If it weren’t for Kelenna Azubuike’s devastating knee injury, this would have been a great game to watch. The Warriors gave an all-around superb performance in the second game of a road back-to-back, a performance to be proud of. Unfortunately, their team performance was overshadowed by the incandescent individual performance of sensational Bucks rookie Brandon Jennings, who laid 55 points on the Warriors. 29 of those points came in the third quarter, when Jennings made his first 11 shots, many from 3 point range. For the game, he shot 21-34, including 7-8 from three, with 5 rebounds and 5 assists. A rookie performance for the ages.
Unfortunately, this performance came largely at the expense of Monta Ellis. And that’s where the recap of this game must begin:
The Ellis/Jennings matchup: Offensively, I’m tempted to say this was Ellis’ best game of the season. He shot 11-19 on the tail end of a road back to back. He was 3-4 on threes, a couple of which were extremely clutch in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter. He drove the ball well, and played under control. While he rarely succeeded in actually setting a teammate up for an open shot, he was a willing passer. I did not see the selfishness that has characterized several of his earlier performances. His defensive intensity and performance was good, far better in this game, and this year in general, than it has ever been. It just wasn’t good enough.
The problem is, Monta is no longer the quickest player on the court. In this game, that player was Jennings. Monta looked quick on occasion, when he exploited switching big men for drives. But next to Jennings, Monta was standing still. In the third quarter run where the Bucks erased a 9 point deficit to surge by the Warriors, Jennings ate Monta alive, head to head. He was a blur, creating separation from Monta with ease. He was on fire, it’s true, but it’s also true that he rarely had a hand in his face.
Monta Ellis used to be Brandon Jennings. He used to be the quickest guy on the court. The guy whose every shot was wide open. He doesn’t appear to be that guy any more.
Put another way, Monta Ellis was not the star of this game. The star of this game was the rookie he was matched up against. I know I’m repeating myself, but even when the Warriors return to health, if Monta Ellis is not regularly the star of the game, they will struggle.
Team performance: The Warriors, and I include Monta in this, gave an overall excellent performance in this game. Virtually everyone played well. I am tempted to call it their best performance of the season, because this game against the 4-2 Bucks was not at all like playing the Timberwolves at home. These Bucks are a very solid defensive team, and the Warriors offense carved them up for 125 points. The Warriors forced the game into their tempo, and only a superlative performance by Jennings was able to hold them off. And who’s to say what the final score would have been if Buike hadn’t gone down? Could Nellie have slowed Jennings just a little with Buike on the court? It’s not unlikely. Which is not to mention, of course what we could have done with either Biedrins or Turiaf, or both.
Private Jackson: Jack came to play. He was cold from three, but hit several big shots to halt Bucks runs in the early going. His floor game was excellent, and his defense superb as usual. The few times that Jennings struggled in the second half were when Jack got switched onto him. People often comment on Jack’s lack of athleticism, which makes his ability to guard far quicker point guards uncanny. We’ve seen him do it in the past to guards as talented as Chris Paul. In this game, he guarded everyone from Jennings to the gargantuan center, Bogut. Love him or hate him, he’s a remarkable player.
The Blackhole: Corey Maggette was simply superb this game. His stats, 7-11, 2-3 on threes, 9-9 from the line, 5 rebounds, 4 assists against 1 TO, as phenomenal as they are, don’t tell the whole story. Maggette put the Warriors on his back in the fourth quarter. Nellie went small, leaving Maggette matched up with Bogut at center. He delivered. On defense, he held his ground and battled. On offense, he was the Warriors go-to guy, and his decision making was nearly perfect. He drove the ball, getting Bogut in foul trouble, and himself to the line. He swung the ball well, finding open teammates. And when the Warriors needed him to hit a big shot, he was there every time.
Unfortunately, Maggette may have given the game away on a play where he lost his temper and decked Bogut. Bogut had elbowed Maggette in the face, and when the refs didn’t call it, Maggette took matters into his own hands and shoved Bogut to the floor. This came at a crucial time in the game, with the Warriors down 3 and less than a minute remaining.
Make of this what you will, I would still call this a special performance, and I will still call Maggette an increasingly important player for the Warriors. I’m going to invite ridicule, and say that when Maggette is playing power forward in the fourth quarter, his offensive abilities are not dissimilar to Charles Barkley’s.
Mikki Moore: This was MM’s best performance of the season. He didn’t rebound, but he was perfect with his jumper, which helped draw Bogut away from the basket.
Anthony Morrow: Another lackluster performance for AM. He got very few shots again, but missed most of those he did get. In the fourth quarter, he spent much of the time sitting on the bench, while Acie Law, a far better defender, played in his place. He did get a chance at a last second shot, but seemed to hurry it against a charging defender.
I have previously stated my belief that Anthony Morrow’s destiny in the NBA is to be a role player, not a starter. The primary reason, of course, is that he’s simply not athletic enough to guard opposing off-guards. But there’s another important reason too, a reason that was amply demonstrated at the end of this game: Anthony Morrow can be guarded. He cannot get his shot off unless he’s wide open. This severely restricts his value as an offensive player, particularly at the end of games, when everyone is closely guarded. And as for the playoffs, well. Far more athletic players than Anthony Morrow have been unable to get their shot off in the playoffs.
Stephen Curry: I thought Curry was great this game. He finally gave the performance I’ve been looking for from him off the bench. In the third quarter, he was dumped into the boiling cauldron with Brandon Jennings, and didn’t flinch. He didn’t do much to slow Jennings down, but he went right back at him on the other end, and hit several big shots of his own. And he did manage to turn Jennings over a couple of times, and even blocked his shot once. He also ran the offense beautifully. It was Curry who handled the point guard duties down the stretch. His passing wasn’t reflected in his assist totals, but many of his best passes were followed by misses. Most impressive to me was that he was able to create a wide open three for Morrow within seconds of entering the game in the third quarter. Why can’t Monta Ellis do that? Morrow of course bricked the shot.
Anthony Randolph: Really played well this game as well. His minutes were restricted because Nellie went small in the fourth quarter when the Warriors fell behind. (I’m sure Nellie’s decision to go small will be attacked in the post-mortems. But it did produce a great run in which the Warriors came from an 8 point deficit to take the lead. And they may have managed to win but for Maggette’s crucial blunder.)
Randolph played very intelligently and under control in this game, as his 0 TO’s indicate. He did his job on defense and on the boards. There were two offensive highlights for me. The first was when he calmly drained a 21 footer in Bogut’s ugly mug. The second was an out of bounds play in which he rumbled with Kurt Thomas, and then swooped wide to get around him for a nice contested layup. The kid is making progress.