Defense doesn’t rest in courts of NBA

Apr 26, 2011 6:00 AM


The NBA playoffs are rolling along, which is a good time to revisit an old sports adage:  Defense wins championships.


Last year in the NBA Finals, the Lakers and Celtics dueled in a defensive series and in 2009 the Lakers held a high scoring Orlando team to 75, 96 (in overtime), 91 and 86 points in four wins. In 2008, the blue-collar, physical Celtics won the title. The Spurs have won four NBA titles since 1999 with defense the backbone of their run.

Michael Jordan may have been best known for his offense, but it was the team’s defense from 1996-98 that netted the Chicago Bulls three straight titles. The same was true for the Lakers during their recent run.

When Jordan won his last championship in 1998, the Bulls were a great defensive team and notice that Chicago went 13-6-1 in games "under" the total during the 1998 playoffs. In 2003, the Spurs went 15-8-1 "under" the total on their way to winning the title.

One thing that happens is that strong defensive teams play as hard as they can defensively during the regular season a lot of the time, but not always.

Sometimes games are blowouts and teams will coast on defense or have fun trying to score in the fourth quarter, rather than work hard playing defense (which isn’t noticed as much by the fans as is a flashy offensive play). This is human nature, as it’s an 82-game regular season, so it’s difficult and tiring to play all out on defense for six months.

Once the playoffs roll around, however, it’s a different story, as there are fewer one-sided games and opportunities to coast. Since the postseason is so short and every game means something, it’s more likely teams will go all out on defense.

In fact, defense has a tendency to get better as the playoffs go along because the games mean more the closer you approach the Finals. The last seven seasons, the "under" is 76-61 combined in the Eastern/Western Conference Finals and the NBA Finals.

These NBA playoffs are interesting for several reasons. There are contrast of styles in the West with run-and-gun fast break teams (Nuggets, Lakers, Spurs) squaring off against monster-defensive teams like Portland and Dallas.

In four of five recent seasons the offensive-minded Suns were knocked out by the Spurs and Mavericks. Three years ago San Antonio stunned them in five games. Chalk up another triumph of defense over offense!