Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) celebrates a basket during Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Utah Jazz at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on May 2, 2017. (Stan Olszewski/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) celebrates a basket during Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Utah Jazz at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on May 2, 2017. (Stan Olszewski/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Defense wins championships — and the Warriors look like champions

OAKLAND — Steve Kerr wasn’t in the building. His back pain, the headaches, the nausea, wouldn’t allow him to be at Oracle. But his game plan was here Tuesday night, the relentless defense he and his staff continually preach and the gold-shirted crowd screams for the Warriors to play.

“Defense. Defense.” It’s what the fans chant. Defense, defense: It was what the Warriors played. The Dubs got the ball in the basket often enough, but when the other team, in this case the Utah Jazz, has a final total in double figures, the Warriors winning the opener of the Western Conference semis, 106-94, the reason was defense.

And wherever Kerr watched this one, he had to pleased. His assistant, Mike Brown, the acting head coach for a fifth-straight postseason game — all wins — certainly was.

“We wanted to keep a body in front of those guys,” said Brown of the Jazz big men, Gordon Hayward — held to 12 points, 11 below his average in the first round against the Clippers — and Rudy Gobert, who scored 13.

“We kept talking about locking down.”

They locked, and tossed away the key. Golden State began with a 9-0 burst. Later it had runs of seven points and 10 points. Ultimately, they were never in danger of losing.

“Our defense kept us in there when we weren’t hitting early,” said Stephen Curry,  who finished with 22 for the Warriors.

Maybe the Warriors won’t sweep this series as they did the last one against the Trail Blazers, but they clearly are the better team, and there will be games they score freely and elegantly, which they did only rarely Tuesday night.

The Warriors had only seven turnovers. It’s an old tale. The team that makes fewer mistakes wins.

“Steve talked a lot about that during the regular season,” said Brown, who in this series is facing one of his former assistants Quin Snyder, now Jazz head coach but not too long ago was Brown’s aide with the Lakers.

“Winning the possession game. We do that we probably can overcome most of our opponents.”

Nothing new there. Keep the other team from scoring, keep control of the ball, and you’re going to win a lot of games — more than anyone, which is what the Warriors did during the regular season and so far in the postseason.

As always when defense is dominant, Draymond Green was a main man. He forces the issue, making steals or blocks — two of each — or on the other end, passes. We know he’s the emotional leader, and at times he’s the physical leader.

“Every single possession matters,” Green said, sounding  very much like his coaches. He had 17 points, as all five starters for the Warriors scored in double figures.

“The effort was there,” said Mike Brown. “At times we might have broken down in our schemes on defense, but they didn’t get many looks.”

Curry got enough looks. He was 7-of-11.

“Steph being out on the floor,” said Brown, “knowing he can be a threat to catch and shoot or come off a pick-and-roll or score anytime is a bonus for us.”

And a problem for the opponent.

“One of the things about Golden State,” said Snyder, the Jazz coach, “is just how quick they think. Not just from possession to possession but within a possession. Just more urgent and quick thinking.”

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on and E-mail him at

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