I guess things were going too well for the Warriors 7 games into the season, what with only two major injuries so far. That Monta Ellis injury looked scary. I’m going to put the Warriors fan hair-pulling on hold for now. I just hope he’s ok.
If it weren’t for that injury, I would have been beyond pleased with this win. Monta Ellis had a beautiful game on both sides of the ball, and his efficient offense — 28 points on 10-17 — was largely the reason the Warriors surged to a 19 point lead in the third quarter. And Stephen Curry’s extraordinary playmaking ability and supernatural clutchness down the stretch sealed the win. His rustiness showed in some bad turnovers. His bad ankles showed in his matador defense on Jarret Jack, who abused him for 24 points on 7-13. But Curry’s ability to pour in 34 points on 12-21 shooting, 16 of which came in the fourth quarter when it counted the most, while playing hurt is… I mean what can you really say about it? You just have to watch. Curry scored in the fourth quarter in almost every fashion imaginable, spot up threes, pull back Js off the dribble, crafty slow-motion forays into the lane. On one leg.
I know I’ve said it before, but what else is there to say? Stephen Curry is a basketball genius. Not just a special player, but Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, John Stockton and Steve Nash special. (The athletically challenged savants that Curry resembles most.) We are indescribably lucky to be able to watch him in a Warriors uniform.
Keith Smart: If it weren’t for Monta’s fall, and Curry’s extraordinary fourth quarter, I would have led with the job that Keith Smart did in this game. I’m pretty sure that Keith Smart has never heard of me, and I’m dead sure that he doesn’t read this blog, but when I watched the Warriors offense in the first quarter, it was as if Smart had taken to heart every criticism I have written so far this year, and in particular the criticisms I posted in the comments after the last loss.
I have been begging Smart to stop posting up Biedrins to start the game, and get David Lee involved instead. I have been begging him to scrap the Jerry Sloan motion offense and simplify. I have been begging him to initiate the offense with simple high picks and isolations, and let his Big Three — three of the most offensively gifted players in the entire league — do their thing. And lo and behold, that’s what happened in this game. Watching the first quarter was for me like… well, although my love for great basketball is unbounded, I should probably stay away from sexual similes… let’s just say it was an intense experience of spiritual bliss.
Here’s a rundown of the Warriors’ opening possessions:
- First play: Curry and Lee pick and pop (airball — who cares?)
- Third possession: ISO Lee, missed J (who cares?)
- Fourth possession: Curry and Lee pick and pop. Curry threw the pass away. Note that Lee should have rolled instead of popping, but also note that Biedrins wasn’t properly spaced. But regardless, the play was wide open. (OK, someone please make a shot. Warriors down 8-0)
- 9:45, after the timeout, Monta gets a simple high screen and bingo, wide open layup. (Yes!)
- 8:10, same high screen for Monta, same layup.
It was not until 7:20 that Biedrins got a play called for him. When it was unpredictable. And after the Warriors had already established their offense. And after David Lee got the feel of the basketball. Lee went on to make several sweet jumpers in this game. And then it continued:
- 4:10 Monta iso’d on Barganani, drive and dish for a DWright three.
- 3:15 Curry/Lee pick and roll, Curry layup (missed).
- 2:40 Curry/Biedrins high screen, Curry open J (made).
- When Jeremy Lin came in, the Warriors used simple high screens to spring him free for two beautiful drive and dishes.
- 0:15, to close the quarter, high screen for Monta. LAYUP.
yes, yes, yes, Yes, Yes, YES, YES, YEEESSSSS!
The Warriors followed this simple offensive game plan throughout the game, and when Toronto made its run and the game got tight in the fourth quarter, these were Keith Smart’s playcalls:
- 2:40 High screen for Monta. Drive and dish to wide open Curry in the corner for three. (How easy was that? That play will be open all day long, all season long. Unguardable.)
- 2:15 Vlad Rad high screen unleashes Curry in the middle for an acrobatic finish.
- At 1:05, after the Ellis injury stoppage, and with the game on the line, a simple top of the key iso for Curry, who feints penetration and pulls up for the wide open J. Money.
Yes. Thank you, Keith Smart.
For what it’s worth, I also think Smart did a masterful job dealing with the Warriors’ foul trouble and matching up in the fourth quarter. But I’m trying to keep this to a recap, not a novel.
David Lee: Finally broke out that sweet J. But this Warriors offense won’t really start clicking until he starts building chemistry with Curry in the pick and roll.
The Warriors held Toronto to 19 points in the first quarter. Did David Lee have anything to do with that?
Another 12 rebounds, like clockwork. It will never, ever, get old.
Andris Biedrins: Another good performance from Biedrins, albeit against a lousy front line. The 6-6″ Reggie Evans had no chance rebounding against him (nice cross-match by Smart).
A good performance, that is, until Triano broke out the Hack-a-Beans, and we were treated to a little glass-shattering. A note to small-ball haters: The Warriors will never be able to play Biedrins in fourth quarters of close games.
Brandan Wright: There was some good to go along with the bad tonight from Wright. We saw the late rotations, the fumbled passes, the outside brick, the offensive foul. But he also had some contested rebounds, some nice finishes, and a couple swats. I won’t mention that he was playing against a lousy front line. Oops.
Unfortunately, what never changes for Brandan Wright is the miserable defensive rebounding. If you want to know why I persist in believing that Wright will never be a playable NBA player, rewind your tape to 11:45 of the second Q and watch him blow a point blank defensive rebound with inside position. And then he did it again almost immediately. At 10:10, Wright blew his second point blank defensive rebound, with inside position, when he let Amir Johnson stuff him in his baby carriage and walk him under the basket.
It’s a mystery. A mystery of the human heart.
Lin looks at loose balls like the Thaiblonde looks at steak.
Jeremy Lin: Never having seen him play, I had some built-in expectations for the Asian kid out of Harvard. I expected an extraordinary basketball IQ and an advanced skill set. Both of which Lin has. What I didn’t expect was that he would be a tough-nosed competitor. Lin is one tough hombre, the diametric opposite of Brandan Wright. Which he showed at 10:00 of the second Q by ripping the ball out of Amir Johnson’s powerful mitts, and starting the fast break.
Lin likes to stick his nose in on defense. 2 steals and 2 blocked shots(!). And he is already proficient at running a couple of sets off the high screen. He made some beautiful dishes off drives. What he can’t do is hit shots or finish. But that might not matter to Keith Smart, given his intangibles.
I fear for Reggie Williams’ minutes.
Rodney Carney: Hit some big shots, but I continue to question his basketball IQ on the defensive end. He needs to make better rotations, and become a bigger factor on the boards. Nevertheless, Smart clearly favors his length and defense over Reggie Williams’ superior offense at the three.
Vlad Rad: When he’s on his game, Vlad doesn’t need to hit a shot to help the Warriors. He has a total floor game. Vlad helped the Warriors big time in this game with some key minutes at center in crunch time. His defensive flashouts were fantastic, his rotations superb: he even blocked a three point shot leading to a Warriors possession in crunch time. On offense, he handled the high screens, and his ability to spread the floor contributed directly to the ease with which Ellis and Curry penetrated the Raptors defense down the stretch.
One more great call by Keith Smart.
The Warriors Bet: The Detroit game didn’t do anything to change my mind, but this game should have made it completely obvious to all that the bookies don’t have a line on this Warriors team yet. And then, of course, Monta Ellis went down.
Stay tuned. The Warriors Bet will be a game-time decision on Wednesday.