When you have sharpshooters like Steph Curry and Klay Thompson on your roster, it’s hard to identify the Golden State Warriors as a defensive team. But somewhere beneath all the swishes and splashes, the Warriors have become a hard-nosed team that doesn’t mind rolling up its sleeves and getting dirty.
The stats won’t show it but the Warriors have actually played better defense than the San Antonio Spurs in their Western Conference semifinal series. You see Tim Duncan working hard to score against Andrew Bogut, you see Tony Parker’s signature teardrop blocked by Thompson, and he you see Kawhi Leonard struggling to post up against Curry.
Even the Golden State rookies are playing defense.
Forward Harrison Barnes wasn’t known as a great defender coming out of North Carolina, but he’s a good enough athlete to stay with quick guards and strong enough to hold his ground in the low post. Forward Draymond Green played for Tom Izzo at Michigan State, so playing defense comes naturally to him. In Game 2, Green had seven rebounds in 32 minutes. Center Festus Ezeli is raw, but head coach Mark Jackson won’t hesitate to play him in the fourth quarter.
The Warriors may not play lockdown defense like the Boston Celtics or Chicago Bulls, but they are making life very difficult right now for the Spurs.
It starts and ends with Bogut. The 7-foot Aussie is able to play Duncan one-on-one, which allows the rest of the Warriors to stay home and stay attached to the Spurs’ shooters.
Marcus Thompson II wrote this for MercuryNews.com
Warriors center Andrew Bogut was told before the series that he was on his own with Spurs star Tim Duncan, one of the greatest of all-time. Whatever happens, happens. But the help wasn’t coming.
To Bogut, that sounded like Australian for fun.
“I’m fine,” he said after totaling six points and 11 rebounds in Wednesday’s 100-91 Game 2 win. “He’s had games where he’s killed me, and I’ve had games where I’ve guarded him well. You’ve just got to battle against him.”
A major part of the game plan is to play straight up on Duncan. The Warriors don’t mind if he scores. They just don’t want to double-team him because that opens up avenues for the Spurs’ wealth of 3-pointer shooters. And Duncan is such a great passer, he can pick the Warriors apart.
So the Warriors are allowing Bogut — and rookie center Festus Ezeli — to take their medicine against San Antonio’s low-post specialist. He’s averaged 21 points and 10 rebounds the first two games. He’s shooting 42.9 percent (15 of 35).
Bogut is all but giving Duncan the midrange jumper. He’s using his size to keep Duncan from catching the ball deep and his shot-blocking ability to challenge Duncan’s array of post moves.
“If Tim gets off, like he did a little bit tonight, we’ll live with that,” Bogut said. “If he’s getting easy shots against me where he’s two feet from the basket, we have a problem. But if I keep working him, pushing him out, making him work for his buckets, we’re not too worried about it.”
Bogut is rugged and rough on the edges, which is exactly what the Warriors need at this point. They have enough pretty boys on the team. His post defense is the reason why the Warriors are able to survive without All-Star David Lee. He may not get the same attention as Curry and Thompson, but his presence in the middle is the difference between going home in the first round or playing for a spot in the conference finals.
Joel Huerto is the editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.