BOSTON — The perception among fans for years has been that the Golden State Warriors were a finesse team that lacked toughness.
Turns out players in the NBA saw them in a similar light.
"That's just what it is," said Warriors center and former Celtic Jermaine O'Neal. "When I was in Phoenix, it was finesse, get physical with them [Golden State] and they'd turn away. That's the culture we tried to change this year."
Performances such as Golden State's 108-88 victory over his former team will go far in driving that point home.
Golden State won this game not because of Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson or a dominate inside game.
They won because their defense, more than anything else, was in full blown attack mode from the start and never let up until the game was out of reach.
Look no further than the first quarter when O'Neal leveled Jeff Green with a screen. It was the kind of play that you would see in a Warriors game, except it would be a Golden State player getting knocked to the ground and not vice versa.
Golden State went into the fourth quarter ahead 84-54 largely because its defense had limited the Celtics to just 32.1 percent shooting from the field and a pitiful 2-for-16 (12.5 percent) from 3-point range.
O'Neal attributes the grittier brand of basketball to coach Mark Jackson, who played with the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers in an era when physical play was the rule and not the exception.
Even though the NBA is more of a finesse league than past years, teams that make the most noise in the postseason are often ones that play a tough brand of basketball.
And the Warriors, slowly but surely, are becoming that kind of team.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens has praised Golden State as a team that's steadily improving as the season progresses.
His words seemed almost prophetic after the way the Warriors manhandled his team on Wednesday.
"It was a struggle for us," Stevens said. "They got into us, they were more aggressive, they were louder, they were better every which way. I’d like to find something that I could say we were better in, but there wasn’t anything.”
And it's not like what Golden State did defensively against the Celtics was all that unusual from what they have done to opponents this season.
They came into the game limiting opponents to 43.3 percent shooting, the third-best mark in the NBA. They also came in ranked in the top 10 in 3-point percentage defense (34.6 percent, No. 7) and opponents rebounds per game (43.3, No. 9).
Golden State forward David Lee is well aware that scoring for his team should never be a problem.
Still, for them to make the kind of deep playoff run they're confident that they're capable of, they have to continue to make their mark as a team that can hold their own defensively.
"Defense has been our biggest thing," Lee told CSNNE.com. "We know the NBA now is about matchups and about team defense. The days of having one defensive stopper for guys like LeBron and Kevin Durant, just doesn't happen. It's about helping one another and also rebounding the basketball. There's a lot of different aspects of it, but it's something that we've put a lot of work into."
And that hard work is paying off these days, with the Warriors having won seven of their past nine, including Wednesday. That capped off an Eastern trip in which Golden State won four of six.
"We have guys that can get after it," O'Neal said. "It really comes down to the mentality; out-work you for 48 minutes."