OAKLAND, Calif. — When the Warriors are at their best, as they were in a 113-91 blowout of the Cavaliers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night, the highlight reels overflow with images of Kevin Durant dunking or Stephen Curry pulling up deep behind the three-point line to launch impossibly pure swishes. Defense is an afterthought for most spectators.
But the Warriors understand that defense is the wellspring of their best offensive efforts. They came away from Game 1 feeling as though they could have put a lot more points on the board had they not missed several easy baskets. They dominated because of a defense that held the Cavaliers to 34.9-percent shooting and forced 20 turnovers, including eight by LeBron James, that led to 21 Warriors points.
Durant, who totaled 38 points, was emphatic in explaining why the Warriors had 56 points in the paint, including 27 fast-break points. “The only way you get out in transition and get those [easy] baskets is if we get stops,” he said. “So I just try to focus on defense. We worry about defense first, and offensively, we can move the ball around, drive and kick and try to find shots as well. So I’m more focused on defense.”
The definition of “basketball IQ” is a team that understands the reasons why it wins. Warriors coach Mike Brown praised guard Klay Thompson even though he shot 3-for-16 and scored only six points. Thompson was assigned to guard J.R. Smith, who scored only three points, but Brown said Thompson also covered James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving and made it hard on all of them.
“On all of the guys he guarded, he did a fantastic job,” Brown said. “He was a presence mentally and physically. He was locked in.”
One advanced stat showed that the players guarded by Thompson shot a combined 1-for-12 when he was covering them. “I was happy with my performance on that side of the ball,” he said. “It didn’t matter who I was guarding. I was trying to make it tough on them just to get a good look.”
Thompson is under scrutiny because his offensive production has fallen dramatically during the Warriors’ 13-0 run through the playoffs, but he said, “If I score six points a game and it gets us four wins and an NBA championship, I can do that every year. I’m not about getting numbers.”
That unselfish attitude is evident up and down the Warriors’ roster and might be a byproduct of last season’s Finals, when they blew a 3-1 series lead and lost the title to the Cavaliers. Draymond Green is the Warriors’ emotional leader on defense, and he shook off a 3-for-12 shooting night to have a major impact on the defensive end with 11 rebounds and a block.
Brown credited Green for igniting the 13-0 run at the start of the second half that broke the game open. “Draymond set the tone,” Brown said. “Maybe the first or second possession, there was a loose ball on the ground, and Draymond was the first one to the floor. Came up with it, and we were off to the races. We knocked down a three, and with the fans in this building, it’s tough to recover for anybody.”
The Cavs know they can’t afford another 20-turnover game, and you can’t blame them if they came away shaken by the Warriors’ defensive effort and how it led to an awesome show at the offensive end.
As Warriors sixth man Andre Iguodala said, “I think that’s why people enjoy watching us play. You see so much unselfishness. You see the beauty in the passes. It can scare teams at times.”