not having to be constantly scrambling to plug gaps.
More importantly, fewer scramble situations means Draymond Green is allowed to do what he does best as the main defensive anchor:
While the Warriors were able to wall off the rim and keep the Nets’ paint scoring down — 38 points, well below their season average of 48.7 — the Warriors themselves scored a season-high 72 paint points to exceed their season average of 46.9 by a country mile, despite the presence of a high-level rim deterrent in Claxton.
(Who, by the way, is third in terms of opponent rim field-goal percentage — among 52 players who have played in at least 30 games and defend a minimum of four shots at the rim per game.)
They ended the game attempting 45% of their total shots at the rim — 93rd percentile, per Cleaning The Glass (an improvement over their league-worst rim rate of 26.9% for the season). They were able to convert at a 28-of-39 clip (71.8% — 67th percentile).
The Warriors were able to find ways to draw Claxton away from the paint. One method was using the Nets’ decision to play Claxton up high and tight against “Delay” action (in which a big is handling the ball at the top of the arc in a 5-out alignment) against them:
The other method was using the Nets’ high comfort level with having Claxton switch ballscreens — understandable, given that Claxton is a highly capable switch big. But that means the rest of the Nets’ players must also be able to switch off-ball screening actions flawlessly, since they won’t have the luxury of having a rim protector on the backline.
A blown or missed switch means that Claxton won’t be in the paint to clean things up:
Claxton finished the night with seven blocks, so he was able to protect the rim on some level. But he largely didn’t get help from his teammates in terms of containment, and there was only so much shoring and cleaning up he could do to make up for the holes at the point of attack.
While the Nets did resort to switching at certain points, having Claxton at the backline made them relax at inopportune moments — such as on this possession:
“Head Tap” — a set for Kuminga to receive an inverted ballscreen from Steph Curry — allows him to get to the rim by blowing by Cam Johnson with no switch at the point of attack. Claxton attempts to block the dunk, but Kuminga beats him to the punch.
After the game, Kerr emphasized the importance of slipping and cutting to the rim, especially against a switching defense such as the Nets.
“Against a team that switches like that, you have to cut, you have to be around the basket, make sharp cuts, swing the ball, reversal... it was the pace of our cuts and the force of our cuts against that kind of switching defense, if you’re kind of jogging through stuff it’s really easy to just switch and stay in front. I thought the first five minutes of the second half really set a good tone. Our guys were much sharper and harder with their cuts.”