Golden State's Defense Has Been the Key to the NBA Finals

The Warriors have stopped the Cavaliers' march towards an NBA Championship, and they are doing it with their defense.

There are so many storylines when it comes to the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors.

Way down on the list about 15 to 20 bullet points deep is their defense. However, that attribute has skyrocketed to one of the top stories of these NBA Finals, and it might be the thing that wins Golden State their second title in as many seasons.

In Game 2, the Cavaliers opened the second quarter with a 6-3 run to lead the Warriors by 6 points with roughly 10 minutes to go before halftime. For the next 34 minutes, the Warriors’ defense limited the Cavaliers to only 49 points. After only allowing 89 points in Game 1 and 77 in Game 2, the Warriors have a Defensive Rating in the NBA Finals of 85.1. For context, the San Antonio Spurs' mark of 99.0 led the NBA this season.

The Warriors are doing this several different ways, but what is obvious after two games is that Cleveland’s offensive success has been halted.

Defensive Switching

Switching has been very helpful to the Dubs when they go small. Their athleticism on defense against opposing small lineups is giving the Cavaliers a look they have not seen all playoffs.

That lineup in the video is without Stephen Curry. With Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala in the game for Andrew Bogut and Curry, that small lineup with Draymond Green at center owns a Net Rating of 27.1 this postseason.

After posting the best Offensive Rating of any team in the 2016 regular season (114.5), the Warriors have maintained an Offensive Rating of 112 in the postseason, compared to the Cavs at 115.5.

However, the Warriors' Defensive Rating is the real story. Look where it was during last year's playoffs.

2015 Playoffs Games Offensive Rating (Rank)Defensive Rating (Rank)
Warriors 21 108.7 (1st) 100.5 (1st)
Clippers 14 108.4 (2nd) 107.1 (9th)
Mavericks 9 107.9 (3rd) 112.0 (14th)
Spurs 7 107.8 (4th) 107.3 (10th)
Cavaliers 20 107.4 (5th) 103.1 (4th)

Only the Warriors and Cavs ranked inside the top five in both Offenisve Rating and Defensive Rating. This year?

2016 Playoffs Games Offensive Rating (Rank) Defensive Rating (Rank)
Cavaliers 16 115.5 (1st) 106.5 (9th)
Warriors 19 112.0 (2nd) 103.6 (4th)
Thunder 18 111.8 (3rd) 106.2 (8th)
Spurs 10 111.1 (4th) 101.2 (2nd)
Pistons 4 109.4 (5th) 119.2 (15th)

Only the Warriors and Spurs are top-five in both, and the Cavs' Defensive Rating pales in comparison to their Offensive Rating, which has been rendered irrelevant given that Golden State has held the Cavs' Big Three to an Effective Field Goal Percentage of just 41.3% through two games in the NBA Finals.

Andre Iguodala

Last season, Iguodala was critical on both ends of the court. On one end, he was the adjustment the Warriors needed to keep LeBron James from single-handedly winning games. He didn’t succeed in that every time, but he was solid on defense and did his part on offense as well.

He has only scored 19 points in the first two games of the series, but his defense has been ramped up to maximum output on James in the first two games.

Ethan Strauss at ESPN broke down how Iguodala shut down James at the end of Game 2. Strauss also pointed out that James is shooting 40 percent and has a plus/minus of -41 with Iguodala on the court.

Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut

Iguodala’s Defensive Rating for the playoffs of 106 isn’t even the best or second-best on his team.

Green has a Defensive Rating of 99, and Bogut’s is 96. Among players who have played at least 300 minutes in the 2016 playoffs, that ranks them third and first, respectively.

Bogut had four blocks in the first eight minutes of Game 2, and three of them came in a span of only five Cavaliers possessions. Even though his minutes have been limited in the first two games of this series, Bogut is still very effective on defense when the Warriors need to play big.

Sure, Golden State's offense is still playing a crucial role, but the fact that the Cavs haven't cracked 90 points in a game means the Warriors’ defense needs to be talked about a lot more.