Small Ball Wins: Rockets 108 Warriors 107

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.

14 Responses to Small Ball Wins: Rockets 108 Warriors 107

  1. Nice analysis. You might have been a little easy on Maggette, but you are right about Morrow not seeing the ball from Monta. My favorite play of the game: after a long spell of Morrow not touching the ball, Curry entered the game on a jump ball, grabbed the tip, instantly fired it to Morrow for a 3. Two seconds on the court, 3 points. They needed more of that.

  2. The warriors need to find someone to come in when Curry is out who is a true PG. That game was lost because for the entire 3rd quarter we had no one on the court who could facilitate for others. In their self imposed basketball isolation, the Warriors became 5 individuals playing against a team and were absolutely torched. Throw Acie in there when Curry goes out and let Monta guard the pg for a while. A true PG must be on the court in Nellie’s system at all times!

  3. That was a great play, OG, and far too rare.

    Watching this game makes me agree with you gmoney. I had high hopes for Monta’s development at the point coming into the season, but he and the team were putrid when Curry was sitting. Maybe the toughness of Houston’s defense had something to do with it?

  4. No, I have been saying this for a year now, Monta has only two speeds Fast and Super Fast. In order to be a pg you need to be able to play at a calmer pace. Curry has that, you saw it yesterday, he can play controlled ball at the point and thats what you need. Monta gets the ball and blows by his defender at 100 miles an hour with no regard to where he is, where his teammates are etc. He plays basketball like its checkers, Curry plays like its chess.

  5. Good write up. I was very impressed with Curry’s vision. You can definitely see the young Nash comparison.

    Warriors should have won that game. They definitely had the better team, but their shots were not falling and Houston couldnt miss.

  6. Does nobody read scouting reports anymore? Watching Goose and Rony jump repeatedly for Scola’s ball fakes was exasperating.

    Morrow and Ellis highlighted the crappy defense against three point shooters all night long. Again, read the scouting report. Ariza, Brooks, Battier, Budinger: all spot up shooters. Late hand in the face over and over. Same as it ever was.

    Jackson and Ellis took turns putting their heads down and doing it solo in the third quarter, killing any offensive flow. Maggette wasn’t much better. Morrow, repeatedly wide open, was wasted on the court.

    Someone reported the asinine pull Biedrins/Rony out to the top of the key defensive rotations were going to be a thing of the past. My eyes started rolling as Goose picked up a silly foul on Brooks very smart flop on a Andris “show” 30 feet from the basket. Please make this abomination of a defensive rotation go away. Way to hang your “big” line-up out to dry with foul trouble

    The Ellis, Morrow, Jackson, Maggette, Whomever-at-center, line-up is the worst line-up for defending against perimeter oriented shooting guards and the worst passing unit when Jackson is in do-it-myself mode. If I never see that line-up again it will be too soon. Ugh.

    Maggette missed his shots. It happens. Anyone notice him making all the effort plays? (and I’m not talking about his showtime dive for the ball). 9 rebounds. Stayed on the ground against Scola and wasn’t quite the sieve against him in the post. Still not a huge fan of his game but you can’t fault his effort. He makes his shots it’s a win. Point is, he’s NOT the poster child for this loss. Too many contributors to that cause to single out only one.

    Solutions:
    Curry needs to play, bad defense from Morrow/Ellis at the 2 be damned.

    Smart needs to emphasize closing out shooters with Morrow/Ellis. We already know they’re vulnerable to the drive/post up. No need to give up outside shooting on top of it. Especially if Nellie’s going to play big line-ups (wink wink).

    Randolph and ‘buike need to get healthy quick.

    Jackson played reasonable minutes. Follow this model all year.

    Guys need to read and execute the scouting reports. Constantly blowing defensive assignments all night long may make for an entertaining game but it’s not going to win too many games in the NBA.

    1st of 82 games. Zero money spent lining Chris Cohan’s pockets.

  7. Nice post, JP. Nellie was equally exasperated by the team’s failure to follow the defensive game plan, if you read his post-game interview (hate to plug Kawakami, but he posted it).

    Your point about Maggette was especially well-taken.

  8. Tim’s required reading, even if you despise him, simply because what he posts will be part of the Warriors B-Ball discussion on virtually a daily basis. That said, if you’re determined to boycott his blog, Geoff Lepper has also started posting transcripts.

    http://48minutes.net/2009/10/29/game-1-in-their-own-words/

  9. Thanks for the link. I’m not going to boycott TK, I just have a hard time linking to him.

    But no one seems too excited about linking to me either! :>

  10. Wow. Feltie, I don’t know what game you saw, but I saw Jax being a drag on the offense and inconsistent on D. His shot selection was terrible. He held the ball too much. He made numerous bad passes and was lucky to have only 2 turnovers.

    Monta was Monta – a 1-on-5 scoring threat and MIA on defense. After all that talk about team D and making him a 1, it’s surprising to see him come back this year still so one-dimensional.

    You were right about Andris. He was intentionally banged a lot to push him out of his comfort zone. Euro b-ball doesn’t prepare him for NBA low-post warfare. Maybe he’ll re-acclimatize.

    Azubuike was awesome as a sparkplug, but watching him play you wonder sometimes if he’s ever met his teammates.

    Ozzy always finishes a lot better than Maggette, though. Corey showed it all last night – speed, power, heart, smarts – but he needs to focus more on getting the ball down the hole because his clown act around the rim isn’t going down with the refs anymore.

    Re the coaching, what’s the point of having backup bigs if you don’t play them when they’re needed? With AB and Rony in foul trouble, why didn’t AR and MM get more time? Randolph didn’t score much in his limited minutes, but he had a huge impact. Too bad he was the only Warrior playing defense during his time on the floor. The other guys seem to ease up when they know he’s got their back.

    And a final note: In every preseason game the Ws won, Morrow had a big game. Last night, the Rockets didn’t take Morrow out of the game, his teammates did. Starting with Jackson. Someone needs to sit down with Cap’n Jacka$$ and discuss stats, teamwork, and the limited role that his skills should permit him to attempt.

  11. You see Amare’s line last night? 40 min, 6 shots, 5 reb, 6 TO. Will be interesting to see how Warriors defend him.

  12. Anyone else getting “a 404 Not Found error” from Geoff’s website?
    I can’t connect.
    http://48minutes.net

  13. Colonel-
    Geoff mentioned some difficulty with his IP service provider. Must be an ongoing issue. Shame.

  14. Thanks Feltbot!
    We’ve found the passing point guard in Curry we’ve been looking for since Baron’s departure. He’s got a lot to improve but like Morrow and Randolph, you can see his potential.

    RE: Morrow – I saw defensive stopper Battier crowding and pulling on him at the 3 point line – if only we could have done the same with Budinger. We ought to stick Morrow in when Battier comes off the floor.

    I’d like to see Azibuke get more time on the court – he earned it this game. His three dunks down the lane were sweet!

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