The old adage that “defense wins championships” is certainly on the mind of a number of NBA coaches. While the league trends toward high-octane offenses and deep analytical analysis, defensive–and defensive effort–can be attributed to the surprise start of multiple teams.
The top three teams in points allowed–Utah Jazz, Boston Celtics, and Memphis Grizzlies–have all surged past expectations. The Jazz has overcome the loss of Gordon Hayward by maintaining one of the best defensive units.
Utah has only allowed an opponent to score more than 100 points twice thus far–both losses. Meanwhile, the team has gone 4-1 in the other five contests.
The Celtics also had to withstand the loss of Hayward, although for a different reason. Even though Kyrie Irving has never been seen as a defensive stalwart, and Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are being replied upon for major minutes, Brad Stevens’ group has committed to stopping their opponents. Despite losing their prized offseason acquisition, Boston–courtesy of allowing 94.9 PPG–has opened the year on a 5-2 spurt.
Even the New York Knicks can look to defense as the remedy to many of their early problems. The Knicks started the season 0-3, but since picking up the effort on the defensive end, New York has rattled off three straight wins.
In their three wins, the Knicks are yielding just 97 PPG, and two of those wins came against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Brooklyn Nets (third in the NBA in scoring). In the Knicks’ three losses, the team allowed 108.7 PPG.
“Defensively it’s continual work for us, but we showed some progress,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said following a win over the Nets in which his team allowed just 86 points.
The Charlotte Hornets and Detroit Pistons have emerged as two other early-season surprises. The Hornets have navigated the loss of Nicolas Batum to start 4-3, as Dwight Howard has given the team an intimidating presence in the paint. Meanwhile, the Pistons notched road wins over the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers on the heels of their defense.
For Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy, a few schematic changes have made a big difference, so says center Andre Drummond. “I’m up into the ball, I’m able to use my foot speed to guard these guards and guard these faster bigs, too, so it’s definitely more fun for me to play this type of defense,” he said.
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