The wind chill in Chicago tonight was 12 degrees. It appeared that the Warriors felt it: they shot 38% in this game. I’m guessing in the second half it was a lot closer to 25%. Its pretty tough to win on the road when you are that cold. And yet, the Warriors looked like the better team for most of this game, and despite all their struggles, had a tie score and the ball with 24 seconds left. They ran an isolation for Monta Ellis at the top of the key, he drove the lane, ignored Anthony Morrow standing wide open in the corner, and flung up a contested airball. The Warrior’s frigid shooting continued in overtime, and that was the ballgame.
When your team shoots 38% from the field, yet manages to take a road game to overtime, it’s a little ridiculous to pick nits. But that’s what I do! My critical eye found a few other contributing factors to this loss, that I’ll get into with my coaching and player evaluations. Beginning with the coaching:
Keith Smart: Vinny del Negro made an interesting decision in this game. He started Brad Miller at the four, and went with a super big front line. And he gave his team instructions to take the air out of the ball. It was so evident that Jim Barnett remarked that Derrick Rose, who is superb in the open court, was deliberately not attacking the basket in transition. I think this was a ridiculous strategy, a clear example of over-coaching.
But Keith Smart failed to find a way to exploit it. The entire game was played at the Bulls tempo. I discuss a few of the lineup choices that I believe contributed to this below. I’m not sure exactly what Don Nelson would have done differently. I’m just going to note that I think Don Nelson would not have let the Bulls play this game the way they wanted to play it. Win or lose, Nellie would have found a way to push the tempo, and run Brad Miller off the court.
Monta Ellis: Ellis had his jumper going in the first half, and the Warriors cruised to a 7 point half-time lead. It all fell apart for him in the third quarter, though. By the time he was pulled with about 3 minutes left in the quarter, he had gone something like 0-7, committed three TO’s, and the Warriors were down 3.
He played better in the fourth quarter, particularly defensively, but just couldn’t get it done in crunch time. Several times he made the decision to drive into a packed lane and try to finish, rather than look for his open teammates. Its hard to fault him for that, for a couple of reasons. First, superstars take the shots at end of games. That’s what they do. Secondly, Monta’s teammates gave him absolutely no reason to believe that they could hit an open shot in this game.
It needs to be asked, though: Has Monta Ellis hit a single end of quarter or end of game shot so far this season? I can’t remember him hitting even one.
Stephen Curry: Curry was virtually invisible in this game on offense. His outside shot was off, and he got a total of 9 shots, to Monta’s 26. But the rest of his game was pretty good. His defense was excellent: Salmons went 4-16, Rose 7-22 (he split time on both). And he played without committing a turnover.
Smart sat him for most of the fourth quarter, in favor of the far slower, and ice-cold Anthony Morrow. That’s one of the decisions I wonder if Nellie would have made. The havoc that the three point-guard look created against the bigger, slower Nets might very well have worked as well against the bigger, slower Bulls.
Corey Maggette: Maggette played a pretty good game. He took a few of his patented terrible jumpers, but he actually made a couple of them. Most of his misses came on layups and drives, which is a disturbing trend of his lately. But take a look as well at the number of free throws he shot in this game: zero. That’s a travesty.
Maggette gave a great effort on defense though. And his 10 rebounds led the team.
Part of Maggette’s struggles in this game I attribute to Smart. Recently, Maggette has had a tough time getting his offense against quick and athletic power forwards like Carl Landry and Jeff Green. Luol Deng is also quick and athletic. And yet in crunch time, Smart went frequently to Maggette in isolation against Luol Deng. It didn’t work.
Note to Keith Smart: Corey Maggette does not have a mismatch against long, quick, athletic power forwards. (Didn’t I already write this note once? Someone forward it to him please.)
CJ Watson: CJ was totally solid in this game. Take a look at his line, and see if you can find fault with it. He also contributed to the excellent defense the Warriors played against the Bulls backcourt. He simply did not get enough shots.
Anthony Randolph: In a curious decision that I’m sure will be debated in the forums, Smart gave Randolph a quick hook in both halves of this game. I’m not sure what the reason was, but I assume it had something to do with not executing the game plan. Randolph did take a couple of bad shots, but I didn’t see anything else. He seemed to have good energy. His rebound total was a little low, but he had 2 blocked shots.
I’m down with disciplining young players, if that’s what happened, but it’s too bad it happened in this game. I think Randolph was absolutely key to speeding up the tempo against the Bulls. The outcome could have very well been different if he had gotten 30 minutes instead of 18.
Vlad Rad and Anthony Morrow: were both cold as ice in this game. For a change, both had all the open looks they wanted. But they just couldn’t convert. Their combined 8-28 was probably more responsible than any other factor for this loss. I will note this difference in the two players, though: Anthony Morrow kept shooting through the pain. Which is what a shooter is supposed to do.
Vlad, on the other hand, gave in to the pain, and passed up several open looks down the stretch. Besides leading to a turnover or two, this really hurt the Warriors. The looks they got, with the shot clock winding down, were nowhere near as good as the ones he turned down. As he did it, I could hear the hectoring voices of Phil Jackson and Larry Brown echoing in his head. It will take time for the voice of Don Nelson to replace those voices: a created shot must be taken. In Don Nelson’s system, Vlad needs to let it rip, and damn the consequences.
And once again, I return to Keith Smart. Smart stuck with Vlad Rad, even playing him at center, despite the fact that he was getting no contribution from him on offense.
I hope he had a very good reason for sitting Randolph.