The story of the last two games, as far as I am concerned, is this: Don Nelson has given the keys of the franchise to Stephen Curry.
In the two games since Stephen Jackson was traded, Curry has started. And he, not Monta Ellis, has been running the team. Curry is the point guard. Monta Ellis is the shooting guard. Don Nelson has made his decision.
Curry didn’t play a perfect game. He turned the ball over 6 times. But most of those turnovers were mistakes of aggression. Passes that were a little too dangerous. Like a teenager with a new fast car, Curry is testing the limits of what he can do in the NBA.
Still, I was very impressed by his performance. His ball-handling was great, even against the Celtics pressure. His ability to find what the defense will give him, and to find the open man, is already special. And his defense is already underrated. He struggled in a few possessions when switched onto the bigger Ray Allen, but he more than held his own with Rajon Rondo. And he picked up 4 steals.
The Warriors, as they have done many times this season, fell apart in the third quarter. It happened the moment that Stephen Curry came off the court. I’m not a big fan of stats used blindly, but the tale of the +/- was very accurate in this game. The Warriors were +5 when Stephen Curry was on the court. Without him, they were -19.
Monta Ellis: Monta tried to be the star of this game, but it didn’t happen for him. The Celtics had him game-planned perfectly. They closed down his driving lanes, and forced him to become a volume shooter. Unfortunately, he obliged them, going 8-21 from the field, against 4 assists. When the Warriors put the ball in his hands in the third quarter, he once again drove the team off a cliff. His -16 for the game stands in sharp contrast to Curry’s +5.
Yesterday on my drive home I heard Tom Tolbert, a former NBA player who I respect as a commentator for his straight-shooting, state that Monta Ellis was not a good enough player to be “The Man” on a good team. And he said it over and over again, under a fierce Ralph Barbieri cross-examination. Monta Ellis is a good player, but he’s not good enough.
This game did little to dispel that judgement.
Anthony Randolph: Before this game, I was excited to watch Randolph match up against Kevin Garnett. I was disappointed by this performance. For the second night in a row, Randolph laid an egg. To be sure, there were signs of the great talent he possesses. He crossed over Perkins on a nice drive. He beat Garnett on another. And he had a nice Moses Malone sequence where he rebounded his own miss twice before getting his third attempt to go in. But once again, he made far too many silly mistakes. He was called for palming the ball twice. He was called for goal-tending twice, on balls that had already hit the backboard. He again struggled with knowing the plays, for which he received some more on-the-court counseling from Monta Ellis. And for at least the second game in a row, he picked up a silly back-court foul. It was his fourth, and got him pulled from the game. As he walked back to the bench, Randolph was pulled aside by Keith Smart for instruction. But he didn’t appear to want to listen to Coach Smart. He ran his mouth and shook his head.
The Bay Area and national media have been screaming for Don Nelson to give Anthony Randolph more playing time, as if he were a finished product. Unfortunately, what I have been seeing so far this season is a player with a screw loose. A player who is more intent on starring in every minute he’s on the court than he is on simply helping his team, and playing winning basketball.
Quick hits on the rest of the Warriors:
- The Blackhole: Corey Maggette started and played much of the game at small forward. I’m sure he was happy about that. He was productive, however, even when matched with Kevin Garnett. Maggette continues to be the Warriors best player, and has put the team on his back during this period of turmoil.
- Mikki Moore: MM did yeoman’s work against the Celtics big front-line. The Warriors played the Celtics even while he was in the game. Which speaks volumes. Anthony Randolph was -12.
- Vlad Rad: His 5 turnovers cost the Warriors. It remains to be seen whether this is a function of his newness with the team, or a function of his expanded role. Don Nelson will put the ball in his hands far more than he has been used to at his previous NBA stops. But despite the turnovers, I like what I’ve seen so far from Vlad. His spacing at the three point line is really opening the floor for Curry and Ellis. And his defense and rebounding have so far been a pleasant surprise.
- Anthony Morrow: Morrow’s inconsistent season continued in this game. I felt he shared responsibility with Ellis for the Warrior’s poor performance in the third quarter. When Morrow came in for Curry, Don Nelson had him guard Rondo. Presumably he was better hidden guarding the non-scorer Rondo than Ray Allen. Did I say non-scorer? As soon as Rondo saw poor Morrow in front of him his eyes lit up. He took Morrow to the rack unmercifully.
- Raja Bell: As if anyone needed more proof of what a gamer he is, Raja Bell took the court like Willis Reed and gave the desperately short-handed Warriors some much needed minutes. And he delivered, with typical tough-nosed defense, smart ball movement and 3-3 from three. He left the team after the game, to go get his wrist surgery. Can the Warriors catch a break for once, and have his surgery go well?