That continuous chemistry of the Golden State Warriors defense was what initially set them apart from the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first two games of the NBA Finals. Golden State gave up a combined 166 points in those first two games and took a 2-0 lead.
Cleveland didn’t even come up with 80 points in Game 2, but they scored 120 points in Game 3 at home and won by 30.
Even though it’s way more fun to talk about their offense, and while a 90-point output by the Warriors can be a subject in itself, the defending championship team now called to prove more than anything else that they can win with championship defense.
Granted, there are just two issues with the Warriors defense: LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Guarding them individually has become less viable because both have stayed in attack mode and seem to have only grown more comfortable and capable against Golden State’s defenders with each game.
Kyrie got loose with the back-to-back 30 point efforts in games 3 and 4. Golden State could have easily dropped both games in Cleveland, but in Game 4, it was their defense that sparked their second half run. They gave up 58 points to the Cavs in the first half as opposed to 42 in the second, where they were able to collectively collapse on James and Irving’s drives which led to blocks, deflections, steals, and plays in transition.
Consecutive stops is the name of the game. They haven’t been able to stop the Cavs consistently over multiple possessions since that second half of Game 4.
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) June 17, 2016
Draymond Green’s suspension had a clear impact on the Warriors defensive capabilities in Game 5, and then Andrew Bogut sprains his knee in that same game. Those have been direct disruptions to the rhythm of the Warriors defense.
It’s nowhere near as simple as saying just play better defense on LeBron and Kyrie and you’ll win. Again, those guys are in an extremely comfortable rhythm right now. What it does mean for the Warriors is shifting the focus back to playing sharp and attentive defense and letting that fuel their offense. Usually it’s Golden State pressuring their opponent to keep up with their scoring. Cleveland has reversed that dynamic in these last two games.
We didn’t get a Game 7 last June. It’s only right the rematch comes to this. The nature of Game 7’s is gritty, hard-fought, physical — the equivalent of basketball war. It does become about who is prepared to make shots and make plays in big moments offensively, but as Curry said, defense is what will determine Game 7. The Warriors now face their single greatest test of the last two seasons, and the first thing I’ll be watching for is their defensive spirit.