In an NBA where scoring, 3-pointers and offensive explosions are perhaps more fashionable than ever, defense is somewhat in the background… until the Playoffs. Because once again, we see this year that the teams that go far are those who know how to defend their basket effectively. The 2022 NBA Finals poster is the best proof of this.
The saying “Defense wins championships” is not dead, far from it. If this expression is somewhere incomplete given that it is obviously also necessary to know how to score baskets in attack to hope to win an NBA title, there is still a lot of truth in this cliché. Even in 2022. While we live in an era where the show and the points take precedence over the rest, we simply find the two best defenses in the League this season in the NBA Finals: Boston and Golden State. The Celtics and Warriors actually finished in the first two places in defensive efficiency, which is the benchmark stat for judging the real level of a defense. The Greens allowed 106.2 points per 100 possessions in the regular season, while the Dubs held their opponents to 106.6 points per 100 possessions. Nobody did better in the NBA in 2021-22 and it allowed both teams to finish their campaign on the conference podium with more than 50 victories on the clock, despite not really elite attacks (9th efficiency attack offense for Boston, 16th for Golden State). In Beantown as in the San Francisco Bay Area, we built our success on extremely solid defensive foundations which today allow both teams to go far in the Playoffs, where the game usually tends to slow down and where the referees often leave more room for physical impact.
With the evolution of the rules in favor of attack, the 3-point revolution, the rise of analytics, and generally an NBA that has become more and more offensive over the last decade, we can say that the defense is no longer as important as it used to be to hope for a title. Because even if the NBA has changed a few small parts of its rules this year to restore some power to the defense, the room for maneuver has been greatly reduced for defenders as the seasons go by. During the 2000s, it was quite rare to see a team go to the NBA Finals without being in the top ten defenses of the regular (between 2000 and 2009, only 2 of the 20 finalist teams were not in the Top-10 in defense). During the 2010 decade, it was much more frequent (6/20). But in the end, thehe Celtics and Warriors are here today to show that defense is still a big key to successno matter how the Great League has evolved.
Boston has within it the Defender of the Year in the person of Marcus Smart and solid or even very solid players (Robert Williams III, Al Horford, Grant Williams, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Derrick White) on each of the positions. It’s a real ordeal to attack on the… Greens, who mix versatility, physical impact and intelligence. So ask Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving what it’s like to play Boston defense. Ask Giannis or the Heat players how exhausting it is to face these guys. They will explain everything very well. As for the Dubs, Draymond Green is obviously a reference in his own half of the field, he who is there to guide his friends with each possession in order to leave a minimum of openings for opposing attacks. At his side we find an excellent Andrew Wiggins who was not afraid to stick Luka Doncic in one-on-one during the Conference Finals, with brilliance and more. Of course, we also saw Kevon Looney do a remarkable job both under the panels and when he had to switch to opposing backs, proof of the man’s versatility. And behind these basic men, we find a solid collective in which were able to shine in particular Gary Payton II and even Stephen Curry, solid in his own half of the field. Even if Golden State has clearly raised its level of play offensively in these Playoffs compared to the regular season and the defense has slightly lost efficiency, this ability to be united to defend its basket remains an essential component of the success of the Warriors, and this has been the case since the start of the dynasty in the mid-2010s.
It’s hard to say today who Boston or Golden State will end up NBA champion, but we can already say that one of the two best defensive teams of the season will win the title in mid-June. The opportunity to remind everyone that defense is always the basis of success, even in the current NBA.