Back to back games with a real NBA center available. Back to back games in which the Warriors looked like a real team. Back to back great wins against two of the best teams in the league.
Coincidence? Virtually every Bay Area sportswriter and blogger, not to mention every NBA writer on the planet, has been telling you that the Warriors are a mess, and that the problem lies with Don Nelson. He’s washed up, he can’t communicate with today’s player, the league has caught up with him, he’s destroying this franchise.
I have been arguing, from the start, that these sportswriters and bloggers are wrong. That this team’s sufferings are directly attributable to the absolute plague of injuries that robbed them of their big men and their defensive stopper swingman, and left them playing 7 or even 6 man rotations. I’ve been arguing, since before the season started, that when healthy this Warriors roster is simply loaded with talent, and ready to make some noise in the league. Led by Coach Don Nelson.
After a 25 game absence, the Warriors have now had two partial games with Rony Turiaf, and one quarter of basketball with Andris Biedrins. And have come up with two great wins against the league’s best.
Is this Warriors team a mess? Is Don Nelson washed up?
I think I saw enough in these two wins to know the answer. How about you?
Coach Don Nelson: In my recap of the Suns game, posted on GSoM, I detailed the chess moves that Don Nelson made that I believe led to that victory. In this game, Nellie was presented with a completely different set of problems. And he came up with a completely different set of answers. Winning answers.
Nellie opened this game by giving Anthony Randolph, Randolph’s agent, the NBA and Warriors beat writers, the Warriors bloggers, Bill Simmons, and every Warriors fan on the planet what they have all been baying for since the start of the season. Anthony Randolph at power forward. Even I, who likes the way Don Nelson has brought Randolph along, lent my voice to this chorus before the game. I wanted to see Anthony Randolph play power forward against Kevin Garnett and the towering Celtics front line.
Well, we got our wish. It’s not that Anthony Randolph played terribly in the first quarter. He got his stats, 6 points and 5 rebounds. It’s that he was completely ineffective. He failed to draw Kevin Garnett out of the paint. Garnett dared Randolph to shoot his jumper, and Randolph could not make him pay. He shot 2 for 8 in the quarter. And the Warriors offense stagnated as a result. Nobody could get anything going to the basket with the Celtics big men packing the lane. When Nellie subbed Anthony Morrow for Randolph at 1:20 of the quarter, the Warriors trailed by 16 points, 31-15.
The Warriors played small, with Maggette at power forward, until 7:40 of the second quarter. During that time, with more room in the lane to operate, and better spacing, their offense came to life. When Vlad Rad came in for Maggette, the Warriors had narrowed the lead to eight points, 42-34. Playing Vlad Rad at power forward allowed the Warriors to continue spreading the floor. The Warriors ended up dumping 35 points on the Celtics in the second quarter, the most points that they have given up in any quarter to any team this season. And the Celtics’ 16 point lead was cut to 1 at the half, 58-57.
At the start of the second half, Nellie made a big change in the Warriors’ lineup. Anthony Randolph remained on the pine, and Anthony Morrow started in his place. (CJ Watson also replaced Stephen Curry. I’ll get to that in a bit.) Had Don Nelson given up on Anthony Randolph in this game? No, he had simply changed his role. From this point forward, Randolph was played only at center, and only against one of two players: Kendrick Perkins or Big Baby Davis.
7:11 third quarter: Randolph enters the game to play against Perkins.
4:05 third quarter: Rasheed Wallace replaces Perkins. Randolph comes out.
1:38 third quarter: Randolph enters the game to play against Big Baby.
6:13 fourth quarter: Garnett replaces Wallace. Randolph comes out.
5:26 fourth quarter: Randolph comes back in to play against Perkins.
2:47 fourth quarter: Randolph out, Turiaf in for the final minutes.
Played at center against two lumbering behemoths, Randolph, the same player who had struggled so mightily at power forward against Kevin Garnett in the first half, became magically effective. Nellie played him at point center, and the reluctance of Perkins and Davis to leave the lane allowed Randolph to get several steps closer for his jumper. Presto, they started falling. When Perkins ignored him to pack the lane against Monta, Randolph made a beautiful dive cut to get the pass and a layin. And Randolph’s defense on the Celtics bigs became completely disruptive. He broke up the Celtics high pick and roll with his quickness several times, one time stealing the ball outright and taking it the length of the court for the slam. After getting a -16 playing power forward against Garnett in the first half, Randolph was +7 in the second half playing center.
A miraculous recovery? Or a brilliant adjustment by Coach Don Nelson?
The other major adjustment Nellie made in this game was to bench Curry for the second half. Curry was a little unlucky in this game in picking up three early fouls. Two of those were the result of him being the only defender back against the Celtics fast break. Nevertheless, CJ Watson was far more effective in this game than Curry. This was largely because Ray Allen got so hot in the first quarter while being guarded by Monta Ellis. The Celtics run Allen through multiple screens to get him open, and he was simply running Monta ragged, and getting him punished by the Celtics big men to boot. When Nellie brought Watson in for Curry, he was able to get Monta off of Allen. Monta shifted to Rondo, whom he was able to sag off of and conserve energy. And Watson did a superb job against Allen, aided by another Nellie adjustment. Instead of trailing Allen around screens, Watson went above the screens, and cut off Allen’s passing lanes. This resulted in Watson picking up a career high 7 steals, sparking the fast break, and leading the Warriors’ resurgence in this game.
Biedrins and Turiaf: What the Warriors’ centers did to help the team is nearly immeasurable. Obviously their defense and rebounding in 40 minutes of combined play was huge. Their ability to hold their ground and challenge the Celtics big men in the paint helped hold Perkins and Davis to a combined 11 points, and Garnett and Wallace to a combined 22. And the Warriors were only outrebounded by 1 by one of the biggest and best rebounding teams in the league.
But what I would really like to discuss is what they did for the Warriors’ offense, because this is not completely obvious from the boxscore. Starting with the high pick and roll. In my pre-season forecasts, I was extremely excited by what I thought the Warriors could get from Monta Ellis and the Warriors centers in the pick and roll. And in this game, the 30th of the season, we finally got a chance to see it. Finally.
If you care to rewind the tape and check it out, it began at 10:20 of the second quarter. Monta and Turiaf ran a perfect pick and roll that resulted in a Turiaf layup. The Warriors returned to it their next play up the court, and kept returning to it until halftime, with great results. When Biedrins returned for a brief stretch, he and Monta ran it as well. The Celtics, with one of the most ferocious defenses in the league, couldn’t stop it.
Which is why when this game got down to crunch time, pick and roll is the play the Warriors leaned on. At 1:58, Turiaf got a layup. And one. The Warriors came right back with it in their next possession, with Turiaf driving the lane and this time dishing to Watson alone in the corner for a three.
If the Boston Celtics can’t stop Monta Ellis and Biedrins/Turiaf in the pick and roll, which team in the league can? Be prepared to watch this become a staple of the Warriors half-court offense.
I want to make two more points about what Beans and Turiaf contribute to the Warriors offense:
- 7 assists.
- Offensive rebounds: Warriors 14, Celtics 10.
A certain well-known Warriors pundit has opined that the return of Biedrins and Turiaf won’t make much of a difference to the Warriors offense. What do you think?
Monta Ellis: I’m not going to rhapsodize about Monta’s performance in this game against the league’s best defense, although he deserves it. I just want to point out that he did something in this game that he had not done before this season: come up huge at the end of a quarter. And he did it three times. At the end of the first quarter, knowing the Celtics wanted to give a foul, Monta brilliantly turned it into a shooting foul, getting 3 free throws and beginning the Warriors’ comeback. At the end of the half, Monta buried a quick three in a 2 for 1 situation. And at the end of the game, in addition to running the pick and roll beautifully with Turiaf, he buried the clutch free throws that iced the game.
Welcome to the big time, Monta Ellis.
CJ Watson: The best backup point guard in the NBA.
Corey Maggette: After 7 remarkable games, Maggette’s contributions in this game didn’t show up in the box score. But his remarkable defense on Kevin Garnett is what allowed the Warriors to play small, and turn this game around.
Vlad Rad: 10 rebounds? Great defense on Kevin Garnett? Tantalizing.
Chocolate Rain: Back after an agonizing drought. 5-7, including 2-3 on threes. 7 rebounds. Two quibbles: His defense on Eddie House almost took away what he gave. And this is the second game in a row in which he choked in crunch time. In the Phoenix game, he missed a crucial free throw. In this game, he passed up a wide open shot to hit Maggette at the three point line with no time left on the shot clock.
The Thaiblonde let him know that wasn’t a good play.