Keith Smart began this game by putting the ball firmly in Stephen Curry’s hands. Curry ran the point, Curry ran the plays, and Curry took most of the shots in the opening minutes. Monta played off the ball. This was a great call by the coaching staff, one that set the tone for a new Warriors philosophy of ball movement. I could tell right from the start that this game would be about sharing the basketball.
The change in philosophy was evident in the play of Monta Ellis as well. This was a game in which Monta Ellis undertook to transform himself from a self-obsessed scorer into an unselfish team leader. Whether it was because he finally looked himself — and his 2 assist 9 turnover boxscore in the last game — in the mirror, or because Don Nelson and Keith Smart finally got his attention, Monta radically changed his approach. When he drove the ball, he looked to dish to his teammates FIRST, rather than last. The resulting ball movement of the Warriors was electric, and contagious. Against the Thunder, the Warriors had a meager 12 assists. In this game, they had 23.
Monta appeared to struggle a bit with the adjustment. His jump shot was way off. He opened 0-7 from the field in the first quarter, 1-10 in the first half. This may have been caused in part because he had more on his mind, and because by deferring, he was slower to work himself into the game. But by the end of the game, Monta came on strong, while still fully giving himself over to this new style of play. In garbage time of the last game, Monta selfishly and stubbornly worked himself up to 30 points. In garbage time of this game, Monta created several dunks for Mikki Moore off the drive, to the delight of the Warriors bench. Monta finished with 18 points and 8 assists. And a win.
Hey, I know it was the Nets. There’s a limit to how excited you can get with a win over a 2-19 team. But it was also a game in which the Warriors, and their leader, evinced a determination to come together as a team, and play team basketball. This kind of play makes me wonder what kind of team they can be when the heart of their lineup, Biedrins and Turiaf, return to action. And THAT gets me excited. I can’t help but feel that both Monta and the Warriors team turned a mental corner in this game.
So one game after giving in to my dark side, I am now pleased to highlight the positive things I saw in this game:
The Three Point-Guard Look: The Warriors lead the league in steals. Take a look at the ridiculous number of steals the Warriors generated in this game: 17. Ellis, Curry and Watson got 12 of those steals on their own. All three of these players have a tremendous basketball IQ on defense. They just have a knack for cutting the passing lanes, and for slapping balls away. This ability, combined with their ability to stay in front of their man playing man-to-man, makes them a very underrated defensive unit, despite their small size. Watching this game, I thought to myself that when the defensive, shot-blocking and rebounding abilities of Biedrins and Turiaf are added back into this Warriors team, the Warriors’ defense may become the shock of the league. The presence of Beans or Turiaf in the lane will erase many of the defensive deficiencies of the Warriors’ undersized guards. The Warriors defense is already finding a way to get under their opponents’ skin. Monta Ellis has been a revelation as a stopper. The pressure that Watson and Curry bring as well, and the resulting league-lead in steals, has also been a revelation. It’s going to get better.
Obviously, if the three-point guard look can hold its own defensively, it is going to blow teams away. Because offensively this group is simply dominant. Monta Ellis by himself is so good as to totally distort the opponents’ defense. All three players’ are among the leagues’ best shooters and scorers. When playing off the ball, all three are much better passers than all but the best wing-men in the NBA. And the speed at which they are able to play together is unparalleled. You saw it tonight.
The Small Ball Unit: The Warriors small-ball unit, with Randolph at center and Maggette at power-forward, dominated this game. A simple glance at the +/- tells the tale: Randolph +21, Maggette +25. Mikki Moore and Vlad Rad, by contrast, were -1 and -9 respectively. This comparison is a little unfair, since Moore and Vlad Rad did a lot of the heavy lifting against the Nets huge front line of Lopez and Boone, and helped eat up minutes. But when the small-ball unit hit the floor, they were absolutely devastating.
Anthony Randolph: played another terrific game. He couldn’t do much to keep Lopez from posting and scoring, but he helped the Warriors in many other ways defensively. He was a great shot-blocking presence, and picked up 9 boards. And he was again almost perfect offensively. Like the rest of the Warriors, he was determined to move the ball. Working most of the time in the high post, to bring Lopez out of the lane, Randolph quickly located the open man, and made the perfect pass. 4 assists, 0 turnovers. He was aggressive on the offensive boards, and picked up a few putback slams. One play in particular stood out: Randolph grabbed a defensive board, took the ball end-to-end by himself, completely under control, and then finished with a jump stop and a pump fake to draw a foul. After a slow start to the season, Randolph is progressing in every facet of his game.
Corey Maggette: also played great in this game. He had an all-around floor game, particularly on the defensive end. He picked up 9 boards and 2 blocks. I know the box score says he only had 1 block, but it was 2, trust me. Maggette also willingly sacrificed his own scoring in favor of facilitating the offense, making several nice passes. The one time he took a bad long shot, I saw him slap himself in the head. D’oh!
Maggette gets it. He is trying hard to fit into this team. I appreciate his effort.
Mikki Moore and Vlad Rad: Mikki Moore had a nice line, largely because Monta and the Warriors guards did a nice job of finding him for dunks. But he did a nice job himself of moving without the ball, catching the pass and finishing. He also did a lot of the grunt work against the massively bigger Lopez, and managed 7 boards. I definitely got the feeling that he had a little extra in the tank going against his former team.
Vlad Rad had a relatively quiet game in only 19 minutes of play. But how about those 9 rebounds? Vlad has been something of a revelation on the boards since he became a Warrior. Nellie told Vlad when he came here that he wanted him to improve his rebounding, and I think Vlad may be demonstrating with his effort on the boards his excitement at being able to play in Nellie’s system. Let’s hope it continues.
I’ll leave you with some interesting stats to contemplate, on a night when small ball ruled:
Warriors centers: 27 points, 16 rebounds.
Warriors power forwards: 22 points, 18 rebounds.