Windy City: Bulls 96 Warriors 91

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.

5 Responses to Windy City: Bulls 96 Warriors 91

  1. I’m torn on this one.

    On the one hand, I agree with you that the substition pattern was poor. Too much Morrow, not enough Curry, too much Mikki, not enough Randolph; hell, I’d have liked to see Hunter get a few of Vlad’s minutes. While I think both Nellie and Smart play too small, even given our injuries, it does seem like Nellie’s better about putting our best players on the floor. (Morrow’s one of our best, but giving him 46 minutes when he’s cold ain’t likely to heat him up.)

    On the other hand, I can’t really fault the level of play we got from the guys that were on the floor. There was sustained energy on defense, and some of the best offensive flow we’ve seen all year. Most of the shots didn’t go down, but that’ll happen sometimes… we took good shots. And 28 three-point attempts, including thirteen from Morrow, is *exactly* the kind of thing we should embrace; we have a much better chance of competing going forward if we put more emphasis on shooting from distance.

    So I’d give Nellie the edge on player choice, but I’ve got to give Smart the edge on coaxing good play out of the lineup. And overall, I can’t say that I think Nellie would’ve gotten a better result here. As tempting as it is to think that he could’ve forced Miller off the court, I just don’t know why the Bulls would’ve felt the need… Noah runs the floor well, and their smalls are big and physical enough to frustrate a Maggette type if we try to push the tempo. We could’ve gotten a few more fast break points, but overall, I don’t think it was a mismatch that was going to tilt in our favor. Sometimes bigger really is better; that’s something that both Nellie and Smart seem to have forgotten.

    No idea what to expect tonight; we missed everything short yesterday, so it’s hard to imagine us shooting well now that we’re gassed. But as well as the Pistons are playing, their lineup sure looks punchless right now. We can win *if we play bigger* and slow the bleeding on the glass. Will we? Probably not. And the refusal on the part of both coaches to at least try normal lineups is getting pretty damn annoying.

  2. California Dreamin

    I understand the whole “staying within the game plan” thing but I must admit I am tired of the games the team seems to play with Randolph and I suspect they may will lose him in the process.

    Last night seemed ridiculous to the extreme. Clearly, this was a team that he could have flourished against, and if not Chicago, then who?

    What are the Warriors waiting for, in another lottery bound year? They need to know by seasons end that Randolph is a lock down starting forward so they can plan their off season accordingly.

    I mean, we will be into the fourth year of Brandon Wright and we still don’t know what to expect from him. I think that Randolph showed alot by getting to New Jersey in time to play, after a family emergency, and yet, he still seems to be the only player punished for mistakes, the only one.

    Maggette gets carte blanch, Morrow can miss open jumpers till he is blue in the face, and the guard can turn the ball over repeatedly and they stay on the court.

    Randolph makes a mistake or misses a shot and seems to come out immediately. I have been patient and understanding about Nelson/Smart are trying to do, but I feel enough is enough.

    A team with so few healthy bodies cannot afford to be so narrow minded as to have almost a short sighted approach to what could soon become a long term problem if they are not careful.

  3. Dead on Dreamin!!!!!

  4. onlxn, bigger is better when your bigs are better than the other team’s bigs. Nelson had no problem playing big in Dallas. He did it virtually all game, every game. People tend to overlook that.

    If Biedrins and Turiaf come back healthy, I expect the Warriors to play big far more often than people expect (if Vlad Rad at pf can be construed as big). The question will be whether Randolph will be ready, in Nellie’s eyes, to play power forward. Nellie has spoken of intricacies at that position that Randolph has had trouble grasping, which are over my head.

    But there is no doubt in my mind that Nellie will willingly go big, and stay big, if he feels that he has the players to get it done. At the moment, the front line is too thin for Randolph to do anything other than play backup center. It will be interesting to see how he’s used if Beans and Turiaf return.

    Having said that, I shared CD’s frustration and concern over the use of Randolph last night. There was no better time to use him, and no better player on the court.

  5. bot, I certainly agree that with Biedrins and Turiaf on the shelf (not to mention ‘Buike, our best defender in the early going), we’re facing an uphill battle no matter what we do. And I agree that Nellie has shown a willingness to play big lineups many times in his coaching career. To say he always prefers smallness would be simplistic and inaccurate. Nonetheless, Nellie has played suboptimally small lineups since the beginning of last year… of late, Smart has joined in the “fun”. The main reason why is that Nellie has been coaching as though the ’07-’08 roster was still all here.

    From the Dunmurphy trade through Baron’s departure,we mainly used a pseudo-smallball lineup to good effect. There were five main reasons it was viable:

    1) Baron singlehandedly provided a ton of playmaking, finding openings for our little guys.

    2) Biedrins could slow the defensive bleeding at the rim and on the glass.

    3) Al could hit threes, which spaced the floor, and bodied up power forwards well enough so that they didn’t outright slaughter us.

    4) We shot tons of threes.

    5) We got a lot of steals to make up for our defensive weaknesses.

    Several of these elements need to be in place for smallball to be a good *long-term* strategy, as opposed to an alternative look here and there. A lot of playmaking, one big anchor, a guy who’s well-suited to the smallball four, a willingness to let it rain from the outside, a lot of turnovers leading to breaks, … you may not need all of these elements, but you definitely need some Look at Orlando: they don’t force turnovers or run much, but they have a supremely good anchor in Howard, a perfect smallball four in Lewis, plenty of playmaking between their PGs and Hedo last year/VC this year, and a commitment to shoot as many threes as possible. It works! When the talent is there and the strategy is well-thought-out, it works.

    Since Baron left, we have had neither talent nor the robust commitment to the strategy to make it work, but we just keep going back to that well. Rather than acknowledge that we don’t have a great playmaker, Nellie has simply shoved Jack and then Monta into the Baron role, turning them both into league-leading turnover machines. We have had Biedrins for 66 out of 105 games, but except for a dozen injury-induced regular lineups last spring, Nellie has gone small whether or not he has had Biedrins available. We have not had a guy who combines Al’s three-point shooting and decent man D at the four; Nellie has cast Maggette as Al, forcing a brilliant inside player to the perimeter, and now Vlad as Al, failing to notice that Vlad can’t body up a Girl Scout. We have not shot many threes, dipping from a league-leading number in ’07-’08 to a below-average figure the last two years, despite *better* shooting ability from that range. Steals? Yeah, we continue to rack up the steals; that’s the one thing this team does well. It’s not enough to justify smallball.

    The roster is different than it is in ’07-’08, but *it is far from talentless*. Used properly, Monta is a more efficient scorer than Baron could ever dream of being. We have the best array of three-point shooters we’ve had since Run-TMC, if not ever. Corey Maggette is extremely good at being Corey Maggette. Most significantly, with Biedrins, Turiaf, Randolph and Wright, our talent base has shifted significantly towards the frontcourt; when healthy, this is a team that can actually win battles at both baskets. That’s not to say that it’s a playoff core; we’re young, we’re injury-prone, we’re missing a superstar. But this team could do some things if you just played normal lineups and gave them simple, consistent responsibilities.

    Nellie hasn’t done that. He has kept us small and weak and ever-changing, not realizing that that’s a waste of this younger, bigger team. He has disregarded Brandan Wright because Wright, though an excellent offensive player, is not a jump-shooter. He has tried to make Corey Maggette be something other than Corey Maggette, when no player in the league had carved out a more obvious niche for themselves. He has benched Anthony Randolph because — well, I think he’s often been right to bench Anthony Randolph.

    Nellie has just been on auto-pilot, man, as Jamal Crawford’s 39 minutes a night last year should attest. Nellie is still unconventional, but it’s not enough to be unconventional for its own sake… you have to be unconventional for good reasons. If this roster doesn’t lend itself to smallball, Nellie should either adapt or quit, rather than mishandle the talent. He has shown no signs of adapting… worryingly, neither has Smart, so even if Nellie *does* quit, we may not be free of all this.

    This really is the defining story of the last year and change — not Baron leaving, not Mopedgate, not the Jack drama, not Cohan. A legendary coach’s disinterest in adapting to the talent at hand, and a franchise and fanbase that is tragically desperate enough to ignore it.