That gasp I heard as the Warriors seized control in the fourth quarter, was that the Mavs fans? Was it Mavs owner/GM Mark Cuban once again suffering a melted brain? Or was it the sound of The Warriors Bet coming off life-support?
The Warriors were so badly crippled in this game that they took the floor with six able bodies, and an assistant coach. Corey Maggette was held out with sore hamstrings, on the front end of a back-to-back. (I have a sneaking suspicion we’ll see him tomorrow against the Spurs, though.) Don Nelson was also out. He was left behind in Oakland to recuperate from a case of pneumonia. Keith Smart took over the reins, and to my eye did a masterful job in the hot seat. The D-league call-up Chris Hunter also did not play in this game. Although he was very useful against the huge Greg Oden in the Portland game, he was not the right horse for this race against the soft Mavs front line. Anthony Randolph and Vlad Rad were. (But expect to see a little of Hunter tomorrow against the Spurs.)
But simply saying that they were down to six players doesn’t convey the full extent of how badly crippled the Warriors were in this game. The Warriors were so badly crippled that for 13 minutes of the game they were forced to play a ridiculous lineup of three bigs (Mikki Moore, Vlad Rad and Randolph). That’s right, the Warriors ran out of small players! Who could have ever thought that possible at the beginning of this season? The desperation big lineup was nearly disastrous for the Warriors, putting up a -8.
Yet somehow — despite 48 minute “complete games” from Monta Ellis, Anthony Morrow, and Vlad Rad; despite a ridiculous number of bad turnovers; despite getting a bad home whistle that left Curry and Vlad Rad both playing with 5 fouls during crunch time; despite being forced to use that disastrous big lineup; and despite the fact that Monta Ellis suffered muscle cramps in the fourth quarter so bad that he needed treatment during dead balls — somehow, the Warriors were able to come from behind and steal this win against the 10-3 Mavs. How were they able to do it?
Let’s run down the reasons:
Monta Ellis: For the second game in a row, Monta Ellis was the star of the game. Offensively, he put the Warriors on his back. His line of 37 points and 8 assists looks remarkably similar to his Portland game. Defensively, he wasn’t quite as stellar as he was against Portland. He was matched against Jason Terry for much of the game, and Terry’s quickness gave him more problems than did Roy’s size. But he was still very good, particularly considering the enormous effort he had to put forth carrying the Warriors on offense for 48 minutes. A second straight amazing performance.
After watching Ellis drive to the hoop time and time against the hapless Mavericks defense, it’s fair to ask the question: Is the real Monta Ellis back? It should be mentioned that if there is a worse defensive backcourt in the league than Portland’s Blake and Miller, it is Dallas’ Kidd, Barea and Terry. They could make anyone look good, as could Dallas’ marshmallow-soft middle. Still, I’m no longer sure Ellis is not back. He’s looked pretty darn quick the last couple of games. He seems to be finishing a lot better. His jumper’s not completely there, but playing 48 minutes will do that to you. What do you think? I’d like to hear about what others are seeing.
Monta did have a startling 11 turnovers in this game. I don’t fault him too much for it, though. Most of them came from simply losing the ball, as he tried to do too much, too quickly. Some were no doubt strictly due to fatigue. This is what happens when you carry a team for 48 minutes.
Chocolate Rain: This was flat-out the best performance of Anthony Morrow’s career. Yes, the deadly 3-point shooting was on tonight. But Morrow was much more than a shooter in this game, he was a complete ball-player. He’ll never be a good on-the-ball defender, but he finally showed signs in this game that he might become a very good team defender, in the mold of Larry Bird and Chris Mullin. Morrow made several great steals, but he also was fundamentally great in making his rotations. He was in the right place at the right time all night long. And he was strong on the boards, with 9 rebounds.
Another thing that impressed me about Morrow in this game was his play-making. He lead the break on several occasions, and was perfect in his decision-making and execution. He also made a very nice drive and dish on a play when his defender attempted to crowd him. His 5 assists rounded out a terrific performance.
The Natural: Stephen Curry also had an incredible game. He started very slowly, turning the ball over several times in the first quarter with careless or telegraphed passes. He was the hero of this game in the fourth quarter, though, with terrific defense, impeccable ball-handling, and great decision-making. He made several beautiful passes, including a pin-point alley-oop to Anthony Randolph. But he was most impressive when he called his own number. He got 11 points in the fourth quarter with an impressive array of shots. He created one of his patented step-back jumpers at the foul line. He hit an amazing tear drop over Nowitzki, high off the glass. And when Monta hit him with a great long pass at the three point line with the game on the line, Curry sunk the dagger in Mark Cuban’s heart. Anyone who watched Curry’s career at Davidson knows that he is not only a scorer, but a clutch scorer. We learned something more tonight. Curry is a clutch NBA scorer.
Now that San Antonio has shown the league the blueprint to slowing down Brandon Jennings, the Rookie of the Year race is far from over. This thing will be a whole lot closer by year end, mark my words.
Vlad Rad: Why does Don Nelson crave big men who can shoot the three? For the answer, you need look no further than the performances of Monta Ellis and Anthony Morrow in the last two games. When you can spread the floor on offense, you force your opponent to bring one of his big men out to guard at the three point line. Your opponent can then no longer guard your entire team by packing the lane, or packing a side. He is forced to pick his poison. In the last two games, that poison has frequently been a single-covered Monta Ellis, or an open Morrow three-ball. Vlad Rad’s presence has had a radically transformative effect on the Warriors offense.
But Vlad Rad was much more than a spread-the-floor four tonight. He drew the difficult assignment of guarding Dirk Nowitzki, and delivered in spades. He got right up in Dirk’s chest, and challenged his shot. When Dirk got by him, he fouled him to keep him from dunking. And for a player who is new to the team, he seems to have already picked up the defensive scheme. His rotations were solid. This is a very intelligent player. And how about those 12 rebounds and 4 steals? Vlad, is that you? In the brief stretch of games in which I’ve seen him, Vlad has made me feel that Don Nelson may have hit the jackpot in his forced trade of Stephen Jackson.
Mr. Anthony Randolph: Anthony Randolph was, for the first time this season, solid in this game. Simply solid. How about 0 turnovers and only 3 fouls in 30 minutes of play? That is real progress for the young man. He delivered exactly what the Warriors needed. Great defense. Superb rotations. A shot-blocking presence in the lane. And rebounds. Solid. A winning performance.
For the second straight day, I blew it when trying to predict how the Warriors would play their matchups. I expected that Randolph would frequently be matched up against Dirk Nowitzki. Wrong! This game proved to me how sound Don Nelson’s judgement was when he made Randolph the backup center in the absence of Beans and Turiaf. Putting Vlad Rad on Nowitzki away from the basket freed up Randolph to serve as the Warriors’ last line of defense at the basket. He was a terrific presence in the lane, blocking one shot and altering many others. And he’s the only Warrior dressing who has that ability.
M-i-k-k-i-i M-o-o-r-e. Mikki Moore!: Once again, this much derided off-season acquisition of Don Nelson saved the Warriors’ bacon. Who could have imagined before the season that he would be starting at center and getting 30 minutes in a game? And that the Warriors would be winning while he was doing it? Obviously, Mikki did great work on the boards, gathering 11 rebounds. But he is also the bedrock of the Warriors’ much improved defense. He has picked up the Warriors’ system in no time. His rotations are tremendous. That he is even willing to give this much effort at this stage of his career speaks worlds about his character. Is he also mentoring young Randolph?
Don Nelson: Say what you will about Don Nelson as a coach, and many have had a lot of negative things to say, but I don’t think anyone (other than Mark Cuban) has ever said anything bad about him as a GM. This is a man who has already built three perennial playoff franchises from scratch. And if the last two games against Western Conference powers are any evidence, he’s already well on his way towards building his fourth. One of the reasons the Warriors won this game is that they simply had better talent on the floor than the Mavs. You can thank GM Don Nelson for that. He won his match-up with Mark Cuban.
But another reason the Warriors won this game was the system they have been trained in. The talented Warriors simply ran the older, slower Mavs off the court, and buried them with quick threes. You all know who you can thank for that, right? Right?
Keith Smart: In his day job, Keith Smart is the defensive coordinator of the Warriors. I think its fair to say that he’s done a masterful job this season of getting the Warriors players to understand his system, and to buy into giving full effort on the defensive end. This was in complete evidence tonight. The Warriors played incredible defense in this game, particularly given the fact that three of their players were forced to go the distance.
Coach Smart also called a great game. I thought he was particularly brilliant when deciding when to bring Curry back in the fourth quarter. And as he indicated in his post-game interview, he did not bring Curry back before giving him a stern lecture about asserting himself more on the court. The rookie listened, and delivered. Keith Smart delivered too.