Warriors' Rise Coincides with Walton's Arrival

The San Francisco Chronicle (California)

April 28, 2015 Tuesday

 By Scott Ostler

Between Games 3 and 4 in New Orleans, I sat down with Luke Walton, one of Kerr's assistants. Walton is a rookie coach, so he and fellow rookie Kerr have kind of bonded in that respect. They both know what they don't know about coaching, and they both know that sometimes they do as much learning as coaching.

And this is important: They both know what it takes to win NBA championships, plural. Walton won two rings with the Lakers. Kerr has five. Both were role players on their championship teams, but both learned a ton about life in the playoffs pressure cooker.

Walton said he and Kerr have kicked around the question of whether there is a common denominator among championship teams. Their conclusion: defense, especially the ability to lock down the opposing offense at crucial junctures.

"It's very rare that a team comes out of nowhere and wins the championship without getting at least to the conference finals the previous season, or getting deep into the playoffs, to realize what it really takes to win one," Walton said.

"We both felt like, with the way the team can defend, that it's a realistic possibility that we can make that happen and win a championship this year, without having to go through the pain and heartache of getting deep into the playoffs the previous season and losing."

Mark Jackson deserves - and is given - credit for lifting the Warriors out of decades of defensive indifference. Kerr gets more praise for bringing in a new offense that maximizes the talents of Curry and Thompson and the others.

But somewhat overlooked is how much the Warriors' defense has improved. There is an element of luck. David Lee's injury opened the door for the emergence of Draymond Green, the Howlin' Wolf of Defense.

But Kerr and defensive assistant Ron "Professor" Adams put their stamp on the deal. They brought Curry into the defensive mix, and they changed Andre Iguodala's role so that he anchors the second unit's defense and sticks around for late-game crunch time.

But Kerr and Adams also made the defense smoother. I'm not smart enough to explain it all, but somewhere along the line I heard a good analysis of the Warriors' defense, and I'll paraphrase:

On most teams, when one defensive player reacts to the offense, another defensive player will react to Player A, then Player C will react to Player B, and so on. In the Warriors' defense, when it's clicking, all five guys move in one graceful dance.

It's beautiful, and it can be highly suffocating, and it creates the missed shots and turnovers that key the Warriors' fastbreak. They ran the Pelicans silly.

The Warriors came back from 20 points down in the fourth quarter in Game 3 and won in overtime, and Kerr and Walton firmly believe that happened because the Warriors regained a fierce, playoff-level defensive intensity.

That intensity, Kerr and Walton say, is the key to life in the playoffs.

"One hundred percent," Walton said. "One hundred percent. It's the only way, in our opinion, you can win a championship, is to be able to really lock somebody down in those final five minutes of a ballgame."

Curry and Thompson will continue their amazing shooting, Walton said.

"But especially on the road, to win a tough playoff series," Walton said, "you've got to win a road game, and you've got to do that with your defense."

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