Aaaaaaaarghh. That is the sanitized version of the noise I made when I returned home from my no-limit poker game only to find that I had recorded the wrong channel. Instead of enjoying a glorious Warrior win with a snifter of Lagavulin, I suffered a melted brain. Someone must pay, and that someone is DirectTV. I’m switching to Comcast tomorrow.
So what follows comes to you courtesy of the box score, Tim Kawakami (dare I admit that?), and a few kind friends. I won’t blame you if you decide to skip this recap, but I do want to throw in my two cents on this game, handicapped as I am by not having seen it.
Obviously, Monta Ellis was the star of the game, and I’m going to give him full credit down below. But I want to begin with the other star of this game, a man who I know will receive absolutely no credit for this win from the Bay Area media. That man, of course, is Don Nelson. When I noticed that Nellie started Corey Maggette at power forward, over Anthony Randolph and newly acquired Vlad Rad, I thought I could hear the outraged screams of Adam Lauridsen and other Bay Area writers over the cacophony of poker chatter, chip splashing, and calls of the board girl in the Lucky Chances Casino. Nellie’s small ball drives them absolutely batty. Slaves to convention, they simply can’t grasp the rationale behind it. And they also hate when Nellie plays veterans ahead of 20 year olds, because they’ve already given up on this season.
I hope you don’t make either mistake. I hope that you, like myself, are still holding out hope that the Warriors can produce some beautiful music this year. And I hope you are willing to open your mind enough to read a fan of Don Nelson basketball attempt to explain why he thinks Nellie deserves the credit for this win. The biggest reason is simply this: if in a basketball game the worse team attempts to match up conventionally against the better team, the worse team is asking to lose. Don Nelson, almost alone of NBA coaches, is simply not willing to do that. He is not willing to concede a game before it begins, no matter how big the disparity in talent. He will look at his roster of players, and look for something, anything, he can use to create an edge for his team. Don Nelson wants to win.
Hence Corey Maggette versus LaMarcus Aldridge at power forward. We all know in our heart of hearts that matching up Anthony Randolph versus Aldridge, at least at this point in Randolph’s career, would result in conceding the edge at power forward to Portland. We know this is true of Vlad Rad as well. But what about Corey Maggette? Does playing Maggette at power forward concede the edge to Portland? The answer is unequivocally no. We know that Maggette will be extremely difficult for Aldridge to guard. We know that Aldridge will find it impossible to run with him. So unless Aldridge can dominate Maggette on the offensive end and on the boards, Portland cannot win the matchup. Now we have a ballgame.
We already know from watching the two play against each other last year, that Aldridge has difficulty playing against Maggette, let alone dominating him. And in fact, a glance at the boxscore tells me that Maggette won this matchup again tonight. Statistically, he played Aldridge even. So why did Maggette win the matchup? First, because Aldridge is a difference maker for the Blazers, and Maggette played him even. Second, because playing him at power forward allowed Nellie to get Morrow in the game, and match him up against the non-scorer Andre Miller. Advantage, Warriors. And third, because he got Aldridge out of the game early in the first quarter with foul trouble. That set the stage for the Warriors fast break that took over in the second quarter.
Nellie also made other subtle matchup decisions in this game that helped the Warriors win. I lazily predicted this morning that Morrow would have trouble guarding Roy. I should have known better. Nellie refused to concede the matchup, and decided to guard Roy with the quickness of Monta Ellis, rather than similar size. This allowed Nellie to cross-match Morrow with Miller. Unconventional. And brilliant.
What else? How about Randolph against Pryzbilla? By not falling prey to conventional thinking, and starting Randolph against Aldridge, Nellie was free to use him against the Blazers’ backup center. And thus convert a major Warriors disadvantage in size into a major Warriors advantage in speed and skill.
And how about using the rookie D-league call-up Chris Hunter against Oden to start the second half? Apparently Hunter’s terrific game was a big surprise to everyone. But how many coaches in this league could have pulled the trigger on using him in this way? Wouldn’t most coaches have used him as a backup, and played him against other backups? Nellie had a game plan, which was to use his big bodies on Oden, and get Randolph as many minutes as possible against the Blazers’ backups. And he stuck to his game plan, to the point of using a D-leaguer without so much as a practice under his belt, against a front-line center.
I give Don Nelson some credit for this eye-opening win against a Western Conference power. How about you?
And now, a couple thoughts on the Warriors backcourt, who also had a slight impact on this game (that’s a joke, Nellie-haters):
Monta Ellis: Monta was the clear star of this game. To which I have to say: Finally! I have frequently stated that I don’t believe that the Warriors will have much success in games in which Monta isn’t the star. In this game, he was able to put the Warriors on his back, and that got the whole team going. Particularly remarkable was his defense on Roy. Who would ever have thought, especially watching him play last year, that Monta was capable of this kind of defensive performance? I wish I had seen it. Obviously his 6 steals were key in starting the Warriors fast break.
Offensively, he carried the load as well. 34 points and 8 assists will get the Warriors a lot of wins. Can he do it every night? Well, that’s the million dollar question, isn’t it. It must be pointed out that the Blazers backcourt of Miller and Blake is probably the most pathetic defensive backcourt in the NBA. Neither they nor Roy have a hope of staying in front of Monta. But this performance nevertheless gives us hope that he and the Warriors may be starting to click.
Monta’s post game quotes were also encouraging. Suddenly, since Jackson left, Monta has been saying and doing all the right things. Simply a ploy to increase his trade value, as Monte Poole and Kawakami are suggesting? Or does he genuinely believe now that he can work alongside Curry, and make this Warriors team something special? You decide.
Stephen Curry: Obviously the 8 assists against 1 turnover is impressive. The kid learns fast. His scoring was down, and his wrist injury is a concern. I happened to see one of the plays he made, leading the fast break and hitting a moving Morrow in stride at the perfect moment to allow him to step into a three. That play may seem unremarkable to some, but to me it spoke of tremendous vision combined with perfect understanding of a teammate and the game. Others may like Brandon Jennings and Tyreke Evans ahead of Curry. I might grant them that, for this season. But I will take the Curry I believe we’ll see two or three years down the road ahead of them in a heartbeat.