OAKLAND, Calif. – Since Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin captivated the Bay Area in the “Run TMC” days of the early 1990s, the Golden State Warriors have been known for scoring a lot of points and giving up even more.
In Mark Jackson’s second season as coach, the Warriors finally have started to change their focus. Golden State (21-10) is off to its best start in more than 20 years entering tonight’s home game against the NBA’s second-best Los Angeles Clippers (25-7), a surprising turnaround that has been propelled largely by defense.
So much so that the Warriors-Clippers matchup – both long-time losers in the Pacific Division – suddenly pits two of the best teams in the Western Conference. The Clippers, who lost 114-110 to Golden State in Los Angeles on Nov. 3, won 17 straight before losing at Denver Tuesday, 92-78.
“It’s 2013,” Warriors forward Carl Landry said with a smile after Tuesday’s practice on New Year’s Day. “It’s a different time.”
In the bold and boisterous tone of a former broadcaster and Brooklyn native, Jackson declared in downtown San Francisco on the day the Warriors hired him that defensive deficiency would no longer be tolerated. He said he was well aware of the fan fascination with the run-and-fun teams of Don Nelson and Keith Smart, though he promised his style would be different.
“Things gone be a changing,” Jackson said on June 10, 2011.
The former New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers point guard never really had a chance to implement his system in his rookie year on the sidelines, not with a roster ravaged by injuries and the season shortened to 66 games because of the labor lockout. Over the summer, new Warriors general manager Bob Myers acquired veterans such as Landry and Jarrett Jack along with a trio of rookies – Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli and Draymond Green – who have highlighted the kind of heart and hustle Jackson has long preached.
More than a third of the way through the season, the results are starting to show.
The Warriors rank third in the league in rebounding differential (plus-4.19) and fourth in average opponents’ field-goal percentage (42.9 percent) per game. They were 28th and 20th, respectively, in those categories while finishing 23-43 last season.
“You can’t just wake up and be an elite defensive team. But the more you preach it, the more you hear that message, it shows in how we practice in training camp, how we watch film and study the game,” said point guard Stephen Curry, who has become a surprising pest on defense. “All that comes into the process of becoming a better team. We still have more ways we can improve. But we are a hundred times better defensively than we were last year, and that’s why our record reflects that. We just have to stick to it.”
Jackson believes players started to embrace his approach once they realized the previous ways didn’t translate into wins. Golden State is 19-2 when outrebounding an opponent, and 6-1 when holding teams below 40 percent shooting.
Golden State finished December with a 12-4 record, including a 6-1 road trip highlighted by a win at the defending champion Miami Heat, and won at least 20 games before New Year’s Day for the first time since 1980.