Does Defense Really Win Championships?
Everyone has heard the age-old cliche, defense wins championships, but is that really the case? I’d like to present you the argument that great teams win championships, not simply great defenses.
I know the first teams you will point to are the San Antonio team from 2005 and the Detroit team from 2004, but those teams were slight exceptions to the rule. Typically, at least within the past dozen years, teams who have won the NBA Championship have been in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive field goal percentage. In fact, only 3 times in the past 15 years has it been any different. San Antonio and Detroit and then Chicago in 1998, although they were one of the best offensive teams in the league. Chicago’s championships were all based on offense. They were better offensively than defensively for every one of their 6 seasons atop the league.
So yes, it was impressive and debatably boring when San Antonio and Detroit slow played their way to victory for two consecutive years, but that doesn’t mean defense is the only way to win in the NBA. Let’s take a quick look at last year’s champion, the Boston Celtics. Sure they slowed other teams down, but there was also a necessity to score more than the other team. So yes, it’s nice to be strong defensively, but it’s also nice to score more than your opponent. Having incredible offensive players like Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen always helps a team get those rings.
Certain years, things work out a little differently. With San Antonio and Detroit, they managed to be strong enough defensively to win in the playoffs. One of the advantages to being a great defensive team is that when you learn how to shut down one team over the course of 3 or 4 games, you have the ability to win a series and ultimately a championship. So in that respect, defense really can win championships. It happens in every sport, not just basketball. In hockey when a goalie gets hot in the playoffs or a pitcher in baseball, it can mean the difference in winning enough games to get a team through the series. Many times, the ability to do things like that is so memorable we forget it’s not the only way to get it done. But for every Detroit and San Antonio there is a team like the Lakers who dominate inside with Shaq or Chicago who has an incredible offensive power like Jordan and the triangle.
So I’d like to say this: defense can win championships, but it is not the only requirement. Some teams win with a great defense while others win with a great offense. Most win with both. Great teams win championships. Sometimes hot teams win championships. Many different types of teams can win when it matters most, and there is no simple formula for that in any sport. In basketball, a good shooting team can go cold, a bad shooting team can get hot and a star player can get hurt. Winning a championship requires a whole lot more than stats or a certain player or a certain coach. It requires a little luck, a lot of skill and some great timing. But a defense who can shut anyone and everyone down doesn’t hurt.