Hey, the Warriors are on the board in ’09. We can all breathe out now.
A large part of the credit for this win goes to Don Nelson. His central conception of attacking Zach Randolph with Stephen Jackson and Corey Maggette was the difference in this game. When Memphis went away from Randolph offensively in the second half, they were left with nothing but a terrible defender. That’s how mismatches can win games. That’s classic Don Nelson small-ball.
Winning time came, as it so often does on Don Nelson teams, late in the third quarter. That’s when Nelson unsheathed his long knife. He took out Stephen Curry, and went with this lineup: Moore, Maggette, Jackson, Morrow and Ellis. And Rudy Gay, who had to this point torched Azubuike and Morrow to the tune of 29 points, suddenly found himself being guarded by Stephen Jackson. It began like this: Morrow hit a three to push the lead to 5. Gay tried to answer with a three of his own, got surprised by Jackson’s quick reaction and length, and shot an airball. And the Warriors were off. They pushed the lead out to 10, and it stayed there the rest of the way. Gay took a total of 2 shots in the fourth quarter.
That is Stephen Jackson. That is what he does. For those of you who don’t understand how Jackson wins basketball games, this game is a good place to start.
I’ll let the players tell the rest of the story:
Monta: This was Monta’s best game of the season by far. Particularly impressive was his defence. He wasn’t long enough to bother Mayo’s shot, but he did a great job staying in front of him and Iverson, and creating turnovers. 5 steals. He also did his customary good job helping out with the rebounding. 7 rbs. His 12 assists on offense are the obvious story line, though. Monta clearly put an extra effort into creating for his teammates this game, and the results showed against the porous Memphis defense.
I have to say, though, that to me he still does not resemble the Monta of two years ago. For one thing, his shot is off. Particularly disturbing was the wide left airball he shot in the fourth quarter. After a disastrous first quarter (he opened 3 for 12), he did start driving the ball effectively. But even there I did not see the same level of effortless quickness, explosiveness and elevation that we used to see.
For the Warriors to win, Monta Ellis needs to dominate. He needs to be the best player on the court. This game was a positive step, but I haven’t seen any sign yet that he can get back to that level.
Buike: Ozzy had a very disappointing game. He did absolutely nothing to slow down Rudy Gay, which was the primary reason he was on the floor. Nellie gave him a quick yank in the third quarter. If KA is not getting it done defensively, you might as well play Morrow in his place.
Private Jackson: I’ve noted above what Jack did to Rudy Gay. He opened on Randolph on the low block and gave a good effort in defending him. He was rested for much of the second quarter. But in the second half, Jackson really asserted his will on this game. He moved the ball well, gathering 6 assists against 2 TO’s. And he shot judiciously and well, including a trademark 3-ball dagger in the fourth quarter to ice the game.
Jack has appeared somewhat subdued to start the season. I think that has a lot to do with the fact that his offensive role has changed. He no longer has the ball in his hands. I see no evidence though, that he is giving less than 100%. He likes to win, and he plays to win. And so far, he is doing everything that Nellie has asked of him.
Biedrins: Beans has yet to have a good performance this season. This one was very nearly disastrous. He picked up three quick fouls in the first quarter, and forced Nellie to lean heavily on Mikki Moore. Fortunately, Beans returned in the fourth quarter for a very effective run in which he got 7 rebounds in about as many minutes. One of those was a nice offensive rebound and put-back that stopped a small Memphis run.
Unfortunately, Beans came out of the game with what looked like a lower back injury. Could this be the secret reason for his slow start to the season? The Warriors have opened the season with injuries to Wright, Turiaf, Randolph and Biedrins. Virtually their entire front line. I sure hope this isn’t the prelude to a replay of last season.
The Natural: Curry had a very quiet 9 assist game last night. Am I really writing those words? 9 assists, 1 TO in his third NBA game. Ho hum. Curry was content to be a complimentary player, setting up his teammates, not looking for his own shot. He seemed determined to follow Nelson’s agenda for this game, which was to restore ball movement to the offense.
He did a decent job on defense as well. Iverson made some shots against him, but Curry successfully kept both him and Conley out of the lane. He picked up 5 rebounds, continuing to show the same kind of team rebounding savvy that Monta Ellis has. And he got another 2 steals. He’s now averaging 2.3 on the year. A natural.
Chocolate Rain: was back tonight, after a 2 game drought. His teammates did a much better job looking for him, and he found the openings against the poor Memphis defense to get his shot off. He even managed to get to the rim on some nice drives. He has apparently been working on making quick decisions with the ball once he gets it.
On defense, he had a target on his back. Memphis went right at him, and Gay in particular lit him up. Nellie did something quite clever with Morrow in the fourth quarter, however: when he switched Jackson to Gay, he switched Morrow to the point guard Conley. Morrow had a tough time running around after Conley, but Conley had an even tougher time converting that advantage into baskets. Nellie will continue to hunt for unconventional ways to hide Morrow on defense, so he can get his dead-eye shooting on the court.
The Blackhole: also had a terrific game. His defence on Zach Randolph was excellent. And on the other end of the court, he was unguardable. Nelson ran several plays to get Maggette on the move, either on curls or backcuts, and Curry connected with him beautifully. There were a few isolations that resulted in jumpers, but fewer than in previous games. And he even connected on a couple of them. Maggette was instrumental in the second quarter run that got the Warriors back from a 13 point deficit.
Maggette also made a very conscious effort to move the ball in this game. He swung it quickly and effectively. His game can appear selfish at times, but I have never gotten the feeling that he is not coachable. He tries to execute what Nellie wants from him.
Mikki Moore: It didn’t show up in the boxscore, but this much derided off-season acquisition saved the Warriors’ bacon last night. With Biedrins out with early foul trouble, Moore was the only player left on the roster who could bang with Gasol, and keep him out of the lane. He gave some very effective and desperately needed minutes.
Anthony Randolph: Nelson said before the game that Randolph would be playing backup 5, but not against Gasol. Gasol is simply too big for him. And sure enough, when Gasol sat to start the second quarter, Randolph came in. He did some nice things against Thabeet, most notably a pick and roll with Monta (finally!). But when Gasol returned, Randolph was pulled. But not before the Grizzlies fed Gasol in the lane, where he “horsed” Randolph under the basket (Nellie’s word) and forced the foul.
In the fourth quarter, Randolph got a couple of minutes more against Gasol but was largely ineffective. He got his shot blocked, and missed a rotation on the defensive end in his preoccupation with bodying up in the lane. In the end, Randolph got only 7 minutes on the court.
Randolph didn’t get the chance to show much this game. The main reason for his few minutes, however, was predetermined: Nellie had a game plan to beat Memphis, and it worked to perfection all night long. The matchup of Jackson and Maggette against Zach Randolph was too effective to mess with.
We can only hope that at some point Randolph will force his way into the lineup. Matchups will play a large part of it. But so will the continuing effort of this 20 year old to learn the game, and to play effectively in the minutes given to him.