Warriors’ success keyed by ball movement, lockdown defense

Jan 20, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (left) goes to the basket as Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose (1) and center Pau Gasol (16) defend during the first half at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 20, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (left) goes to the basket as Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose (1) and center Pau Gasol (16) defend during the first half at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports /

Over the last two weeks, the Golden State Warriors have not played their best basketball. Their ball movement was not as a crisp and their defensive intensity had faltered but they were still winning most of their games. Earlier in the season, the Warriors made it a point of emphasis that they wanted to get better after every game.

For the first two months, everything was peaches and cream for the Warriors, absolutely destroying their opponents. Lately this has not been the case. Sometimes it is tough for a team to change their ways when they are winning with regularity, which is why losing to the Detroit Pistons on Sunday night may have been the best thing to happen to this team.

The Pistons handled the Warriors easily because the Warriors played with no energy, looking disinterested on either end of the court. They had a season-low 18 assists, were outrebounded by ten and allowed the Pistons to shoot 46 percent from the field. Their starting frontcourt of Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green combined to shoot 3-of-18 from the field and besides Stephen Curry, the rest of the team shot just as poorly.

After playing their worst game of the season, the Warriors’ next two matchups were against two of the top contenders in

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the Eastern Conference: the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Chicago Bulls. The Cavaliers were looking to prove that they would have beaten the Warriors if they had

Kyrie Irving


Kevin Love

in their lineup. They already failed once on Christmas day at Oracle Arena but felt like it would be different in their house. It was but not in the way they imagined it.

The Warriors absolutely shredded the Cavaliers on offense, bombing from long-range and getting every shot they wanted. After hitting seven threes in the first quarter, the Cavaliers decided to overplay the passing lanes in an attempt to prevent three-pointers but the resilient and versatile Warriors had an answer for this by cutting back door for easy layups and dunks. This made the Cavaliers frustrated because they had no idea what to do on defense.

The result was the Warriors continued to get wide open threes, hitting 19 of them and continued to get countless layups and dunks. They had 33 assists on 46 made baskets, shooting 54 percent from the field and 48 percent from three-point range but as good as their offense was, their defense was even better.

The Warriors allowed 98 points to the Cavaliers, which does not seem like a great performance, but through the three quarters, this team only had 64 points. A team consisting of Irving, Love and LeBron James completely struggled all night because they made it very easy for the Warriors to guard. Unlike the Warriors, the Cavaliers offense largely consists of isolation play, which meant no ball movement. If the Warriors perimeter defenders were beat off the dribble, the Warriors bigs were there to stop penetration, leading to transition basketball where the team thrives. James, Irving and Love combined for just 27 points on 11-of-32 shooting from the field while the human torch, Curry, dropped 35 points.

The Warriors overwhelmed the Cavaliers at both ends, getting back to their identity early in the season. While the Cavaliers were trying to make a statement of their own, it was the Warriors who made the statement to the entire NBA and they would keep it going on Wednesday night against the Bulls.

If the Cavaliers performance was impressive, the Bulls performance was a masterpiece. The ball movement was even better in Chicago, dishing out 38 assists while the Bulls managed only 37 baskets. They used to same philosophy as they did in Cleveland, back cutting the Bulls to death.

The Warriors did not have their best game shooting the three but it did not matter because they dominated in the paint. They outrebounded the Bulls, the best rebounding team in the league and scored countless layups and dunks off inbound passes against the bigger Bulls. This was all possible because the Bulls, like the Cavaliers, were worried about the three pointer rather than protecting their own hoop.

On defense, they were even better than they were in Cleveland, allowing the Bulls to shoot only 37 percent. The most impressive stat may have been Pau Gasol’s line. Gasol, a perennial All-Star, managed just one point, shooting 0 for 8 from the field. The culprit for Gasol’s horrible night was Green, proving everyone once again that he can guard anyone how matter how big that opponent is. Green’s quickness and strength made Gasol uncomfortable, forcing him into tough shots.

While Green did an incredible job on Gasol, he definitely had help. The Warriors blocked nine shots and eight steals, leading to their transition game. They also forced the fifth best three-point shooting team to a putrid 1-of-20 from beyond the arc. It was a complete effort in a 31-point drubbing, 125-94.

The last two games were the Warriors’ best back-to-back games of the season because they got to their bread and butter. The Warriors are at their best when they get great shots, not good shots and that comes with great ball movement. In order to create this ball movement, the Warriors need stops with lockdown defense, something that was not happening the last couple weeks.

The Warriors need to keep these principles going as the most anticipated matchup of the season is drawing near with the San Antonio Spurs coming to Oakland on Monday night. They will need to be on their game Monday night because many think the Spurs are the Warriors’ main competition. Hopefully, the Pistons loss was a turning point and refocused this team for the remainder of this season.