The NBA playoffs started over the weekend, which is a good time to revisit an old sports adage: Defense wins championships.
Look at all the recent Super Bowl winners. And, the San Antonio 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.
The 2004 champion Detroit Pistons went 14-8-1 under the total. Ex-coach Larry Brown was instrumental in teaching and motivating the Pistons defensively.
The Miami Heat were led to the NBA title in 2006 by Dwyane Wade and defense! The Heat went 10-2 under the total their final 12 playoff games.
In 2004, the under was 37-27 in the NBA playoffs and 14-4 in 2006 from the Conference Finals to the NBA Finals.
Two years ago in the Finals, the Spurs swept by holding the Cavaliers to 76, 92, 72 and 82 points. Three of the four games went under the total. The Cavaliers averaged 80 ppg in the Finals, 16 points below their regular season figure.
Once the playoffs roll around, 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 the last five seasons, the under is 57-44 combined in the Eastern/Western Conference Finals and the NBA Finals.
It will be an interesting contrast of styles in the West with run-and-gun fast break teams (Jazz, Nuggets, Lakers, Mavericks) squaring off against monster-defenses like the Rockets and Spurs. Remember that the previous four seasons the offensive-minded Suns were knocked out by the Spurs and Mavericks.
Chalk up another triumph of defense over offense – a trend the Cavaliers hope continues (they rank No. 1 in least points allowed).