As the only team to take the court with actual centers, the Warriors figured to have the size advantage in this game. But that’s not the way it worked out. There is more than one way to have a size advantage in basketball. You can have it the traditional way, on the front line. But you can also have it the way the Portland Trailblazers had it in this game, at the wings. Portland used the size of its wing players, Brandon Roy at 6-7 and Martell Webster at 6-7 to dominate their far smaller Warriors counterparts. The Warriors wing defenders, Monta Ellis, Stephen Curry and CJ Watson, who all go 6-3 in their dress shoes, were completely helpless against Roy and Webster. Roy avenged his terrible performance in Oakland with a brutally efficient 37 points on 12-16. Webster went for 21 and 11. And with the help of these players and Dante Cunningham off the bench, the Blazers outrebounded the Warriors 43-36.
The Blazers exploited a hole in the Warriors’ current lineup that has been little discussed because of all of the injuries to the front line: the lack of a defensive stopper with size. The trade of Stephen Jackson, and the injury to Kelenna Azubuike, who was meant to replace Jackson in the starting lineup, has left the Warriors with literally no wing defenders. This is a very unusual and ironic position for a Don Nelson team. Nellie has traditionally always gone to battle with a size and defensive advantage at the wings. It is a centerpiece of his team philosophy, as you can figure out just by listing his wing players of the last two decades: Richmond, Elie, Askew, Sprewell, Finley, Griffin, Buckner, Bell, Howard, Jackson, Azubuike. Any one of those players would have been extremely useful to Nellie in this game. There have been rumors that the Warriors will soon call up a defensive small forward from the D-league. This game may hasten the process.
The Blazers also punished the Warriors at the point. Anthony Morrow, a defensive liability on the best of nights, was assigned to guard Andre Miller. Since Miller can’t hit the side of a barn with his outside shot, this figured to be a good place to try and hide Morrow. To say it didn’t work would be an understatement. The 6-2′ Miller lit a match to Morrow, driving around him and posting him up at will. After Monta on Roy, Morrow on Miller was the Blazers’ go-to matchup.
Nellie lit into his teams’ guard play after the game. He pointed out the poor defensive effort, that led to the Blazers being able to get anything they wanted on offense, and stated that the Warrior’s guards “didn’t compete.” I’m guessing that it was Morrow and Curry’s defense on Miller that particularly incensed him.
Nellie also criticized his guards’ poor showing on the offensive end, saying they “weren’t aggressive.” The Blazers took the standard league defense of Monta Ellis to a new level in this game, playing an outright zone, and daring all of the Warriors to shoot. It didn’t slow Monta down much, but the Warriors’ role players were completely ineffective zone busters. Morrow, Watson and Radmanovic were a combined 1-8 from 3, and not much better anywhere else on the floor. Watching the Warriors score 15, 17 and 16 in the last three quarters, after putting up 41 in the first quarter, had to have given Nelson apoplexy.
An ugly and disappointing loss.
Monta and Maggette: The M&M’s were the only two Warriors who showed up for this game. Operating against double and triple teams in the Blazers tightly packed zone, their efficient offense kept the Warriors in the game.
Biedrins and Turiaf: Nelson found fault with his smalls in this game, but commentator Nate Thurmond, a former NBA center himself, found fault with Biedrins and Turiaf. And it’s tough to argue with him. They were all but invisible, totaling 2 points, 5 rebounds and 0 blocked shots. Combined. Their failure to show up was fatal on a night when the Warriors smalls were so heavily outmatched.
Biedrins has yet to make a significant impact in any game so far this year. For a player that many felt was on the verge of being an all-star, this must be an extreme disappointment. Hopefully, he’ll regain his form before too long. The Warriors are desperate for his contributions.
I’m a little less hopeful about Turiaf. Reading between the lines of Nellie’s comments, I have the feeling that Turiaf has a bum knee that will require surgery after the season, if not sooner. He may not be a consistent contributor.
Anthony Randolph: Nellie used Randolph at backup center in this game. He was terrible in the first half, picking up 3 quick fouls and only 1 rebound in a 5 minute stint. He played better in the second half, picking up his rebounding, but still managed to drive Nellie crazy. He picked up a foolish technical for hanging on the rim on a dunk, blew several rotations on Roy that got Nellie up off the bench and waving his arms, and selfishly threw up a completely wild shot that got him yanked. An all over the map performance that both showed his tantalizing talent, and provoked another round of “Remember, he’s only 20 years old” apologies from Fitz and Barnett.
The bottom line is this: -11.
Stephen Curry: Curry opened this game with something he usually saves for the third quarter: a silly, lazy passing turnover. And he never became a factor after that. He again found himself in early foul trouble, and spent much of the game on the bench. This has been a tough stretch of games for the rook.
The Little Three: The Warriors need a contribution from Morrow, Watson or Vlad Rad in every game. In this game they got nothing.
Watson’s shot was completely missing in action. I’m not sure I ever remember him shooting this badly. He even shot an airball on a layup attempt (well, it banked). But his defense forced Nellie to keep him on the floor.
Radmanovich flew the enigma flag. At 6-10′, he was unable to rebound or play defense against the Blazers’ smaller but quicker wings. He missed his only shot, and passed up another open three to dump the ball off on a surprised Turiaf at the top of the key.
But it was Morrow who really disappointed. I’ve already mentioned his putrid defense against Miller. His offense was equally bad. Is Morrow afraid to shoot? He took 11 shots in this game, but should have taken well over 20. Why? Because he got that many. Morrow passed up shot after shot in this game, which had to drive Nelson crazy. When Nelson said his smalls were “not aggressive,” I think he was talking directly to Anthony Morrow. As Nellie has said, he’s not out there for his defense. Take the shot.
Morrow did make one highlight play: a nice upfake followed by a quick drive and a shocking slam. Unfortunately, he ruined the play for me by celebrating like it was the first time he’d ever dunked.
I think he ruined it for Jim Barnett too. Barnett put it beautifully: “No one liked that play more than Anthony Morrow.”