Smart is as Smart does: Warriors 109 Clippers 91

Unlike the first game, there was a lot to like in this Warriors win.  Let me start with what I liked the most: Keith Smart, the Warriors’ coach. This single game instilled a lot of confidence in me that Keith Smart gets it — that he has absorbed a lot of the lessons that he learned under Don Nelson, that he understands what he has in his roster, and that he knows how to get the most out of it. My concern that he might be one of the many coaches who insist on pounding square pegs into round holes is all but gone.

So what did I see that suddenly filled me with confidence?  Let’s go down the list:

First, I noticed a subtle change in the offense.  I disliked the motion offense we saw in the pre-season and the first game.  There seemed to be a lot of wasted, purposeless motion.  I was concerned that Smart wanted the Warriors to run the shot clock down, which would be a ridiculous strategy for this roster.  In this game, the Warriors ran less motion, and more set plays.  They stopped trying to post up Lee, and initiated the offense through their guards.  And their attack was crisp: they created their offensive advantage early in the shot clock, frequently with pick and roll. Bravo.

Second, Smart knows how to use Vlad Rad.  It was strange seeing Vlad getting his minutes at the three in the pre-season.  He is serviceable at the three, but he is best at the four.  It is only at the four that he is capable of creating advantages for the Warriors offense, by spacing the floor, and drawing the opposing big man out of the lane.  And it is only at the four that his defensive deficiencies can be somewhat masked. Keith Smart has made Vlad Rad his back-up four, and I expect him to remain there, even when Amundsen returns.

Third, he knows how to use Brandan Wright (when he’s forced to use him at all). Smart has demonstrated that he understands the importance of spacing to the Warriors offense, and thus never puts Brandan Wright on the floor with another non-shooter.  We have not seen him play with Biedrins or Gadzuric, and I don’t think we will.  On this team, like Anthony Randolph before him, BWright must get his minutes at back-up center, which is where Smart played him last night. That’s the position that matches him up against the weakest opponents, and that forces him closest to the basket, where his horrendous defense can be hidden (sometimes), and his shot-blocking becomes an asset.

That pre-season talk about giving Wright a look at the three?  Malarkey. Misdirection. A con job designed to keep a player motivated and happy.  In other words, a Don Nelson special and one more reason I’m warming to Coach Smart.

Fourth, the offensive game plan.  I identified the two main defensive weaknesses of the Clippers in my Pre-Game Jitters: the relative slowness of their big frontline, and Ryan Gomes at small forward.  In the best Don Nelson tradition, Smart had the Warriors pointed like a spear at these weaknesses all game long. They pushed the tempo, and looked for Dorell Wright whenever possible. Gomes had no prayer of guarding DWright.  Wright lit him up every which way, nailing 6 threes, and leaving him flat-footed with upfakes and drives.

Fifth, the defensive game plan.  While the Clippers were focused on containing the Warriors guards, and in particular Monta Ellis, the Warriors were focused on the opposite.  They collapsed and double-teamed the post-ups of Kaman and Griffin, forcing the Clippers front-line into poor shooting, or passing the ball back out.  The Clippers greatest offensive weaknesses are the poor passing ability of their big men, and poor three-point shooting.  And that’s what Smart’s game plan forced them into.  Once again, perfection.

I’m going to go out on a limb here (not that that is unusual for me) and state my opinion for the record:  Keith Smart is an NBA head coach.  The only question for me is how good he can become.  The bar is high for Nellie proteges: Greg Popovich.

Monta Ellis: I have always believed in Monta Ellis as a point guard, and the reasons were on full display last night. He has great court-vision. And contrary to the mass of public opinion, he has a terrific basketball IQ: he understands the game on both sides of the ball, and can execute the game plan on both sides of the ball. At the age of 25.

And there is this, which I have been talking about for years — and believe me it is Oh so rare in this game — his passes are perfectly timed and hit his target on the hands.  He has uncanny ability in this regard.  Just check out that beautiful pick and roll he executed with David Lee at 3:15 of the third, or his many feeds to the Warriors three-point shooters.  Bullseyes.

Monta Ellis is a better point guard, right now, than players like Tony Parker, Jameer Nelson, Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook. The only thing that’s been in question in the past is his willingness to play it.  I think that question has been answered.  The Warriors have a legitimate two point-guard backcourt, and quite possibly the best backcourt in the NBA.

Stephen Curry: How about that teardrop to end the first half? Curry is the Warriors’ best shot-maker in the clutch.  Far better than Monta, who failed again at the end of both the first and third quarters.  This is the next step that Monta absolutely must make.  It’s the only thing standing between him and superstardom.

Is it coincidence that Curry has shown up gimpy after a summer playing for USA basketball?  I don’t think it is, and I’m concerned about it.  I wonder if the Warriors shouldn’t just shut him down for a couple of weeks.

Dorell Wright: Hallelujah.  It is close to a miracle that the Warriors picked him up so cheaply. A testament to the general level of idiocy and herd-following among NBA GMs.  A testament to NBA head coaches who try to pound square pegs into round holes.

And a testament to Don Nelson.  DWright is now a Warrior, and he’s being allowed to exhibit all of his talents: Point-forward, and the greeniest of green lights in the league.

Thank you, Don Nelson.

Rodney Carney: Another quintessential Don Nelson wing player, and another player who looks to be flourishing in this system.  Adam Lauridsen thinks he should never take another three. What do you think?

Dan Gadzuric: His legs showed up! If he could give the Warriors 13 minutes a night like this until help arrives, that would be huge.

David Lee: All those who believed David Lee is a horrible defensive player, who would not help the Warriors defense, raise your hands.  If you are a member of the Bay Area media or blogerati, and you don’t have your hand raised, then you are a liar.

As I stated the day after he was traded to the Warriors, no one has ever seen David Lee play defense before.  He could not hope to play defense on the Knicks, playing at center alongside Al Harrington and Danilo Gallinari.

Now he’s playing alongside Andris Biedrins, at power forward.  And this was the result:

  • Kaman 5-14 and Griffin 6-14.
  • Warriors 46 rebounds, Clippers 40 rebounds.
  • 13: the Clippers point total in the third quarter, when winning-time kicked in.
  • Warriors 109 Clippers 91.

As I predicted, David Lee is turning out to be a terrific team defender at power forward.  He has the size and strength to hold his position and allow help to arrive.  He has a terrific hoops IQ and quick hands that he uses disruptively. And of course, he rebounds like a demon. Is ending a possession with a rebound a part of defense?

The Warriors defense is incalculably better this season than the last two.  And the biggest reason for that is not the presence of Keith Smart or Dorell Wright.

The biggest reason for it is the health of Andris Biedrins and the presence of David Lee, NBA power forward.

11 Responses to Smart is as Smart does: Warriors 109 Clippers 91

  1. GovernorStephCurry

    Smh, do you understand how to evaluate players man? Just cause they fit the Nellie style doesn’t mean they’re good. Vlad sucks. Brandan is good. It doesn’t matter if one has a jumper (I haven’t seen a jumper from Vlad since he was a Laker). It’s about their overall contributions. Brandan scores more efficiently (by a lot), he rebounds better, he blocks more shots, the team performs better when he’s in, etc. In what world is Vlad Rad or Tolliver or Old Man George better than that? Even your hero Don Nelson called Brandan Wright “the best player in camp” last year. It’s time for change and while we can embrace the positives of Don Nelson, we shouldn’t be on hyperbole rants to make him out to be better than he was. Small ball isn’t a good strategy unless you simply don’t have good bigs. We have good bigs. Brandan is one of them.
    Ps. Not sure why you think Vlad is a better defender at the 4… He gets pushed and abused badly in the post, while it seems he has good length for a 3, and always contests the shots. He looked like a nice Kobe stopper in the preseason, and I saw him do a nice job last year against him in the regular season.
    Keep up the posts Felt, while i may not always agree, it’s a nice read.

  2. GovernorStephCurry

    And did you see David Lee get abused by Luis Scola opening night? David Lee’s not a good defender. Maybe not a bad/horrible defender, but he doesn’t contest shots, and he doesn’t foul (which is good and bad, but it shows he doesn’t contest shots. Protecting the rim is a big man’s job, and Lee can’t really do that. He can play the passing lanes well, and force his man to start their postion higher but thats really it.

  3. I thought Lee did a great job at denying Griffin the ball. It helps having AB playing the ovr top.

  4. Whoa, whoa, whoa, Guv. It is way past time to put to rest Nelli’s ‘best player in camp’ comment. He was hoping to fool another GM into trading for damaged goods. Didn’t work, but the residue is hearing that comment from fans for justification for keeping a player who’s ceiling is NBA average?

    Actually I’d gladly take B. Wright at average. I keep waiting for him to cost them a game, but thankfully, not yet. I have my fingers crossed.

  5. Good read Feltbot. I appreciate your bball knowledge and though you tend to skew things to the positive and overpraise Don Nelson, it creates a nice balance to the rest of the Warriors media available. I agree with your take on Biedrens effect on Lee’s defense. In my observation, it goes farther than this as I saw a real “gang” approach to interior defense. DWright and Ellis were often looking to weakside block the bigger Clipper’s shots near the hoop, as was Biedrens and this was possible due to Lee’s or Biedren’s keeping position and the Clipper’s bigs lack of court vision to pass out of the pressure. Then Curry adds a little “stealth” blocking ability, just having that knack to get his hand on the ball, for a steal or from-behind swipe block on players who don’t expect him to come from behind. The effect of the “gang” approach reminded me of what was happening defensively during the We Believe run when the other team frequently got scattered. I’m not optimistic yet, but hopeful that this Warriors team finds that gang mentality that allows their defense to rise above the sum of its parts. And I can’t say enough how refreshing it is to see the Warriors rebounding of Lee and Biedrens playing together. Somehow I stay surprised watching them gobble boards. It’s just to unWarriorlike!

  6. Overall good assessment Feltbot – glad to see you are finally ready to get over Nellie (who I appreciated more than most) and get on the Keith Smart bandwagon. I was thrilled when Smart got the job. I’ve always sensed he had what it takes to coach in the NBA if given the right balance of players, which thanks most likely to Larry Riley, this team may now have. I won’t bother repeating some of the great signs we saw on Friday night as our boys dismantled Baron and friends, since Feltbot did a commendable job of noting those signs.
    By the way, is it too early to suggest Larry Riley could be runner up as “Executive of the Year” if the W’s even compete for the playoffs? (which am now convinced they will if the team stays healthy). Pat Riley probably has the actual award nearly locked up.

  7. GovernorStephCurry

    Brandan Wright is a good player. Just because you don’t like him or the way he plays doesn’t change this.

  8. No time for pre-game jitters, but let me just say I like the Warriors +9.5 in this game.

  9. Good call, feltbot!

  10. Should be an easy write-up.

    I was hoping for a breakout performance by Reggie. . . .

  11. Pingback: Tap Out: Lakers 107 Warriors 83 | Feltbot's Warriors Blog