Monta Ellis is a star. Watching him earlier this season, I had my doubts. Those doubts are gone. Monta Ellis is back. All the way back. This is the player I watched two years ago, thinking that he could be better than Allen Iverson. This is the player that two years ago Kobe Bryant said was his favorite player in the league to watch. Watching him play right now, I don’t know whether to gasp with excitement, or exhale with relief. He’s back.
The Warriors have an electrifying all-star. And because they have an electrifying all-star, they have a basketball team. Hang onto your seats, Warriors fans. Warriors basketball is back. Don Nelson Warriors basketball. Fast break basketball. Blowout quarters, like we witnessed in the third quarter of this game, are going to follow. Point differential is going to follow.
Wins are going to follow.
Winning time in this game came midway through the third, when Keith Smart finally went to the Don Nelson small-ball, with Corey Maggette at the four. The Warriors pressured and scrambled, coming up big with several steals and key team rebounds, and got out on the fast break. And as Monta Ellis said in his post-game interview, the Pacers got tired. For those of you, like me, who watched every minute of RunTMC, this should be very familiar to you, and as sweet as hooking back up with an old flame. The third quarter is when RunTMC would stick it to the opposing team, wear down their legs, explode their lungs, and melt their brains. The third quarter is when the game ended, and the blowout began. Warriors fans, RunTMC is back. All it needs now is its new name.
Let’s go to the players:
Monta Ellis: 45 pts. on 15-27, and 14-16 from the line. His drives to the basket were relentless and unstoppable. Literally unstoppable. Except by the refs, of course. Danny Crawford completely blew what should have been an And-One, fouling Monta out on a totally bogus offensive foul call. Can I just ask a simple question? Would Crawford have fouled out Kobe Bryant on this call? Lebron James? Forget about the fact that it was a completely obvious, completely blown call. Even if it weren’t, would he have fouled those guys out?
The Warriors get absolutely no respect from the refs, even at home. But I think that may be about to change. When Monta Ellis is an all-star, the respect will come. And I think the last week of basketball has made clear that Monta Ellis is about to become an all-star.
What is beyond amazing about this offensive performance, is that it came once again on absolutely no rest — Ellis played every minute until he fouled out — and it came while putting up yet another great defensive performance on the other team’s best player. Take a look at Danny Granger’s line: 7-17 for 22 points. This is a 6-9″ all-star that has averaged 38 points in his last three games against the Warriors. Monta completely smothered Granger, absolutely denying his drive. The Pacers tried several tricks to try and exploit the matchup, posting Granger up, or trying to hit him on the move in the middle, but it just wound up taking them out of what they know how to do. Monta turned Granger over several times, coming up with 5 steals.
Why was Monta Ellis guarding Danny Granger? According to Keith Smart in his post-game interview, it was because Monta Ellis asked to guard Danny Granger. To which I can only say, Wow. The Warriors not only have a budding all-star, they have a budding team leader.
If there is one quibble with Monta’s game right now, it is the difficulty he has in creating for his teammates. Watching tonight’s game, I asked myself: If Corey Maggette and Mikki Moore, for heaven’s sake, can create open threes for Anthony Morrow off the drive and dish, why can’t Monta? But I recognize that this may be simply asking too much of a player who is just now beginning to realize the kind of scorer he can be in the league. It took Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant years to realize the importance of involving their teammates. If Monta can add that to his game, he won’t simply be a star, or even an all-star. He’ll be a superstar.
Of course, we have to ask, how long can Monta Ellis go playing all 48 minutes? The answer is, until either CJ Watson or Stephen Curry, or both, start stepping up on a regular basis. Which brings us to the Warriors’ second hero of the night:
CJ Watson: Watson had a huge game, which helped turn a 14 point first half deficit into a 19 point win. Until CJ caught fire in the third quarter, Monta had been carrying the load by himself. This team, and Monta Ellis, needs a second banana to step up in every game. Someone, as Keith Smart said in the post-game, to take the heat off Monta, and allow him to play off the ball. The Warriors have been hoping that that someone would be Stephen Curry, but he has yet to really find his stride playing with Monta.
Tonight, Curry got the quick hook, and watched CJ Watson show him how its done. It should be a good lesson for the rookie, because he is eminently capable of creating the same sort of shots for himself that CJ creates. But as Smart said, CJ is now an old hand, and he knows exactly what he wants to do. Curry is tentative and indecisive. After a few more benchings, and a few more lessons like this from CJ, I would expect Curry to take note. He is a quick learner.
I have been insisting to my friends for over a year that CJ Watson is one of the best, if not the best, back-up point guards in the league. By which I mean, genuine back-ups, not starters-in-waiting, or 6th men. And I’ve taken a lot of grief from them for this opinion. But can you think of a better? When you’re coming up with names, ask yourself if your choice is capable of simply taking over a game, the way CJ did for a stretch in the third quarter of this game. Or the way he did for entire games last year while a member of the Magnificent Seven.
CJ is not just about that money jumper. He is also about that rock-solid handle: 6 assists against 2 TO’s. And he’s also about that vastly underrated defense, and that nose for the ball: 3 steals, 4 rbs. His great flaw has been a lack of court vision. But as I’ve often said, if he had that he wouldn’t be a back-up, he’d be a starter.
Of course, someone in the media was quick to ask Coach Smart whether CJ Watson might move ahead of Curry in the rotation with this performance. Trying to get the controversy started, trying to sell some newspapers. I absolutely loved Smart’s response. He said the Warriors are going to play the guys who are playing well, the guys who are helping the team win. He said the Warriors are trying to build a team, and not trying to cater to any one guy. And he said that everyone on the team has to play at a nice level, and if they’re not doing that, you have to move on to the next guy.
This applies, of course, to the Warriors’ approach not just to Stephen Curry, but also to Anthony Randolph and Anthony Morrow. And their approach in the past to players like Brandan Wright and Marco Belinelli. And it also happens to be the approach to developing young players followed by every other team in the NBA. It is NBA 101. Which is why the Bay Area media have proved incapable of understanding it. Unfortunately, they’re not interested in understanding NBA basketball. They’re interested in selling newspapers with controversy.
The Blackhole: Corey Maggette was lost on offense for a large part of this game. This was mainly due to the Warriors failure to run any plays for him. Keith Smart didn’t call his number in this game, preferring to let Monta and CJ run rampant. But after a slow start, Maggette found a way to make things happen. He moved the ball superbly, played good defense, and rebounded. The game did not begin to turn in the Warriors favor until Smart went to the small lineup with Maggette at the four. Fans everywhere in the Bay Area will groan at this, but Maggette is simply superb in that role. Take a look at his +26 for this game, and at the game flow chart at Popcorn.net. They don’t lie.
And in the fourth quarter, when Monta fouled out with 6 long minutes left, and Granger immediately hit a three to cut the lead to single digits, and a chill of unease descended over feltbot’s couch, Corey Maggette stepped up and put the Warriors on his back. He is capable of that. Maggette has been a big-time, crunch-time scorer for years in this league, and he is an important part of this team. He showed it down the stretch.
Chocolate Rain: Morrow got some open looks in this game, and buried them. 4 for 6 from three. Which is a good thing, because his defense on Mike Dunleavy made me throw up in my mouth a little. Fortunately, Mike Dunleavy, while improved as a player, is still Mike Dunleavy, and he folded down the stretch. Those short-armed bricks from three in crunch time looked kind of familiar, huh?
Chris Hunter: After Anthony Randolph went down with an ankle sprain (what next?) and Rony Turiaf got a quick hook in the third quarter (saving him for the back-to-back, or the victim of Keith Smarts’ philosophy?), the Warriors went with Chris Hunter at center down the stretch. And boy did the young man deliver. He moved his feet on defense, blocked a shot and rebounded. And he made two eye-opening three-point plays. One was a layup off a drive that started out by the three point line. The other was a thunderous dunk with a man draped on him. Let me make a point about the strength and power of Chris Hunter: he simply does not feel contact from opposing players when he’s finishing. Can you remember the last Warrior player that was true of? Where in the world did this kid come from? And how lucky are we that we found him? Is he for real, or am I dreaming this? Hunter was thrown into the fire in the fourth quarter and responded with a near-perfect game.
I’ll give the last word to Keith Smart, who, we are learning, is a terrific interview. Smart was asked what he thought of Hunter being ready when called upon. Smart replied (I’m working from memory): “Hey, when you’re on a shoe-string budget, you better be ready. You gotta pay that rent. I know, I’ve been there.”