Warriors lean on defense, stability in title bid 

click to enlarge Golden State Warriors center Festus Ezeli, bottom, and Houston Rockets forward Terrence Jones look for the call during the second half of Game 5 of the NBA basketball Western Conference finals in Oakland, Calif., Wednesday, May 27, 2015. - BEN MARGOT/AP PHOTO
  • Ben Margot/AP Photo
  • Golden State Warriors center Festus Ezeli, bottom, and Houston Rockets forward Terrence Jones look for the call during the second half of Game 5 of the NBA basketball Western Conference finals in Oakland, Calif., Wednesday, May 27, 2015.

Sure, the Splash Brothers, by and large, may often get the headlines. Understandably, and quite literally, given the respective head injuries suffered by both Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in the last week.

But underlying the Warriors success is a larger malleability — and the organization's patience to watch its roster blossom — which has been on full display throughout these playoffs. It remains ever-important given the uncertainty ahead of the NBA Finals on Thursday night.

While Thompson's status for Game 1 is unknown with a concussion, the team can fall back on their often-overlooked defensive skills, a sum of its collective parts which just as easily could have been disassembled over the course of the last 12 months.

Right, Harrison Barnes?

"Phew, actually the last two years," Barnes said after a light team workout on Friday morning. "There had been all types of talk — 'Are we going to do this, going to do that?' Obviously, you want to thank ownership for keeping it together. We knew we had something special. It's good to be able to get to this point with the same group we started with."

Indeed, recent anecdotes of what the group has accomplished remain fresh: James Harden's 13 turnovers and two field goals in Game 5. Andrew Bogut-on-Tony Allen in Game 4 against Memphis. Marc Gasol's 7-of-23 shooting performance in Game 6 of the conference semifinals.

But a deeper look offers a greater reminder. The Warriors led the league in opponents field goal percentage (42.8 percent) and defensive efficiency (98.2 points allowed per 100 possessions) in the regular season. They followed these trends by leading all West teams in opponents field goal percentage on shots within five feet of the rim (53.0 percent, second to the Chicago Bulls in the league).

Much of that starts with head coach Steve Kerr and assistants Ron Adam and Alvin Gentry. And in the longer view, plenty more could be attributed to general manager Bob Myers and upper management for the team's ultimate synergy. Namely, refusing to include Thompson in a trade for Kevin Love. Drafting Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli. Keeping Bogut. Inserting Barnes and Green into the starting five for Andre Iguodala and David Lee.

"It's special," Barnes said. "It was crazy to look out on the court [in Game 5] and see me, Festus, and Draymond there. To know we were all drafted, and that this is the only environment we know, I think it brings us very close together."

Of course, aside from patience, game plans and adjustments, the confidence of a coach goes a long way, too, as Barnes relayed about his first conversation with Kerr upon taking the job.

"It might sound crazy, but I think we have potential to be in [The Finals]'" Barnes said of his coach's words. I thought, 'Well, that's very optimistic thinking.' But you start believing in it, see the success early on ... and here we are. It's like, that guy's pretty smart, he knows what he's talking about."

In spite of the recent wear and tear, in spite of a roster with no NBA Finals experience, the Warriors have tenure and defensive success to lean on. Not to mention that of Kerr himself, who knows the championship grind well.

"Once the game starts, everything's the same," Kerr said. "But practicing in Oracle once the series starts, the difference in media and commitments, the distractions that come with everyone wanting tickets. ... Subtle differences [such as] a 9 p.m. game in Cleveland, all these [are different things] to prepare for. But in the end, you still tip it up."

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Jack Ross

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