Why the Warriors won the NBA championship

David Friedman Columnist

By David Friedman, David Friedman is a Roar Expert

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    It is tempting to describe Golden State’s NBA Finals victory as a triumph of the style of play popularised by the Mike D’Antoni and Steve Nash Phoenix Suns.

    Both teams featured 6-3 point guards with ballhandling wizardry, crafty passing and astounding marksmanship. Both teams featured small line-ups that played at a fast pace and shot a lot of three pointers.

    There are also personal connections between the franchises. Golden State Coach Steve Kerr, assistant coach Alvin Gentry and key reserve Leandro Barbosa all were members of that Phoenix franchise in some capacity.

    Have D’Antoni and Nash been vindicated at the expense of commentators like Charles Barkley who insisted that jump shooting teams cannot win a championship?

    That theme has been trumpeted loudly throughout Golden State’s great regular season, has gained volume during the Warriors’ playoff run and figures to become deafening in the wake of the team’s 4-2 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

    However, it is an oversimplification to suggest that the Warriors won by doing the same things that the Suns used to do.

    The Warriors not only ranked first in scoring and three point field goal percentage but they also ranked first in defensive field goal percentage and second in blocked shots.

    The Warriors maintained their suffocating defence in the playoffs, ranking second in defensive field goal percentage and fifth in blocked shots. In the NBA Finals, the Warriors held the Cavaliers to .384 field goal shooting.

    The Suns never had that kind of mindset. The Suns focused on scoring over 100 points and assumed that they could always score more points than their opponents without placing any particular emphasis on stopping their opponents from scoring.

    That philosophy can work during the regular season, particularly for a team that has a lot of gifted offensive players. That philosophy will not likely ever produce an NBA championship. In the playoffs, with time off between games to prepare and rest, teams are not just going to get run off of the court.

    The Suns’ opponents found ways to make it more difficult for Phoenix to score and they also exploited Phoenix’ uninterested defence.

    D’Antoni never emphasized defence. He might argue that his roster did not have many great individual defenders but that is a falsehood and a copout. He had excellent defensive players like Shawn Marion and Raja Bell, plus defence has at least as much to do with mindset and strategy as it does with talent.

    The great coaches develop defensive game plans that suit their personnel and they instill a defensive mindset into their teams.

    The Suns never made it to the NBA Finals because they did not play good enough defence. Previous teams that shot a lot of three pointers and made it to the NBA Finals played good defence. The Houston Rockets won back to back championships in the 1990s not only based on their excellent three point shooting but also based on a very good defence anchored by Hakeem Olajuwon.

    The 2009 Orlando Magic made it to the NBA Finals with a similar formula: a great big man (Dwight Howard) surrounded by three point shooters and a team that embraced playing defence.

    The coach and the best player set the tone. How many championship teams have had coaches and best players who were below average defensively? The only recent NBA champion that arguably had a below average defensive player as its best player was the 2011 Dallas Mavericks but coach Rick Carlisle certainly emphasised defence to that team and 2011 Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki at least made an effort at that end of the court, using his length to contest shots.

    In a sense, Golden State’s success did not vindicate the D’Antoni/Nash Suns but rather exposed the fatal flaw of those teams. Golden State emphasized defence and every member of the rotation was engaged defensively.

    The Warriors did not have to hide anyone or do any kind of gimmicks, while the Suns did not emphasise defence and their best players (Nash and Amare Stoudemire) were subpar defensive players. In contrast, 2015 MVP Stephen Curry has become an above average defensive player, setting the tone for the entire team.

    David Friedman
    David Friedman

    David Friedman has covered the NBA for more than a decade, and in doing so, has interviewed nearly two dozen members of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players List. You can find his work at 20SecondTimeout.

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    The Crowd Says (15)

    • June 18th 2015 @ 5:51am
      express34texas said | June 18th 2015 @ 5:51am | ! Report

      It’s interesting that Bogut, who is a very good defender, barely played in the finals, and I felt like he was the biggest reason why GS improved so much from last year’s 1st round loss. Bogut was healthy this year and while he’s a suspect offensive player, his interior defense was one key to GS success. Sure, several other key players(Curry, Thompson, Green, and Barnes) all improved from last year, as well as Iggy accepting his bench role helped. And now Ezeli looks primed to become at least a much more adequate backup center next year. GS might be even better.

      GS was the best team this year and probably still win the title, and there’s always injuries. But, they benefited greatly from all their opps having key players injured, while GS only missed seldom-used Speights for a few games.

    • Roar Rookie

      June 18th 2015 @ 10:46am
      josh said | June 18th 2015 @ 10:46am | ! Report

      GS won because the Cavs had effectively 1 player (James). You could say two, with Movgov.

      You add Love and Irving back and the Cavs can reach the Finals again next year.

      That said the Warriors have a good balanced team. Curry could be rested and the team plan didn’t change. If James was rested the Cavs were at sea.

    • June 18th 2015 @ 11:46am
      express34texas said | June 18th 2015 @ 11:46am | ! Report

      So, if CLE only had 2 players, what’d GS have? 2, maybe 3? Curry and Iggy. Possibly Klay as well. Tristan played at least equal with Green, and I thought he was better than Klay and Green. Klay struggled most games.

      One big question which James and his supporters continue to make excuses is why he constantly gets tired at the ends of games. It’s one thing for a seldom-used backup that needs to play high minutes on the spot to get tired easily, it’s an entirely another thing for a star to, who’s accustomed to playing high minutes. Curry and Tristan both averaged over 40mpg, and Green, Iggy, and Klay averaged over 37mpg. The only other player I saw who got tired was Delly, who’s a backup who was asked to hound the Curry on defense.

      The East is a joke. There’s 6-7 teams in the West, not including OKC, who would’ve won the East if they swapped places with CLE. Love/Irving certainly would’ve helped, but CLE’s defense would’ve been much worse as well. If James was able to play hard for entire games, CLE would be seeing a game 7 at the very least most likely. He’s not asked to play any more than past greats did.

      • Roar Rookie

        June 18th 2015 @ 2:18pm
        josh said | June 18th 2015 @ 2:18pm | ! Report

        I like your argument; if LeBron James is so good, why isn’t he a robot.

        Look at the warriors stats for the series look at the Cavs. James did so much more then the others combined, it was sustainable.

        Whereas the warriors found solid contributions from everyone.

      • June 18th 2015 @ 5:28pm
        pete bloor said | June 18th 2015 @ 5:28pm | ! Report

        LeBron played roughly 10% more minutes with a huge usage rate comparing his exertion to Thompson is ill considered even by your standards

        • June 19th 2015 @ 3:57am
          express34texas said | June 19th 2015 @ 3:57am | ! Report

          Really? 46mpg to 41mpg. Tristan was playing hard on both ends of the court on a consistent basis, and James is more accustomed to high minutes than Tristan is. James wasn’t. One could easily argue, who might very well be true, that Tristan exerted more energy than James. Curry was playing hard on both ends as well. I saw James do nothing on offense at times, standing around behind the 3pt. line, not being active. He also settled for too many long jumpers when he had big mismatches. He also took many plays off defensively, and looked lost at times. Tristan, Delly, and others had to make up for this, and did a good job, but James had to pull his weight as well.

          Look at past greats in the playoffs/finals. Are any of them really getting tired or getting too tired where their play slips dramatically at ends of games or where they aren’t able to consistently play hard? Sometimes the facts hurt. We’ve seen this type of behavior from James before as well, as well as being a high-excuse player.

    • June 18th 2015 @ 3:09pm
      Steve said | June 18th 2015 @ 3:09pm | ! Report

      Sorry express, just more hate on Lebron rubbish. Tell me what more could he possibly do with an under manned team, against the best team all year? Hating on Lebron because he is Lebron. Take out the second and third best players from the GSW roster and its a different series again with most likely a different result.

    • June 18th 2015 @ 4:50pm
      JVGO said | June 18th 2015 @ 4:50pm | ! Report

      Life’s such a bitch when you get 4 number one draft picks and assemble an absolutely stacked pretty much unbeatable NBA roster around the world’s best player and they all go and get themselves injured. I mean the Warriors had so many healthy quality players they didn’t even bother to play some of them. And the best draft pick they ever had was like number 7.

      • June 18th 2015 @ 5:29pm
        pete bloor said | June 18th 2015 @ 5:29pm | ! Report

        Whats that got to do with the price of eggs?

        • June 18th 2015 @ 8:19pm
          don said | June 18th 2015 @ 8:19pm | ! Report

          Pete, jvg is talking about lebron buying some bad eggs: klove, jr etc. And now having to suck on those eggs.

        • June 19th 2015 @ 12:06am
          JVGO said | June 19th 2015 @ 12:06am | ! Report

          Lebron is Humpty Dumpty

    • June 18th 2015 @ 7:49pm
      Worlds Biggest said | June 18th 2015 @ 7:49pm | ! Report

      The Warriors were the best team hands down from start to finish. What depth they had highlighted by two All Stars on the bench. Bogut is one of the better bigs in the League and didn’t start the last few games. What a complete team with a great coach and GM.

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