Warriors Beat the Heat and Show the World Their New Swag

Categories: Sports

Don't let the size and smooth shooting fool you. Steph Curry and Co. are playing hard-nosed basketball.
Last night's win turned heads. It's not just that the Warriors beat the defending champion Miami Heat; not just that they led after every quarter. The Wizards, after all, have also beat the Heat. The win turned heads because it showed the world how the Warriors have won 12 of their last 15 games, including five straight on this East Coast road trip.

It showed the team's new new swag.

Before the game, LeBron James called Steph Curry and Klay Thompson the best shooting backcourt tandem in the league. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said that watching film on the pair was like watching a Pop-a-Shot arcade game.

These are true observations that also reflect the Warriors' national identity. Most basketball fans probably haven't seen the Warriors play much this season. When they see the team racking up wins, they think uptempo shootouts with threes raining down. But Warrior Basketball is now so much more than that.

It's fitting that the signature play of the Warriors' season -- last night's game-winning bucket -- involved Jarrett Jack and Draymond Green. Jack and Green, along with Carl Landry and Festus Ezeli -- four new faces in the Bay -- have helped mold the team's new identity to fit head coach Mark Jackson's vision. This is a tough team that plays physical, swarming defense and rebounds way more effectively than their collective size suggests.

This is the kind of team the Warriors brass wanted when they hired Mark Jackson and then traded Monta Ellis for Andrew Bogut. At the time, it seemed like wishful thinking. How can you build a team like that when Curry and Thompson -- skinny jump-shooters with below-average defensive skills -- are supposed to be the franchise cornerstones?

Toughness and defensive effort, apparently, are contagious, rippling out from Landry and Jack, the most experienced veterans in Jackson's eight-man rotation. The Warriors have become a good defensive team, more than able enough to carry the team to victory even when the offense struggles.

Last night, for example, the Warriors appeared to hit a wall near the end of the fourth quarter. LeBron had hit some reality-defying shots to give Miami a four-point lead with under three minutes left. The Warriors, in contrast, had turned the ball over on three consecutive possessions. But then the defense locked down, forcing Miami into tough shots, shutting them out for the rest of the game, and sparking a tide-turning fast break elbow-to-elbow jumper by Curry that cut the deficit to two and ended the team's two-and-a-half minute scoring drought. On the Heat's next six possessions, they turned the ball over once and didn't take a single shot from within 20 feet of the basket. The Warriors, on the other side, got two free throws and a lay-up.

The main question on every Warrior fans mind right now is: How long can they keep this up? It would soothe those fans' minds to know that the success has not been driven by streaky shooting, which can turn hot and cold. In fact, the team is shooting jump shots at a lower percentage than last year, down from 46.6 percent to 44.9 percent, according to 82games.com.

Instead, rebounding, defense, and general physical play have been the difference. Those who watched the Heat game saw Thompson, Harrison Barnes, and Jack aggressively and consistently take the ball to the hoop. Perhaps the most surprising stat from last night was that the Warriors made as many free throws as the Heat, who specialize in bull rushing into the paint. But game reflected a trend. Last season the Warriors averaged eight free throw attempts per game fewer than their opponents; this year that deficit is just two.

The Warriors, currently the fourth-best rebounding team in the NBA, are getting offensive boards on 29 percent of rebounding opportunities, up 5 percent from last year. And they're preventing opponents from corralling offensive rebounds at a rate six percent better than last year. It's been a significant swing: Last year opponents got offensive rebounds nine percent more frequently than Golden State; this year the team is winning the offensive rebound battle by two percent.

When they don't get offensive rebounds, they hustle back on defense. Last season, opponents hit 52.5 percent of shots taken less than ten seconds into a possession; this year, that's down to 49.8 percent. And they're closing out on shooters: last year opponent made 45.4 percent of jump shots; that's number's now 43 percent. Overall, the Warriors have the sixth-best defensive field goal percentage in the league. No easy buckets against this team.

James learned that when David Lee shoved him to the ground the way Anthony Mason used to do to Michael Jordan. Mario Chalmers and Dwyane Wade learned it as their drives to the hoop were met with hip checks and backside help.

Warriors Basketball is not Pop-a-Shot. It's Whack-a-Mole.

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