There are many pieces to the conventional wisdom of what it takes to win playoff basketball. "Defense wins championships," "post play is what a team needs," "slow, grinding play is required in the playoffs." Fortunately for us fans, those things aren't quite true. Run and gun teams can and do win big when they construct their teams correctly.
Case in point: the Golden State Warriors. The highest scoring and fastest paced team in the league is destroying all opponents in their path. They won 67 games in the regular season, then swept a Pelicans team led by elite big man Anthony Davis and wiped out the old school, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph fronted Grizzlies.
Style isn't as important as talent. The Steve Nash, Seven Seconds or Less Suns didn't lose to the Spurs due to style; they lost because the Spurs were a better and more talented team. As great as Nash, Stoudemire and Marion were, Duncan, Parker and Ginobili were better.
Let's review some of this conventional wisdom regarding "playoff style basketball":
Defense wins championships
Partly true. Championship teams play well on both ends. The Warriors are 15th in the league in points scored against, but that's not the important stat. Because of their fast pace, they allow their opponents more possessions, so more points. The important stat is point differential, where the Warriors register at 110-100. When a team beats their opponents per possession, more possessions for each increases the advantage. So yes, defense is obviously important, but that doesn't mean your team has to play with a slow, plodding style. "Keep away" isn't the same as defense.
Myth: 3 point shots are a mirage, and can't be relied upon in the playoffs
Three point shots are essential to a team's success in the modern NBA. It's true that the success rate is more variable than shots closer to the basket, but the conference finalist Rockets lead the league in attempted and made 3s, while Warriors MVP Steph Curry makes a living with the 3 point shot. A team can and will prosper behind the arc with great shooters, even in the playoffs.
Here's how the four conference finalists rank in made 3-pointers this season:
Pace and defense are different
I cannot stress this enough. Giving up more points doesn't necessarily indicate poor defense. This is the biggest difference between the current Warriors and the 7SOL Suns. The best the Nash Suns were able to do was 13th in the league in D-Rating. Those Suns played fast and scored, but couldn't stop opponents at anything close to an elite level. It's about points per possession, not overall points.
People might perceive these Warriors as an offensively-oriented team because they lead the league in scoring, yet are only 15th in points allowed, but that's not actually the case. Mark Jackson built the foundation of this squad on defense. Last season with Jackson, they were 4th in D-Rating and 12th in O-Rating, one of the reasons Steve Kerr and Alvin Gentry were brought in. Gentry cranked up the offense to championship level, but defense is still what drives the team. In fact, defensive stops fuel the Warriors' lethal transition offense.
Jump shooters and floor spacing
The Warriors starting lineup features three players shooting over 40% from behind the arc, including possibly the best shooting backcourt in basketball history, and a PF in Draymond Green who is enough of a threat at 34% (111 made 3s this season) that their floor spacing is impeccable. Indeed, inserting undersized stretch PF Green for David Lee was one of the most impactful changes Kerr made for this season's Warriors. Remember the benefits Channing Frye provided for the Suns offense, even when his shot wasn't falling? Stretch bigs and a spaced floor are valuable assets. Yes, even in the playoffs.
When the Suns contend again, it will be with this style
It remains to be seen if the Warriors style will win them a championship this season, but the West is certain to be won by a fast-paced, 3 point shooting team while more old-fashioned, "built around big man post play and defense" teams like the Grizzlies watch from home.
Pro basketball is constantly evolving. What worked in the past will not always work but, more importantly, talent wins out most of all. It's no surprise that the WCF features the League MVP and runner up, and the ECF includes legendary LeBron James. On the one hand, this works for the Suns, who have the makings of a fast, jump shooting team. There's just that nagging, pesky problem of finding the elite talent to succeed at the highest level.