The Golden State Warriors aren’t undefeated in the playoffs solely because of their offense. Yes, the Warriors have blown teams out of their water in part due to an ability to score 119 points a game in the playoffs. Having two MVPs and one of the NBA’s best shooters probably has something to do with that power-packed O.
But it’s been Golden State’s defense that silently powered the first 12-0 playoff streak in NBA history. The Warriors have held their opponent to 41.4 percent shooting in the postseason. The Bucks were the only other team with an opponent field goal percentage below 44, and they didn’t make it out of the first round.
The Warriors’ defense has also enabled one of the widest margins of victory in playoff history. Golden State has beaten its opponent by an average of 16.9 points per game in the playoffs. Against the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, the Warriors won Games 1 and 2 by a combined 41 points.
That defense is one Warriors head coach Steve Kerr credited former head coach Mark Jackson for installing before he was fired in 2014.
“When I was in TV, I was doing Warriors games for years; every year, they were one of the worst defensive teams in the league. Mark came in and made a focus of being a tough defensive-minded team,” Kerr said, during his media availability on Tuesday. “The year before I got here, the Warriors were the fourth-ranked defensive team in the league — already top-five. We knew what we had. We didn’t change one thing defensively. We started switching more when Draymond [Green] took over that power forward role. But for the most part, our schemes — everything — stayed the same.
“We already knew they had established that defensive identity. Our job was to improve the offense — to get more movement and more flow. And that was my focus.”
This isn’t the first time Kerr has credited Jackson for some of the team’s success.
Midway through his first year with the Warriors, Kerr said the former head coach “set the table” for the Warriors to have the success they did. Golden State went on to win the championship in his first season.
Steve Kerr on Mark Jackson: "He set the table for a lot of what's happening now. He deserves a lot credit."— Rusty Simmons (@Rusty_SFChron) January 10, 2015
He also let the team keep some of the traditions it established under Jackson, including a team chant of “Just us,” and a poster in the locker room that reads “mUSt be jUSt about US,” according to the San Jose Mercury-News’ Tim Kawakami.
Kerr understood the relationship the Warriors’ old coach had with his team. The players loved Jackson, especially Stephen Curry, who built a bond with Jackson during his time there. It was a hard sell moving on from Jackson in the first place, but in order for the Warriors to progress offensively, a change was necessary.
That fusion of old and new helped turn the Warriors into a 73-win team last season, breaking the record for most wins in an NBA season. And with the addition of Kevin Durant, Golden State threatens to become a dynasty.
The Warriors’ offense may get all the shine, but it’s their defense that’s made the difference. And while Kerr is the one who basks in the glory of Golden State’s success, it’s Jackson’s leg work early on that helped set the foundation.
Kerr understands that, and that’s the best part.