OAKLAND -- When the stage is this massive, with an audience numbering deep into the millions, it would seem impossible for the Warriors to maintain a veil of secrecy over their ultimate weapon.
They can’t possibly, don’t even try to, hide the skills of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson et al.
They can’t dream of concealing the most lethal offensive attack in the NBA, one that features particularly remarkable work in transition.
Somehow, though, the Warriors have managed to keep sliding their devastating defense under the radar.
Despite the Warriors being a top-five defensive team five years running, this team’s defense continues to hide in plain sight.
Despite entering these playoffs ranked No. 1 in field-goal-percentage defense for the second time in three years, most of the conversation about the Warriors revolves around Curry’s 3-pointers, Thompson’s scalding shooting spurts and the significance of adding Durant last summer.
As if defense is something played by Green alone.
But Game 1 of The Finals on Thursday was merely the latest exhibition of the Warriors utilizing defense to destroy an opponent. The Cavaliers have been the hottest shooters of these playoffs, firing at 50.7 percent through their first 13 games, and they were utterly iced by the Warriors. The Cavs shot 34.9 percent from the field, their lowest mark of the postseason. Those other than LeBron James or Kyrie Irving shot 25 percent.
“If we have that same defensive effort collectively, we'll be really tough to beat,” Thompson said during a conference call Friday.
No one on the Warriors, not even Green, who was terrific, was better than Thompson, who according to league stats held his man to 1-of-12 shooting.
The most underplayed aspect, however, is the work of Durant and Curry. They carried the offense, combining for 66 points, but they also held tight on defense.
Both guarded multiple positions, with Durant the primary defender on James but also taking turns on Kevin Love and even Tristan Thompson. Curry harassed JR Smith and Deron Williams into costly turnovers.
“Steph took it personal,” Draymond Green said. “His ‘shows’ were great. His defense was amazing. And if he . . . when he takes it personal like that and he accepts the challenge, we're a damn good defensive team.”
The Warriors, as a team, found ways to disrupt and corrupt most everything Cleveland tried to do, from frustrating Love and Smith to rendering Thompson ineffective to making ace sniper Kyle Korver completely disappear.
Keep in mind, this was Cavs coach Tyronn Lue giving most of his minutes to his “offensive” squad, while Iman Shumpert, Thompson and Smith -- decent defenders -- each played fewer than 23 minutes.
“Defensively, you have to tip your hat to them,” said Love, who totaled 15 points on 4-of-13 shooting.
“You’ve got to credit their defense,” Lue said. “That's why they're the number one defensive team.”
Such an effective defensive performance is not unusual for the Warriors and certainly not to these playoffs.
In compiling a 13-0 record, the Warriors have limited opponents to 41.1-percent shooting overall and an adjusted field-goal percentage of 46.3. For the sake of comparison, the No. 2 team in both categories, with figures of 43.7 and 49.4, is Milwaukee, which was ousted in six games in the first round.
In the wake of Game 1, most of the talk centered on Durant’s assertive offense, and how his daredevil dribble-drives to the cup broke down Cleveland’s defense. Much less was said of how much of Durant’s offense was a product of his team’s defense. The Warriors outscored Cleveland 27-8 in fast-break points, and nearly all 27 were triggered by defense.
The Bulls of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen always drew praise for their defense. The Heat of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and James were famous for crackling defense. Gregg Popovich and the Spurs are noted for their ability to take away the most dangerous component of an opponent’s offense.
The Warriors? Man, they sure run a beautiful offense. They sure can score.