Against Celtics, Curry overshadowed Warriors' 'playoff-caliber defense'

Monte Poole
NBC Sports BayArea

OAKLAND -- Eclipsed by Stephen Curry's 49-point masterpiece in the win over Boston the other day was a reminder that the Warriors still have the capacity to summon the primary element needed to repeat as NBA champs.

They played tremendous defense, ferocious defense, at a level coach Steve Kerr has been urging all season but has received only sporadically.

There were questions about whether they still could summon it, and doing so on a big stage allowed assistant coach Ron Adams to exhale and send a smile creeping across his face.

"I'm glad that we played at a high level in that game, defensively, because we have been in a defensive lull for a couple weeks," Adams said in an interview with NBC Sports Bay Area. "Our numbers have not been good, so rising to the occasion was important for us."

The Warriors, who have been a top-5 defense four seasons running, were at one point last month behind the Rockets in defensive rating. Then, turning up when Curry went down an ankle injury, briefly rose to No. 1 and were at No. 2 as late as early January.

As they embark on a three-game road trip beginning Tuesday night in Utah, they're at No. 5, with a rating of 103.3 as proof of the slippage cited by Adams.

But there it was Saturday, defense on demand. After getting through a first quarter in which Boston shot 61.9 percent, the Warriors limited the Celtics to 37.5 percent over the final three quarters and outscored them 82-68. The switching on defense was precise and balletic, and they went after the ball like a school of piranha.

It started with the unit that opened the second quarter: Shaun Livingston, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant and David West. By forcing three turnovers and five missed shots, they wiped out a 10-point deficit in little more than three minutes to pull the Warriors into a 37-37 tie.

"We knew we had to get a couple stops in a row to break the flow they had," West said.

"That unit has found a defensive identity, with a thrust offensively, so even when we're not making shots, we're trying to get stops," Iguodala said.

That mentality was contagious. The Warriors held Boston to 17 points on 30-percent shooting in the second quarter, while forcing six turnovers -- then limited the Celtics to 31.6-percent shooting in third quarter with another five giveaways.

Outrebounded 12-5 in the first quarter, the Warriors managed a 38-33 advantage on the glass over the final three.

"I liked our defense because we were really, really aggressive," Adams said. "We got into the ball well, challenged shots well and did a better job of picking up rebounds.

"It was playoff-caliber defense, and we haven't approached that a lot this year. We're building toward that, and Steve has confidence that we will be there as the season winds down. But it was good to see in that game."

It's the kind of game that might precipitate another stretch of lockdown defense and forced turnovers, as the Warriors exhibited over the 11 games Curry missed last month, posting an astonishing 97.7 defensive rating.

That, though, might not be realistic. It's natural for players to have heightened levels of awareness when facing a legitimate contender such as Boston, just as it's natural to not always have it when facing Utah on Tuesday or Sacramento on Friday or Denver on Saturday.

Therein lies the issue. It's asking a lot of a team that has played into June three successive seasons to consistently "flip a switch" in the regular season,

"In an 82-game regular season, it's tough," Iguodala said. "But with playoffs basketball, we've got to have that every night. And I think we expect ourselves to have it every night.

"I'm confident that we can, but we have to have the mentality to do it and not play with the switch."

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