If a loss is a loss is a loss, then the Detroit Pistons did nothing to distinguish themselves in Monday’s game against the Warriors — yes, a 109-95 loss to the defending champions. But if you’re into even just a little bit more scrutiny than that, you’ll see that the Pistons didn’t do a bad job of defending the Warriors.
In fact, the Pistons may have provided the best blue-print to date on how to (possibly) beat the Warriors (possibly). Now, before we even begin, executing this plan doesn’t ensure success against the Warriors, as you can see by what happened to Detroit. But Detroit’s overall strategy and approach is the best way to go ahead and take a stab at Golden State, a team that is 91-20 since the start of last season and has won 23
games in a row at Oracle regular-season games in a row at Oracle.
For the most part, the Pistons played straight-up, man-to-man defense, relying on the simple principle of everybody just guard your guy. Period. No gimmicks, as little switching as possible, no over-helping, and quite frankly, sometimes you’re on your own — even if you are guarding Stephen Curry.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, an athletic 6-foot-5 shooting guard, was asked to do that simple, yet ridiculously complex thing: Guard Curry. Just guard him – you, all by yourself. And Caldwell-Pope was terrific on defense, and Curry was ordinary by Curry standards. It’s not that simple, of course, but on this night that’s what happened. And it’s how you have to play the Warriors — one-on-one, with as little deviation as possible — if you want to beat the Warriors in either a game or a series.
You have to put the onus on an individual player to defend Curry, and then by extension ask/demand the other four players to at least do the same with their men – who, by the way, aren’t as good as Curry. So, that’s the least they should be able to do, right?
I think you’ve got to give one of your players the responsibility and opportunity to try to win the matchup against Curry. Now, we’re talking about the MVP here so there aren’t going to be many matchups that Curry loses. But you’ve got to encourage and motivate and, hell, beg, your guy to hang in there on the matchup. Maybe you turn Curry into a volume shooter. Maybe you turn Curry over a half-dozen times. Maybe you limit his 3s. Maybe you throw in 21 against Curry, and he ends up having to deal with you when he’s on defense. Maybe you do something, anything, positive on your way to losing that matchup. Not much, but it’s where you’ve got to start if you’re playing the Warriors. That’s got to be your defensive foundation, as shaky as that sounds.
Trying to trap Curry out high on the floor doesn’t work. He’s figured out how to deliver the ball before the trap hits, allowing his teammates to play 4-on-3. Or, if not that, then he’ll cleverly split defenders and find his way into space, which is a whole new set of issues.
The Warriors thrive when they’ve got a defense in scramble mode or even when they’ve got certain defensive players being asked to do things they’re not used to doing — like when big guys are supposed to come out and hedge on Curry 25 feet from the basket … haha. The most effective way to avoid “scramble mode” is to simply never come off your man. Guard your man and let your teammate guard his man. That’s essentially what Detroit did on Monday.
Of course, it doesn’t end there. The next part is that because Caldwell-Pope, a two-guard with length and quickness, defended Curry, it left point guard Reggie Jackson having to guard the taller Klay Thompson for much of the night. Turns out, Thompson was super efficient at the offensive end against Detroit, scoring 27 points on 10-for-17 from the field, including 4-for-7 from 3-point range. That’s the problem, though, when you defend Curry with a two or small forward — you’re vulnerable at the other end.
Hey, I never said this was a perfect solution. The Warriors are a gifted offensive team, with a superstar and multiple weapons. That’s why gimmicks and so-called game plans aren’t going to beat the Warriors. The only thing that’s going to beat the Warriors is great man-to-man defense, the simpler, the better. Hey, great straight-up man-to-man defense might not get it done either, but it’s you’re only chance.