Crazy Nellie: The End of the Hornets Game

“A coward turns away, but a brave man’s choice is danger.”  – Euripides

In the recent Warriors game against the New Orleans Hornets, the Hornets had the ball and were up by 2 with 0:36 left in the game, when they called timeout. This was the key possession of the game.  If the Hornets could run the clock down and make a shot, the game was over.  The Warriors needed to get a stop.

New Orleans broke the huddle with David West, Peja Stojakovich, James Posey and Bobby Brown, in addition to Chris Paul.  All players who were capable of burying an outside shot if left open.

Don Nelson countered with a lineup of five guards.  Corey Maggette took David West at “center.”  Stephen Curry guarded Chris Paul, as he had done all game. The other Warriors players were CJ Watson, Monta Ellis and  Anthony Morrow.

New Orleans, as expected, ran a high pick and roll with Paul and  West. Maggette trapped Paul on the pick.  At this point, Paul could have elected to drive left, and wind up in isolation against Maggette.  He also could have hit West when he rolled to the basket.  West looked wide open to my eyes.  But Paul looked West off and elected to wait out the trap.  When Maggette retreated to pick up West again, Paul was left isolated against Stephen Curry at the top of the key.   With the clock now down to 18 seconds, Paul worked his way into the lane, and tried to get by Curry for a layup.  But when Curry stood his ground nicely, Paul settled for a turnaround 12 footer with 13 seconds left. Which he made.

Ballgame.

Many Warriors fans and writers were furious with Don Nelson over this play. They could not understand why Nellie left Anthony Randolph, the Warriors’ best shot-blocker, who already had 8 blocks in this game, on the bench.  In the comments section to my Warriors-Hornets recap, I gave my thoughts on this decision to two posters who raised the same question.  I said that I thought that Don Nelson knew that New Orleans would run pick and roll with West and Paul, and that he did not want to wind up with Randolph matched up in isolation with Paul.  That matchup would be a disaster for the Warriors.

The posters I was conversing with would have none of this.  They refused to accept that Anthony Randolph could not have blocked or challenged Chris Paul’s shot on that last play.  I gave up trying to persuade them.  I decided that if they couldn’t understand intuitively what I was talking about, then I wasn’t going to waste my breath arguing about it.

I changed my mind when I watched the third quarter of the Phoenix Suns game. Everything I needed to illustrate my point was right there in front of my eyes. If you have the Suns game on tape, and are interested in understanding why Don Nelson made the decision he did at the end of the Hornets game, then follow along with me:

6:47 third period:  High pick and roll leaves Randolph isolated against Nash at the top of the key.  Nash sets Randolph up with a hesitation dribble, then dribbles right around him for a lefty layup off the glass.

3:27 third period: Pick and roll leaves Randolph isolated against Goran Dragic on the right wing.  Dragic beats Randolph baseline, then shows Randolph the ball under the basket, faking him out of his socks, and calmly reverses direction to lay the ball up on the other side of the rim.  A perfectly executed “Dream-shake” by a 6-3″ Serbian backup against the 7′ Randolph, right under the basket.

2:20 third period.  On the high pick and roll, the still freshly singed Randolph sags back and refuses to come out and guard Nash.  Nash buries a three in his face.  This gets Nellie off the bench and yelling.

1:50 third period.  Pick and roll leaves Randolph isolated against Nash on the right elbow. Nash breaks Randolph’s ankles with a between the legs dribble, then goes around him for the lefty layup.  And One.

Can you watch these four plays, and still think that Don Nelson made a bad decision leaving Randolph on the bench at the end of the Hornets game?  Do you really think that Chris Paul couldn’t have done to Randolph what the 35 yr. old Nash and the Serbian backup Dragic did to him so effortlessly?  Because that is exactly what would have happened if Randolph took the floor.  New Orleans would have run high pick and roll, and this time Paul would have elected to take the mismatch. Randolph would have wound up isolated against Paul in the closing seconds.

If you still want to argue this point, AFTER having watched those four plays, then go right ahead and leave your thoughts in the comments section.

But if you hate to open your mind and actually think about basketball, and prefer to simply spew vitriol, then there are other blogs for you, that cater to that.

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Other pieces in the Crazy Nellie Series:  The Ellis/Curry Backcourt and The Randolph Conundrum.

5 Responses to Crazy Nellie: The End of the Hornets Game

  1. Looks like the know-nothings have no comment, Felty. Your logic is irrefutable.

  2. CURSE OF MULLIN

    Felt: I suggest that if you want to attract bloggers here, you not take their criticism or even questioning of Nelson personally. “Spewing vitriol”? Are you kidding me?

    Since you watched the Suns game last night I’m sure you noticed that it wasn’t just Randolph who had trouble stopping Nash and even Dragic, ALL of the Warriors who guarded them had the same trouble, including Curry. I’m sure you also noticed that Nellie’s strategy for the Suns game was, indeed, to have Randolph and the other bigs switch onto Nash on the P/R’s, not just hedge as is usually the case. If Nellie thought Nash could just drive by Randolph every time, why did he devise a defensive scheme designed to have Randolph and other bigs guard Nash on every P/R, rather than just the norm, which would have them hedge on the man with the ball and then return to their man? With Randolph in there in the Hornets game, Curry could have played Paul much tighter on the perimeter and overplayed to the screen, pressuring Paul to go the other way. Lots of options for the W’s if Randolph is in there IMO. And how about the importance of securing the rebound in case Paul missed? Wouldn’t having Randolph in have increased our odds there?

    Is your analysis that, any time an opposing team has a star, scoring guard, the other team should always go small at all positions at the endgame possession bc otherwise you expose yourself to a bad matchup on the P/R? Or do you just think that Randolph’s incapable of defending a smaller guard? Other (good) coaches in the NBA don’t tend to go small like that in endgame defensive situations. They leave at least one big in the game for shotblocking/rebounding purposes.

    We’ll never know what would have happened if Nellie had put Randolph in there. I think the far better strategy would have been to have Randolph in there. The bottom line is, Nellie doesn’t trust Randolph. I get it. It doesn’t mean he’s right. Even “spewing vitriol” for you?

  3. CURSE OF MULLIN

    Should have read: “Enough ‘spewing vitriol’ for you?

  4. First, that wasn’t addressed to you. I have never construed a respectful difference of opinion as vitriol. I welcome and appreciate your contributions, as I do those of all posters who have a basketball opinion.

    Second, did you go back and watch those plays?

    Third, nobody in the league can force Paul to go anywhere on the court that he doesn’t want to go. Paul would have run pick and roll, just like Nash ran it every single time he wanted to. And it would have resulted in Paul in isolation against Randolph, in a horrible mismatch. Period.

    Fourth, that’s one reason that Randolph sat out the fourth quarter against the Suns, and Turiaf played. If you go back and watch the fourth quarter, you will see Turiaf turn back Nash’s drives time and time again. Something Randolph was incapable of.

    Fifth, this was an unusual situation in which the other team put 5 shooters on the floor, and the point guard was Chris Paul. It wasn’t an everyday situation. And in my opinion, Nellie found the optimal response. (But if Azubuike or Raja Bell had been available, I’m pretty certain that they would have drawn the assignment on Paul.)

    Sixth, I am in total agreement with you that Don Nelson is the only coach in the NBA who would have found that response. Which is why I like to watch him. In basketball as in poker, you cannot excel if you run with the herd.

  5. CURSE OF MULLIN

    Felt: You have given a good explanation of Nellie’s reasoning on that play. I did not go back and look at the replays although I remember several of the plays you mention. It might surprise you to know that I agree with a number of things Nellie does. He and I simply disagree on the fundamental issue of importance of an inside game on O and shotblockers and rebounders on D. I do appreciate his eye for talent, and particularly appreciate his handling of guards such as Curry/Ellis.