Kurtenbach: The big, oft-forgotten thing that separates the Warriors and Blazers

OAKLAND — There’s something missing from the national conversations and narratives surrounding the NBA playoffs, and, frankly, it blows my mind.

After all, it’s present on every single possession.

Folks, we need to start talking about defense.

As much as the postseason is a moment for shot creators and shot takers, a basket prevented is as good as a basket made.

And while defense isn’t sexy, and most people don’t fully understand its nuances, it’s what separates good teams from real championship contenders.

We saw that — clear as day — in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals Tuesday night. I don’t expect anything to change over the next few games of this series.

(Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)

The argument for the Blazers coming into this series is the argument that’s being made for them to bounce back in Game 2: They have two great backcourt players in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum who can get buckets in bunches.

Surely, the two won’t combine to shoot 11-of-31 from the floor in Game 2.

But to think that there is going to be some massive correction is to, again, underrate the value of defense.

Yes, Lillard and McCollum underperformed in Game 1 — but how about we give some credit to the guys who were guarding them on Tuesday?

I don’t know how many times it needs to be repeated, but Klay Thompson is one of the NBA’s premier on-ball perimeter defenders. He held Lillard to five points (one field goal) on 22 possessions Tuesday, with three turnovers to boot.

And when Thompson wasn’t on Lillard, Andre Iguodala took his turn. In 26 matchups, Lillard had five points and made one field goal, with three turnovers to boot.

(Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

Thompson is in an elite class of two-way players in the league, only a slight notch below Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, who, unlike him, are often not guarding point guards. And he had a great game Tuesday, though his effort hardly seemed Herculean.

And Iguodala has shut down LeBron James in an NBA Finals. He has a trophy on his mantle because of it. Lillard, as good as he might be — and he is exceptional — is no match.

Behind those two were Stephen Curry — who at 6-foot-3 has to be thrilled to be going against a backcourt his size (he allowed only 11 points on 40 possessions against Lillard and McCollum), Draymond Green, and Kevon Looney.

Are we supposed to expect that five-man unit to stop being good on defense?

That’d be silly.

It should also be noted that the Blazers’ one-two punch isn’t surrounded by shooters like the Rockets surrounded James Harden and Chris Paul — the Warriors’ help-side defense might as well be strong-side against the Blazers. It’s Lillard and McCollum or nothing for Portland.

So the Warriors didn’t even need turn in a championship-level defensive effort in Game 1 — their meh effort is better than any defense the Blazers have seen up to this point in the postseason.

Imagine what happens when they were to actually ramp …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Sports


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