Steinmetz: Warriors keep producing — with defense 

It’s always iffy to begin making sweeping generalizations and bold pronouncements after one playoff game. And yet you’re starting to hear some.

Stephen Jackson has Dirk Nowitzki’s number. Warriors coach Don Nelson is in Avery Johnson’s head. Dallas just can’t match up with the Warriors.

Relax. One 107-91 win by the Mavericks tonight will tone all that down.

Still, some things have become evident recently, and one of them is that the Warriors’ defense has been a huge factor in their success — not only in their 97-85 Game 1 victory over Dallas on Sunday, but also during their regular-season-ending 16-5 run.

That’s right, the Warriors’ defense. And you were under the impression they didn’t play any.

Well, they do. Now, we’re not maintaining the Warriors are a great defensive team or a physical defensive team or even an imposing defensive team. But the fact of the matter is the Warriors now have a defensive identity — a defensive signature, if you will.

Nelson and the Warriors have discovered a way to play at that other end of the floor — the less-exciting end — that can be successful. That hasn’t happened around here in a while.

Over the course of the past few months, the Warriors evolved into a small, aggressive and pestering defensive unit that is an anomaly in the NBA. And because it is so unique, opponents struggle to adjust.

One of the Warriors’ most important defensive statistics is "deflections." Their coaching staff keeps careful track of how many times per game the Warriors get a hand on a pass or poke a ball free.

It is said to be a telltale sign of the team’s defensive activity.

Before the Jan.17 trade with Indiana that netted Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington, the Warriors averaged 22 deflections per game. Since the trade, they’ve averaged 32. Most credit Jackson, the Warriors’ best individual defender since Clifford Robinson.

Jackson has not only guarded his own man better than any other Warrior, he also has made his teammates better defenders — not unlike a point guard on offense who makes those who surround him more effective.

Jackson’s hard-edged and tough-minded defensive approach has rubbed off most on Baron Davis and Jason Richardson. When Jackson arrived on the scene — replacing the more passive Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy — the Warriors were no longer the Warriors as we knew them.

Davis now starts things with pressure on the ball, and Richardson, Monta Ellis and Matt Barnes prepare to swarm. What results is a gambling, frenetic style that often gets opponents out of kilter.

It’s why Golden State led the league in steals and finished third in blocked shots.

The Warriors live with the occasional missed assignment and the consistent beating on the boards because the turnovers they force often make up for those deficiencies.

No, the Warriors aren’t the "Bad Boy" Detroit Pistons of the late 1980s or the San Antonio Spurs of the recent past. But they are a royal pain to play against. And that’s way better than it used to be.

Matt Steinmetz is the NBA insider for Warriors telecasts on Fox Sports Net.

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Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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