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How Warriors built NBA's top defense

It wasn't long ago that defensive ineptitude was a depraved aspect of the Golden State Warriors' appeal. Sure, they wouldn't win during the decade and a half Chris Cohan was the owner, but they'd entertain customers as the Showtime version of the Washington Generals, a harmless farce of a team that revved the pace, scored cheap baskets in transition and propped up the opponent's attack like a pro wrestler complicit in his own humiliation. Running fast meant more points, with the empty stats glossing the poor product like shiny wax on a rotten apple. This was who the Warriors were; even their occasional playoff teams weren't strong defensively.

Now things are different. The Warriors are one of the best teams in the league, and generally the explanation has been shooting and the Splash Brothers. Less discussed is the scrambling, suffocating amalgam of long limbs flying at ball handlers with the speed of hurricane winds that comprises the best defense, by far, in the NBA -- better than Thibodeau's Bulls, Popovich's Spurs and the improved Bucks, Blazers and Hawks.

The Warriors have been first in defensive rating from the day their season started -- a 98-day streak that's still going. The offense fits the vibe, makes the highlights and gets the publicity, but it's the defense that has people thinking about titles.

How they got it here is no accident.


Part 1: Switching gears

"It doesn't just happen," assistant GM Travis Schlenk said of Golden State's defensive success. "When you look at the guys, other than Andre [Iguodala] and Shaun [Livingston], they're all guys we've drafted. We've made a focal point from when I came on the front office side. The guys we've looked to draft have all been long."

The Warriors are now leveraging that length with their own particular style.

The great defenses of the recent past had their defining features. Roy Hibbert was literally a giant reason the Pacers so infrequently had to apply help defense. Tom Thibodeau's teams flooded the strong side, taking advantage of the new rules and changing the game forever. The Warriors make their mark by taking switching -- the act of trading defensive assignments once screened -- to a new, extreme level.

While switching has much support in the analytics community, conventional basketball wisdom has frowned on the practice. This divide was well-illustrated in Mark Cuban's public argument with the anti-switch crowd at "Inside the NBA."

Switching has its flaws, depending on roster and scheme, but this argument could be about something deeper: Switching is subversive. The strategy is yet another assault on the belief that our five codified basketball positions and their attached roles actually matter. If a guard can defend a power forward and a power forward can defend a guard, then what do these categories even mean?

For the Warriors, positions mean so little on defense because they've built a roster comprised of guys the same size. The players and coaches call it "versatility," a common set of qualities that allows the team to constantly switch on and off the ball. With Iguodala, Livingston, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes and Justin Holiday, Golden State has a half-dozen long, defensively talented players who stand between 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-8. That height range is perfect for navigating between marking little guys and grappling with big men. For example, Green typically guards power forwards, but he can stop Chris Paul in a pinch.

The interchangeability of the resistance flusters offenses. Screen Iguodala, and here comes Thompson, who happens to be the exact same height. Screen Thompson, and here comes Green, who happens to be the exact same height. Golden State's defense is like the T-1000 Terminator villain who casually regenerates whatever body parts you blast off his corpus.

There's a fluidity to the assault on offenses. "Sometimes we just freestyle a little bit, freestyle within what coach will allow us to do," Green said of their switching tactics. Yes, there are rules; some decisions are dictated by what's left on the shot clock. But the Warriors also attack with intuition and improvisation. Make no mistake: It is an attack. Because many of their switches don't qualify as strategic concessions, they're pursued aggressively, in a blitzing fashion.

The dizzying effect of the freewheeling style has resulted in some terrible shooting nights for the opposition. It took 27 games before the Warriors finally allowed a team to get to 50 percent from the field.

That was a night Golden State was without the services of Andrew Bogut, whose arrival from Milwaukee three years ago marked the unofficial start of this franchise overall.


Part 2: The big trade

A big decision loomed in March 2012. Joe Lacob had officially purchased the Warriors three months earlier, but no big change was obvious from the outside. The Warriors were still oft-injured, still irrelevant and still awful on defense.

Then came an opportunity -- in the form of one massive Australian -- to shift everything.

"If we're ever going to take our shot here," Joe's son, assistant general manager Kirk Lacob, said, "this is our shot."

The deal, centered around swapping lightning-rod guard Monta Ellis for Bogut, a hulking center, had been brewing for about a year, with former general manager Larry Riley leading the trade talks. When Bob Myers, Riley's assistant GM, was given the reins, he kept the project going. As with many NBA trades, there was a lengthy buildup behind the culmination. Still, there was anxiety over finally taking the plunge.

"Do you really want to do this?" Joe Lacob asked his braintrust one fateful day in what is now Myers' office at the practice facility. There was some surprise in the room, as all the momentum had been behind getting a deal done. Basketball ops was heavily behind the decision.

Lacob wasn't pulling out of the deal or insinuating his employees should change course. He just wanted to test his team, wanted them to stick up for what they believed to be the right move. And they did.

Ellis was the franchise face, the guy Warriors PR pushed for All-Star bids and the kind of gifted, high-volume gunner who had long defined Warriors basketball. Bogut, on the other hand, was not only not all that exciting but also out for that season with a fractured ankle. There would be no immediate reward, no win at the news conference.

Joe Lacob was warned about that before the deal went down. The decision would come from the Warriors as a collective, but he would wear the shame of a lost season. He was the one always courtside, always caught up in the action, accidentally creating GIFs. Golden State would be bad -- bad enough to eventually keep a top-seven protected pick that became Barnes.

The nadir came when Lacob infamously introduced Chris Mullin at Mullin's number retirement ceremony. In part because of the trade and the ensuing losses, the crowd drowned Lacob out with a flood of boos, which led to Rick Barry's snatching the mic and heckling back. The fan base had little trust in better days ahead, and who could fault their pessimism?

But the move -- which also sent away Ekpe Udoh and Kwame Brown, and brought back Stephen Jackson -- did change things, even before Bogut was integrated into the rotation. In Mark Jackson's second season as head coach, his assistant coaches deliberated over which pick-and-roll scheme to choose. Udoh, a nimble defender before a slew of injuries, was incredibly skilled at "showing" on pick-and-rolls, the coverage on which a big races out to divert the ball handler and, theoretically, give his screened teammate time to recover. With Udoh gone and Bogut arriving, the Warriors had to consider the efficacy of continuing with a coverage that might no longer suit their roster.

Mike Malone favored the "show" approach Golden State had leaned on for years. Darren Erman favored the "ice" style of coverage popularized by Thibodeau. In that scheme, a guard gets between the screen and ball handler as the big man drops toward the baseline, thereby forming a pocket of containment around the man with the ball.

Jackson, who had far from an ideal relationship with Malone, sided with the younger assistant and the newer model for defensive success. It was an approach especially beneficial to Bogut, who isn't best used as a guy who chases little guys around the 3-point line.

Of Erman's tenure, which ended in dismissal, Bogut recalled, "[Erman] was a big advocate on sending guys off pick-and-rolls and, to me, funneling to the basket. He was probably No. 1 pusher of that, as far as assistant coaches went. He saw my value there."

The Warriors went from 27th to 13th on defense with the new scheme and hamstrung Denver's offense in the playoffs, in large part because of Bogut's rim protection. Golden State continues to funnel terrified dribblers toward the Aussie. So far this season, Bogut is holding opponents to an incredibly low 41.7 percent shooting mark at the rim.


Part 3: The new market inefficiency

Bogut is important for Golden State, but consider what happened in his absence. On the early December night when he hurt his knee against Minnesota, the Warriors had the top-ranked defense. In the month Bogut was gone, the Warriors still outperformed all other defenses. They were better defensively with the help of their premier rim protector, but his time off demonstrated a defense isn't defined by just rim protection.

Part of the reason is big man defense is so outrageously pricey. Shot-blocking is a scarce, expensive resource in the NBA, as evidenced by Bogut's handsome, $12.9 million salary. With few notable exceptions (Rudy Gobert), you're not getting that on the cheap.

Wing defense is another matter. It's more abstract, harder to measure and harder to price. The Warriors have six players -- Iguodala, Thompson, Green, Barnes, Livingston and Holiday -- who could be the best perimeter defender on another team, and those six include one they scooped up after stints in Hungary and Belgium and pay less than the median San Francisco home price.

"Justin Holiday over there," Myers said with a motion toward the former D-League and Adriatic League baller who was swishing free throws again after practice. "Kirk [Lacob] has seen him play much more than I have. I saw him in training camp and things like that, but he's seen him play 25 times in the D-League. His opinion should have weight in that capacity, and it does. So that's just logical, rational thinking."

Holiday has done well for the Warriors, hitting the occasional open shot and supplementing all those switches. Many other teams could have gotten him before he wound up in Golden State's D-League system. That the Warriors were able to nab a smart, long, perimeter defensive talent off the discard heap illustrates a market inefficiency: Defensive wings can be found.

Kirk Lacob is an Oakland A's fan who was weaned on Billy Beane's quest for finding blind spots in the market. Lacob will comfortably acknowledge that wing defense is one from which the Warriors have benefitted. You just need to find it and cultivate it.


Part 4: The defensive specialist

"Oh God, I was so tired," Myers recalled. "It is the hardest thing I've done, maybe professionally. It was like trying to climb a mountain, a mountain made out of quicksand -- just being pushed down every second."

He's talking about the dumping of Andris Biedrins' onerous contract on Utah in the 2013 offseason, which on its face doesn't exactly sound like ascending an Everest that eats people. The trade was important, however. While Golden State grabbed headlines by visibly entering the Dwight Howard free-agency sweepstakes, the extra salary space they created helped facilitate the acquisition of Iguodala.

"For many days and nights it was on life support. I'd say to [my wife], the worst thing is we spend so many hours on this, and it's just not going to get it done."

GM Bob Myers on the Warriors' acquisition of Andre Iguodala

"We actually had made the deal with Iguodala even prior to Dwight making his decision," Myers said. "A lot of people assumed we were waiting on Dwight, and that was done, even before Dwight had decided."

Concurrently, the Warriors had worked hard to get Iguodala, an elite perimeter defender who could help them more than compensate for Jarrett Jack's departure.

"For many days and nights it was on life support," Myers said. "I'd say to [my wife], the worst thing is we spend so many hours on this, and it's just not going to get it done."

By the time of the news conference confirming Iguodala's addition to Golden State's roster, Myers was looking notably scruffy and exhausted -- a departure for the fastidious former agent.

The deal with the Jazz might have had elements of crafty arbitrage. Two of the picks the Warriors traded away were unprotected first-rounders (2014, 2017), something teams are loath to part with. The Warriors gambled that they'd stay out of the lottery.

So far, they've been right. With Iguodala in tow, the Warriors leapt from 13th on defense to third in 2013-14, which helped the veteran wing nab his first First Team All-Defense selection in the process. Iguodala brought an important knack for shielding passing lanes and allowing Thompson to shade guards from the middle of the floor.


Part 5: The collective and Klay

For big decisions, the Warriors prefer a collective approach. The core figures are the Lacobs (Joe and Kirk), Myers, assistant GM Travis Schlenk, Hall of Fame consultant Jerry West and now, head coach Steve Kerr. Although Joe Lacob has the final word and Myers has the authority to veto whatever his basketball operations team suggests, the plan is to canvass everyone for information. There's an almost monastic desire to subvert ego in this process. Or, as Myers frames it with his favorite John Wooden quote, "It is amazing how much can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit."

This collective process looked rather foolish this past summer, when summer league was abuzz over how crazy Golden State was for overvaluing Thompson in trade talks for Kevin Love. A few months later, that non-trade plus the subsequent extension for Thompson is looking like a massive win. They retained a rising star and also broadened the role of Green, a defensive ace.

The Bogut trade was the expression of a broad, internal consensus. The Love versus Thompson decision was tougher. Warriors management would prefer to portray the decision as one easily made, for obvious reasons, but there were people in the organization who wanted Love, for equally obvious reasons.

West and Kerr were among the voices in favor of keeping Thompson, according to sources. When asked last week if he felt validated by the choice, Kerr said the organization should feel validated for its decision-making process. As evidence of Thompson's misuse, West would cite how the Warriors were last in the league in passes last season. Thompson has since flourished in this year's ball movement-friendly system.

The braintrust had to come together in the end, regardless of how they felt about the nontrade. Once a decision is final, it's shared. The core's ability to stay cohesive after tough choices matters more than any particular decision -- or so the thinking goes.

"It's a completely free environment, but once a decision's been made, it's our decision," Schlenk said. "And that's what's most important, that everyone stays together collectively. Like, the people who were on one side of the Klay thing don't go around saying, 'I told ya, I told ya.'"

Ego is the enemy in so many aspects of how the team operates. Perhaps it's all too tidy, but the philosophy is that subverting ego off the court can inform similar behaviors on it.


Part 6: The guru

There are no official defensive coordinators in the NBA. Only people who do the job without the title. The Warriors' is sometimes called "the guru."

With a coaching career dating back to the Lyndon B. Johnson administration, Ron Adams, 67, has earned his place as Oracle's resident oracle. Kerr values his wisdom to the point that he decided against fouling when the Warriors were down a point with 25 seconds to go in Portland because Adams said so. Instead, the Warriors executed a perfect sideline trap on Wesley Matthews, who coughed up the ball before it squirted out of bounds. Golden State closed the victory with a Thompson fallaway. Another win for the sage.

It's not just his experience but also his countenance. Adams pauses for impossible lengths between words, with messages that slowly unfurl into koans. The day of my first conversation with Adams, he had a friend, a retired gestalt therapist, visiting practice. Nobody was surprised Adams is friends with a practitioner of gestalt therapy or that he maintains an interest in that particular niche. Adams is a former right-hand man of Thibodeau, whose reputation is that of a grinder, someone whose universe is only basketball. Adams couldn't be further from that hoops archetype. He's almost a caricature of the coach-as-intellectual, a thinker whose academic pursuits inform his hoops.

Gestalt's overarching principle is the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. You can see how this philosophy might appeal to a man devoted to defense. On what he's enjoying this season, Adams said, "The fun thing, the real fun thing is watching a group defensively become connected and work in concert. That's kind of the poetry of it."

Adams knows a thing or two about poetry too. "I'm a poor writer of poetry, but I like doing it when I have time," he said. "It brings about a certain peace when you write and you can express your thoughts in ways you don't always in conversation."

He sounded like a man describing his poems when he said, "It's just flow. It's just free verse. I'll be writing, and I'll categorize some stuff if there's a pattern. I'll try to find a pattern." Instead he's referring to his in-game charting of Golden State's success rates for different components of defense. "I don't want to fool myself in terms of what's happening during the game."

Few would dispute Adams' "eye test," but he wants his perception tethered to something tangible.

Adams is unusual in this particular ecosystem. He'd be a nebbish, save for the massive respect he commands in a world of jocks. He draws on history in his inspirational speeches to the team, quoting Michelangelo while pronouncing the name with proper Italian inflection -- to some teasing by his fellow coaches. He seems of the lecture halls a couple miles north in Berkeley, not of the NBA.

"The fun thing, the real fun thing is watching a group defensively become connected and work in concert. That's kind of the poetry of it."

Warriors defensive "guru" Ron Adams

Maybe he is indeed a professor, just in this particular realm. He was constantly in office hours earlier this season, often with a laptop in hand, talking to players, using game film as his textbook. He's obsessed with improving the people in his life and believes improvement to be its own edifying force.

"I think it's the most invigorating thing in life, if you feel like you're growing," he said. "You read a book. How do you feel after you read a book? You feel great. Look at what I learned."

Adams then makes a very Adams pivot, analogizing player development to a podcast that investigates the meaning of existence. "If you listen to 'On Being' with Krista Tippett, like I do. I love that show, and I go away, and I'm just amazed at how little I know and how challenged I was by listening to a dialogue between two people on a relevant topic. That's the nature of life, and it should excite everyone. I think that we as coaches, you try to get people excited about that. Not that show necessarily, but I'm talking about growing and expanding. That's the fun thing of life, and it doesn't have to be sport. It can be so many different areas in which young people can just get a sense of growing and learning and developing. There's nothing more exciting than that."

Although he reads the work of theologians from various faiths, he sounds most religious when evangelizing for improvement itself. The impossible pursuit of perfection is a centering force in his life. He even seeks it in his hobbies. "So I play tennis, I like tennis," Adams said in his way of starting with a non sequitur and building context on top of it. "I love going down there. There's two very nice hitting walls down by my house. So a great source of joy for me is to go down and hit against that board and try to perfect my strokes. And when I leave that board -- and the board always wins -- when I leave that board I have a great sense of well being."

I ask if it's difficult for him to transcend cultural differences when coaching -- it's my clumsy way of inquiring how an older, white gentleman connects with younger, black men. Adams is steadfast in believing the differences to be no great hurdle. In his view, the yen to improve is its own language, and those who speak it bond.

"I think from day one, I've always had good success with people who are vision-driven, who enjoy the joy of the game," he said. "The joy of the game is still working on your game in a meaningful manner and growing and walking off the floor and knowing that today you and I grew at whatever we're doing."

Who's improving these days? "I take great delight out of seeing a guy like David Lee, who I think is really growing defensively," Adams said before adding, "Steph has grown tremendously, defensively."

Lee's progress has been easy to miss because his season was marred by injury. He also now comes off the bench. It's there, though. It took him 292 minutes of playing time to claim half as many blocks as he swatted in all his 2,288 minutes last season. He has credited Adams for the help.

Curry, whose poor defensive reputation is now a myth, has also credited Adams for his advice on that end of the floor. He's third among point guards in defensive real plus-minus and first in steals among all players. Last season, the Warriors sought to hide Curry on the offensively inept. This season, he's more than a defensive asset.

"A lot of our steals are coming simply by good hands," Adams said. "Steph, for example, has really gotten skilled on the ball, anticipating passes -- we call it sticking the ball. He's really developed kind of a feel for that." Curry's hands are fast, which is why he boasts one of the quickest triggers on his shot release. Now, he's using those fast hands to bedevil offenses as well as defenses.

For all the compliments Curry and Lee draw from Adams, there's another player, who might win defensive player of the year, drawing the most praise from the coaching staff when it comes to defensive prowess.


Part 7: The natural

Draymond Green began his Warriors career backing up Jeremy Tyler in summer-league games. Little more than two years later, Jeff Van Gundy is proclaiming Green an All-Star candidate and max contract-level player.

Green now epitomizes Golden State's defense as someone who tenaciously switches onto anybody and challenges jumpers viciously. As of Tuesday, the Warriors led all teams with 17 blocked 3-pointers, of which Green has swatted seven -- more than twice the amount of Cleveland's entire roster (three) and as many as Anthony Davis. At this point, it's not a stretch to say he's gone from the second round to Golden State's best defensive player.

It's easy to forget Green wasn't projected as someone who would frustrate guys such as Blake Griffin. Believed to be too small to play power forward, he spent his time almost exclusively as a wing as a rookie. It came as a shock to the coaches when, in a 2012 game against the Timberwolves, Green effectively stoned a Kevin Love post-up in crunch time.

Based on draft analysts' predictions, Green's career has been remarkable. After a brilliant defensive performance against Dallas, Green told me what he recalled from those projections. "They said I fell in the draft because, 'What position would I guard?' I'll never forget that."

He's not making it up. Draftniks and teams didn't quite know what to make of a guy standing 6-foot-5.75 in socks, with regular-person body fat, who rarely created his own shot. He was a classic "tweener," stuck somewhere between a big man and a guard -- except he's somehow learned enough to transition from in-between to a one-size-fits-all. It's a rare player who can swipe Chris Paul and swat Dirk Nowitzki.

"Experience is the greatest teacher," Green likes to say, a phrase that applies to him more than most. His intelligence was obvious to coaches from the outset, back when he was backing up an overmatched Tyler. Erman recalls sitting down for an early summer-league film session with Green and eventually telling the rookie, "I shouldn't be showing film to you. You should be showing film to me."

Green has shown coaches a lot over his short career -- even as a rookie, he'd speak up in walkthroughs if he knew a scheme better than the guy coaching it. He says coaches can't see everything, often because they're roughly 50 feet from the play.

"The one thing I've been blessed with is to play for coaches who take opinions from their players," Green said. "Coaches understand that sometimes when you're playing, you see certain things a little better than what you can see from the bench -- and that's no knock to a coach, any coach. Some things on the court that's going on, you just can't pick up on."

Green can and does pick up on those things, though. That's how he outsmarted the modest path many had envisioned for him. He also feels emboldened to share what he's learning because of Kerr's open approach.

"Coach Kerr's really good about it," he said. "Even if you go through a whole timeout, at the end of the timeout he says, 'Y'all got something for me?'"


Part 8: The renovation(s)

The Warriors could not have maintained so well in Bogut's absence without a little help from an unlikely source. One play in particular epitomizes what I'm talking about. It's a moment of grace under pressure from Mo Speights. Yes, that Mo Speights.

Kyrie Irving was at top speed with Speights in his sights. Poor Mo was in retreat too, churning toward his own hoop as Irving gained. This was, obviously, a less than ideal situation for a big guy rarely touted for his speed. Kyrie Irving on a fastbreak can make nimble defenders look like they just stepped on a wet spot. You had to assume lumbering Speights didn't stand a chance of doing anything better than simply standing.

Then, as Irving picked up his dribble for the layup, something surprising happened. Speights planted his back foot and launched himself backward in concert with Irving's leaping forward. It was like one of those high-school physics experiments where you hurl an egg at a flowing bed sheet. The egg doesn't break because the sheet gives backward with the impact. The longer the time of impact, the less the force. By leaping back instead of forward, Speights was not only obstructing Irving for longer but also keeping him off the free throw line with a less forceful bump.

Gravity relieved Speights of his delicate defense and landed him with the authority of a piano thrown from a window. As that happened, Irving pitched a wild layup. Had the backboard been made from bedsheet, the ball might have banked in. But it wasn't, so the ball fell harmlessly off the front rim. You just didn't see plays such as this from Speights, a veteran of four teams in his six-plus years in the NBA.

How?

"We work on that a lot," Warriors assistant coach Jarron Collins said with a smile. Collins, a former journeyman big man himself, got by more on guile than physical gifts. He played only 34 games for Alvin Gentry's Western Conference finalist Phoenix Suns, but he was the guy entrusted to instruct teammates during game-day walkthroughs. He's a natural teacher.

Suddenly, Collins is jumping in my direction while describing Golden State's verticality drills. Although there is a slight risk he'll accidentally kill me, I must admit, he's selling me on this drill.

This season's Warriors have been obsessive about skill development -- not just for their stars. If Speights can transform himself from one of basketball's most notoriously bad defensive players to competent, that's a tremendous get. The Warriors are hoping to do this across the board -- to supplement an already talented defensive roster with improvements on the margins.


Part 9: The farm system

During garbage time of January's Warriors-Nuggets game, a Santa Cruz hotel roared with cheers. Fresh off the D-League Showcase in that very same city, Golden State officials were celebrating Santa Cruz Warriors alum James Michael McAdoo's first NBA minutes. There's little telling where McAdoo's career goes from here, but he was shockingly fluid on the floor, good enough to get the game ball from Kerr. If the long, athletic, former University of North Carolina forward seemed at ease when thrown into the NBA fire, there's a reason for that.

Highway 17 is the notoriously windy route that connects Santa Cruz to the Bay Area. In a vacuum, it's an indirect expressway, hell to drive in a dank fog. In the NBA landscape, though, an hour's drive between your pro and D-League squad is quite direct and remarkably efficient, actually. It's certainly a much better schlep than back when Golden State's D-League team played in Bismarck, North Dakota.

Like a few teams, the Warriors take advantage of a nearby minor league system, to run the same plays and inculcate call-ups in the ways of the bigger show up the road. This makes the transition easier for players coming from the fringes. If you're bringing Holiday on for his defensive potential, you don't want to deal with his getting lost on defense for a couple months. If you want McAdoo to eagerly hound passing lanes and swat shots upon arrival, it's wise to pour resources into his development. Holiday has helped Golden State maintain defensively when starters take to the bench. It remains to be seen if McAdoo can fill a similar role as a big, but there's much investment and interest in making that happen.


Part 10: The runners

Media and fans ascribe team success to very few actors (Kobe won five rings!) because sports is a TV show that broadcasts only a tiny sliver of itself to millions of people. A sports franchise is a huge operation, though, a traveling circus of people whose job is to help create wins in many an unheralded manner. There is much teamwork behind the scenes that informs the teamwork visible on the court.

Take this bit of basketball jargon from Kerr's news conference after a win over the Indiana Pacers: "Indiana did a great job in the first half of running high screen-and-roll. They were picking on our matchups. We changed our coverage. We started to switch with Mo (Speights) at the end of the first half, which helped. We started the third quarter switching the high screen. It seemed to take them out of rhythm a little bit."

Let's forget about the substance of Kerr's comment for a moment and focus on the process of making a tactical adjustment. The Warriors could have easily missed or ignored the needed adjustment. Such oversights probably happen on certain teams.

In the case of the Indiana game, Golden State's assistant coaches were charting plays, pencil on paper and doing their best to figure out why the Pacers were scoring. This kickstarts the "fireman's brigade," the process of team employees racing charted plays from the bench through the tunnel and back to the locker room for video analysis.

There are rules regarding the use of phones, so the favored approach resembles something like a summer-camp relay race. If you're going to run a race, you need sprinters. Golden State uses strength and conditioning coaches Keke Lyles and Michael Roncarati as runners because they're naturally the fittest on staff. To be clear, many teams have people take plays back to the locker room for halftime video display (often, it's the job of a locker room attendant). The Warriors like to joke about boasting the strongest runners.

On TV, the bench just looks like a bunch of assistant coaches yelling at referees. The reality of their work resembles something more like a frenzied kitchen, pumping out dishes as fast as the waiters can run them to tables. The scribblers and sprinters won't receive public credit for their efforts, but their efforts do help the Warriors win games.


Part 11: The future

Golden State's defensive success was all by design, except not completely. Did the Warriors expect Green to morph into an integral part of the league's best defense? If they did, they wouldn't have waited until the second round to scoop him up.

I asked Thompson if the team expected this level of defense when they drafted him 11th overall in 2011. With a smile, he was succinct and honest: "No. No."

The Warriors deserve praise for drafting players dedicated to improvement. They deserve plaudits for fostering an environment that foments improvement. But they weren't psychic. There was no grand plan or special insight into the secret reason Thompson would punch above every scouting projection of his defensive ability.

There's another way to view the unexpected progress of these players, though, offered by Adams between deep pauses: "You have to look at it from this standpoint. Things are going well. People want to participate. They're tuned in."

I ask if winning is perpetuating. Adams responds in his typically deliberate cadence: "That's what winning does. It fine-tunes people. It opens possibilities for them. They feed off of that momentum."

Success can be its own reward and also its own motivation. As the defense improves, people are finding ways to be part of the improvement. A bunch of players are finally learning what they're truly capable of.

Right now, the Warriors have as much momentum as a flying Speights.