Unfortunately, my Pre-Game Jitters pretty much captured the story of this game. This was a nightmare matchup for the Warriors. It is not easy for a team that is searching for its identity to face one of the best defensive teams in the league in their first game of the season. And that is what this Houston team is. They executed a beautiful defensive game plan, which caught the Warriors in its snare in a disastrous third quarter. On offense, their undersized front-line proved a Don Nelson axiom: Very talented power forwards will almost always beat less-talented centers. And Trevor Ariza went unguarded much of the night and nearly matched his career high for points.
The Warriors looked plenty ugly at times in this loss, but credit has to be given to Houston. It was a mistake for me not to include them in my Battle for the 7th and 8th Seeds. This is a team that, because Phoenix and New Orleans have gotten so much worse, is definitely in the hunt for the playoffs. They are very, very tough.
I’m going to continue the analysis player by player, starting with the biggest culprits, the Warriors front line.
Biedrins: This is without a doubt the worst game I have ever seen Biedrins play, when healthy, in the Don Nelson era. He was simply torn to pieces by Scola, Landry and Hayes. They got everything they wanted against him, occasionally even posting him in the lane and shooting jump hooks over him. Scola overpowered him and shot layups, then took him outside and drained jumpers in his face. And he got Biedrins in foul trouble.
Biedrins was also late to every rebound, because these Houston power forwards are simply expert at bumping big men off their base. I only saw him catch one of his mere 5 rebounds cleanly. The others were tips to teammates.
And of course he was unable to take advantage of his size on the offensive side. His offensive game is too limited, and the Houston players were simply too quick for him. They managed to keep him away from the rim, and when he did catch the ball down low, simply stripped him with their quick hands.
Turiaf: Rony was scarcely better. He and Biedrins were out-rebounded by Scola and 6-6″ Chuck Hayes. His offense was also effectively shut down by Houston’s collapsing game plan, and quick hands.
Randolph: AR was held out of the game until 3:00 of the second quarter. Its likely that he wouldn’t have played at all if Biedrins and Turiaf hadn’t both gotten into foul trouble. He played with great energy and was instrumental in the Warriors closing run that got them into the lockerroom at half time with a 10 point lead. His three at the buzzer didn’t hurt!
Nellie started him over Biedrins in the third quarter, again probably because of Biedrins foul trouble. Nellie also may have wanted to play him while his back was still warm. His second stint didn’t go as well. He lasted 7 minutes, in which time the Warriors’ 10 point lead turned into a 7 point deficit. The Warriors defense during that stretch was terrible, and Randolph had a hand in that, as well as in some poor decision-making at the offensive end.
Nellie is apparently in tough-love mode with AR again. During the post-game press conference he would not commit to playing Randolph more minutes once he returns to health. His response was “We’ll see.” He obviously wants AR to fight through this injury to do the things the Warriors need him to do, both in practice and in games. We know that AR is a big part of Nellie’s plans. But Nellie is going to make him earn every one of his minutes on the court. That’s the way it should be.
The Blackhole: Maggette earned his nickname tonight with a terrible offensive performance. I’m sure a lot of commentators will point their fingers at him for this loss, and it would be hard to argue with them, although I think the failures of Biedrins and Turiaf were more egregious. Maggette shot a very uncharacteristic 3-14, and fell into the trap of forcing his jumper when it wasn’t falling. Some of it was Maggette’s fault, but it also had a lot to do with the fact that Houston’s small and quick forwards are simply a nightmare matchup for him. And Houston also game-planned him perfectly. His defenders laid off him and dared him to shoot. When he did drive, he was unable to create separation. Most of his drives ended in turnovers or difficult shots. Naturally, Maggette attempted to punish Houston for the way they were playing him by shooting his jumper. It simply wasn’t falling though, and he stuck with it too stubbornly, essentially shooting the Warriors out of the game in the third quarter.
Defensively, Maggette allowed a few open threes like all of his teammates, but was tough around the basket. He led the Warriors in rebounds with 9.
Nelson mentioned Maggette’s struggles in the post-game conference, pointing out that he only got to the line 4 times, and saying with a smile that he wished Maggette would drive every time he touched the ball. He recognized the reality of the Houston game plan however, and said he couldn’t fault Maggette too much for trying to take what the defense gave him. But Nelson also stated that the Warriors need to do a better job of understanding that Anthony Morrow is their best shooter, and look for ways to get him the ball. That comment was clearly directed at Maggette, but also at Monta Ellis, who probably played the most minutes with Morrow, and simply never found him.
Private Jackson: I think Jack played an overall excellent game. Unfortunately he was wasted on defense for much of the game, guarding Shane Battier. He was shifted to Ariza in the fourth quarter, in a lineup with Azubuike, but by then much of the damage had been done.
Two quick points: First, Jack was limited to 34 minutes this game. I think this has a lot to do with the excellence of Stephen Curry at the point. Second, Jack only turned the ball over twice, against 4 assists. Again, this is largely the result of Curry. I will venture to predict that Jack’s assist/TO ratio will explode to the upside this season, as the result of him no longer having to initiate the Warriors offense by force.
Morrow: AM was a non-factor in this game, for several reasons. First of which is that the Warriors did a lousy job of looking for him. But I don’t think you can overlook the fact that its not that difficult to take AM out of his game. Houston clearly came ready to play him: their defenders never left him open, and quickly smothered him as soon as he did catch the ball.
At the end of the game, when the Warriors had an out-of-bounds play with :06 left, and needed a three to tie, Morrow failed them. He struggled to come free off a Biedrins screen. And he struggled to get his shot off over the longer and more athletic Ariza.
Ozzy: Azubuike was excellent this game, quietly effective as he so often is. He got 6 rebounds and a couple of nice drive and jams, so hopefully this latest ankle injury is behind him. He generated a +/- of +7, which along with Curry led the Warriors.
Monta: Ellis had a decent statistical game which for the uninitiated might mask a pretty poor job of running the point. The Warriors were simply terrible when Curry was on the bench, and Monta was largely the reason. He was unable to find his teammates, when he bothered to look for them. I saw one attempt to run pick an roll with Turiaf that led to a completely errant pass and turnover. I don’t believe he ever found Morrow.
On defense, he was the chief culprit in allowing Ariza to get hot. It was an unfair matchup, but Monta did little to challenge Ariza, both giving him room to shoot threes and failing to stay in front of him on his drives.
On the plus side, his scoring was there. His jumper was falling, and his drives were effective. He’s not quite the Monta of old yet, but we’re seeing a glimmer.
Don Nelson: I’m going to give Nellie partial credit for this loss. I fault him for not getting Jackson on Ariza faster. Nellie frequently likes to spring his adjustments as a trap, rather than just starting the game with the matchup that he knows he’s going to go to. In the 4th quarter, he finally moved Jack onto Ariza and had Monta guarding the small forward, and the Warriors closed the gap. But it was too little, too late. I don’t think Nellie will make this mistake again against Houston.
I also fault Nellie for not finding a way to play Morrow with Curry. Even though I recognize this is a tough problem for him. Curry is simply too good, and the Warriors need him too much, not to be a starter. But if he starts, he’s simply not going to get many minutes with Morrow. What to do? Nellie needs to figure this out.
The Natural: Let’s end on a positive note. Curry played a beautiful game at point guard, in his first NBA game. Everything was there, the vision, the composure, the decision-making. Even his defence was pretty good. Brooks is a tough cover, but Curry did a good job guiding him into the teeth of the defense, and turned him over several times. 4 steals, again. 7 assists against 2 TO’s. Remarkable.
Curry sat for most of the third quarter, when the Warriors fell apart. When he returned in the 4th quarter, the Warriors went on a run. He found his jumper in the clutch, and he looked like an old pro running the team down the stretch. Nellie was delighted with him.
He made a key turnover at the end of the game, but that’s a quibble. I see a future all-star point guard in this kid.