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.