Curry returns to find Warriors' defense much improved Global on Dec 31, 2017 08:06 AM
Curry returns to find Warriors' defense much improved
FILE - OAKLAND, CA - FEBRUARY 23: Stephen Curry #30 and Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors reacts to a play against the LA Clippers during the game on February 23, 2017 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

By John Schuhmann,

Stephen Curry is set to make his return from an 11-game absence on Saturday (Sunday, PHL time), when the Golden State Warriors host the Memphis Grizzlies.

Curry will return to a Warriors team that's not quite the same as the one he left when he sprained his right ankle in New Orleans on Dec. 4 (Dec. 5, PHL time). In his absence, the champs have improved defensively, ranking first on that end of the floor over the 11 games (despite their Saturday, PHL time loss to Charlotte) after ranking seventh through Dec. 5 (Dec. 6, PHL time).

The biggest difference has been in the paint, where the Warriors have allowed their opponents to shoot just 46 percent over the last 11 games. The Cleveland Cavaliers shot 10-for-38 (26 percent) in the paint on Christmas, one of four games since Dec. 6 (Dec. 7, PHL time) in which the champs have held their opponents under 40 percent in the paint. They've also reduced the percentage of their opponents' shots that have come from seven-point range, forcing more mid-range jumpers.

Of course, without Curry, the offense has suffered. Before he was injured, the Warriors were on pace to break their own records for offensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage. They're still on track to set the effective field goal percentage mark, but they've ranked 17th offensively over the last 11 games, falling to second overall.

For the season, the Warriors have been 12.6 points per 100 possessions better offensively with Curry on the floor (having scored 118.9) than they've been with him on the floor (106.3). Without him, they still have two of the best shooters in NBA history and some brilliant passers, but the threat of Curry shooting off the dribble remains the biggest key to the Golden State offense.

ESPN's Chris Haynes talked to Kevin Durant about the improved defense and the transition back to playing with the two-time MVP:

The Golden State Warriors learned that without Stephen Curry, their offense is a shell of its usual self. However, on the defensive end, they've learned they can be unstoppable.

"I figured guys would step it up and try to fill the void, even though it's a different group, a different style of play," Kevin Durant said. "But I think our defense went to another level, and it's something we can try to stick to, especially with Steph coming back. You know he's been out for so long and we'll have to knuckle down even more on the defensive side of the ball until he gets his legs up under him a little bit. I'm expecting that to take about a quarter. We'll be fine after that. But for the most part, guys just got an opportunity to play. We've seen different lineups, different schemes, different ways to play, and I think it will only make us better as a group moving forward."

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