Warriors don’t live by 3, die by 3. They live by defense, live by defense

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The Warriors were supposed to be dying.

They shot just 4-of-15 (27 percent) on 3-pointers in the first half, purportedly a fatal blow for a live-by-the-3, die-by-the-3 team.

How was it actually goink?

Golden State led by 25 on its way to a 115-80 Game 3 win over the Rockets on Saturday.

The Warriors have been mislabeled a jump-shooting team. Sure, they’re perfectly willing to launch 3-pointers. But that doesn’t define their identity.

First and foremost, they’re a defensive team.

Golden State played the NBA’s best defense during the regular season, practically leading the league in points allowed per possession wire-to-wire.

Because they also played at the league’s fastest pace, they ranked just 15th in points allowed per game. So plenty of less-discerning observers didn’t fully appreciate their defensive dominance.

Sadly, Golden State’s best defensive performance of the playoffs also won’t get its just due. For one, Stephen Curry stole the show by scoring 40 points and breaking the record for 3-pointers in a single postseason. The game was also played faster than the Warriors’ league-leading pace.

So, though Golden State’s 80 points allowed seem low, its 77.9 defensive rating is even more telling. For perspective, the Warriors posted an excellent 98.2 defensive rating during the regular season.

Golden State wasn’t that dominant in Game 1 and Game 2 of this series, allowing 105.9 points per 100 possessions.

What changed?

Start with the Warriors’ defense of James Harden, the catalyst of of the Rockets’ offense.

  • First two games: 33 points on 24-of-41 shooting, including 4-of-9 on 3s, with nine assists per game
  • Game 3: 17 points on 3-of-16 shooting, including 1-of-5 on 3s, with four assists

After primarily using Klay Thompson on Harden, Golden State opened Game 3 with Harrison Barnes on the MVP runner-up. Thompson guarded Harden fine, but Harden destroys fine. Barnes provided more length to bother Harden’s step-back jumpers, which had been falling. Thompson and Andre Iguodala also got turn on Harden, and the Warriors aggressively sent help defense when Harden had the ball.

Keep in mind, Barnes guarded Zach Randolph in the last round. Not many players are versatile enough to go from the powerful Randolph in the post to the crafty Harden on the perimeter.

That’s par for the course with the Warriors, whose defensive success is built on the ability to switch and defend many styles. If there’s an offense they can’t handle, it hasn’t shown yet this season.

Game 3’s strategy definitely made Harden uncomfortable with the ball. Much of Harden’s limited success came cutting off the ball, and Golden State will try to shore that up before Monday’s Game 4.

But with the Warriors up 3-0 – a lead no team has ever blown – it’s time to look ahead. LeBron James is not Harden, but this might have been a sneak peak of how Golden State guards LeBron James in the Finals. The aspects of Golden State’s game plan that best limited Harden seem to fit relatively well against LeBron, who has the ball in an awful lot.

And if that doesn’t work, the Warriors will probably find something that does.

They have all season.