David Lee (left) ranks fifth in the NBA with 11.5 rebounds per game. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
By Matt Dollinger
ATLANTA -- If you let the Warriors own the boards, they’ll soon enough be owning you.
That much has been as clear as the glass they’ve been dominating all season. With a 115-93 thrashing of Hawks on Saturday, Golden State improved to 15-1 in games it has won the rebounding battle (54 to 45) this season, giving the team a satisfying ending to a successful 6-1 road trip.
• If you didn’t expect the Warriors to be a formidable presence on the boards this season – or a formidable team in general – you’re not alone. Golden State finished 28th in the league in rebounding last season and 20 games below .500. But Golden State has experienced a meteoric rise in rebounding and record this year, rising to the 3rd in the league on the glass and a 16-8 start.
David Lee, who ranks fifth in the NBA in rebounds per game (11.5), continued to gorge the glass with 20 points and 11 rebounds (10-of-14 shooting) on Saturday. The power forward has been in full-on beast mode during the Warriors’ seven-game road trip, averaging 23.6 points and 13.3 rebounds over that stretch.
But Lee isn’t cleaning the glass all by himself, unlike years in the past. Golden State’s entire team is buying into Mark Jackson’s rebound gospel, as evidenced by the eight rebounds Saturday pulled down by Stephen Curry, who also finished with 18 points and 11 assists, falling just short of his second career triple-double. The Warriors have nine players averaging at less three rebounds per game (compared to six on Atlanta) and transformed rebounding from a weakness into the team’s lynchpin to success.
“I try to stick my head in there every once and while and try and help out the bigs,” Curry said. “It fuels our offense when guards get rebounds and push the ball in transition, when we do that we’re a good team.”
The team’s defense has also been boosted by the turnaround. After finishing 28th in defensive efficiency last year, Golden State has risen to 14th this season and held the Hawks to a season-low 36.9 percent shooting Saturday. Lee, in particular, has stood out. Defense has long been known as his Achilles Heel, but the seventh-year big man boasts a defensive rating this year of 103, the best in his career and tops for any Warriors starter.
After losing to Orlando the night before, the only blemish on their road trip, Warriors coach Mark Jackson said it was critical for the team to bounce back and finish the trip east on a high note.
“It’s important for us to do that and show we’re for real and we’re going be here for the long haul,” he said.
• It was a night to forget for Josh Smith, who went a dismal 1 for 10 in the first half and finished 1 for 12 overall. The All-Star forward finished with just three points in 24 minutes, his lowest output in a game since Dec. 16, 2010.
But it wasn’t as if Smith was jacking up bad shots (something he’s been known to do). He went 0 for 2 from three-point range, but is shooting 43.3 percent from downtown on the season. Instead, Golden State’s bigs was able to bully him down low, leading to contested shots and only one converted – a breakaway dunk.
“We just played great team defense,” Jackson said. “You're not going to stop a player of his caliber 1-on-1. We did a great job collectively.”
While Smith is having a solid season amid a contract year, he’s been wayward in anything that’s not a three-pointer or dunk. Heading into Saturday, the forward was shooting 29.9 percent on all jump shots and averaging 27.6 percent on long 2s. Smith would be wise to stick to his strengths and shy away from his shortcomings that lead to losses like Saturday’s.
The Hawks had won five of six before this defeat and have been the Eastern Conference’s version of the feel-good Warriors. But they need consistent production out of Smith and Al Horford to be at their best. The team is 6-0 when the two each pull down double-doubles. Horford finished a solid 7 for 11 (19 points), but the team went away from him in the second half, instead settling for misguided and misdirected three-pointers (5 for 26 on the night).
• The long and winding road is finally over for the Warriors. The smiles on the faces of Golden State’s players weren’t just because they put up a season-high 115 points. The Warriors haven’t been home in nearly two weeks, embarking on a seven-game road trip that resulted in the team’s first winning road trip of at least six games since 1970-71.
“I told them before the game, ‘I'm tired, so I know (you’re) tired.’ They’re physically beat up and ready to get home. That's no excuse. Six-and-one sounds much better than 5-2 and (tonight was) important for us because the good teams make sure they finish the course. I’m proud of my guys once again, even though we had a legitimate excuse, we didn't allow it to take over us.”