By JARED COWLEY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
It’s early, so I’m not going to make any predictions for this Warriors team after three games. I’ll leave that to the fans. But, the Warriors have been very impressive to start the season, much better than I expected. Much better than most expected.
I was interested to see how the Warriors would play Wednesday night against the Knicks. Their performance against the Bulls on Monday was inspiring stuff, with defense the catalyst for an impressive win in which the Warriors made reigning MVP Derrick Rose look bad. The reason for doubt was found in the Warriors’ history. The past few seasons, this Warriors team has had random games where they pieced together a complete game on defense. Stringing together consecutive games with defense as the centerpiece? That’s something the Warriors simply didn’t do.
Until Wednesday night.
Mark Jackson is proving to be a man of his word. He came in preaching defense and unlike Keith Smart last season, he’s backing it up. Through the first three games, Jackson is showing that he’s not going to mess around — if you don’t play defense, you sit. He’s giving major minutes to players who defend first. Look at the allocation of playing time in Wednesday’s win against New York: Dorell Wright (42 minutes), Brandon Rush (26), Dominic McGuire (18), Ekpe Udoh (13), Kwame Brown (12). What’s the common thread? Defense. Rebounding. Effort. That’s what those players are known for. Wright’s stat line looks terrible — eight points on 3 of 8 shooting, eight rebounds, two assists. But it doesn’t matter. Wright’s defense on Wednesday was fantastic. It’s no surprise his plus-minus for the game was +15. Rush had a great game on offense, but it was his defense in the third quarter — with help from Brown, Udoh and Wright — that turned the momentum over to the Warriors.
Some other players getting major minutes, like Monta Ellis (34) and David Lee (39), were nightly offenders last season as indifferent defenders. Jackson knows he has to have those two out there for their offense. But he also knows that if they’re surrounded by high-energy, defensive-minded players, they’ll hitch a ride on that wagon. Wednesday night, both players were trying hard on defense. Defense is contagious.
Another difference in this Warriors team? They rebound. Against the Knicks Wednesday, the Warriors should have struggled to match New York in the rebounding department. The Knicks had size, talent and athleticism (Tyson Chandler, Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony) that the Warriors couldn’t match. At least that’s what it looked like on paper. But rebounding is all about effort. OK, it’s also about technique and angles and positioning, but it’s mostly about effort. The Warriors outhustled and outphysicaled the Knicks and that’s why they won the rebound battle, 47-31. In three games this season, the Warriors have won the boards twice (they also outrebounded the Clippers).
The Warriors are 2-1. They’re giving up 91.3 points per game. They’re holding opponents to 42.5 percent shooting.
Can the Warriors keep it up? I don’t know the answer to that question. But I know I’m impressed by what I’ve seen so far.