Piston Trouble: Pistons 97 Warriors 101

Fueled by a superstar 21 point first quarter performance from Monta Ellis, the Warriors roared to a 32 point lead in this game, before suffering engine failure down the stretch and almost giving the game away.  There are a lot of ways to look at this near-disaster without casting responsibility for it onto Keith Smart.  It can be very difficult to play with a big lead in the NBA, as the Miami Heat discovered recently against Utah.  You can give the game away by keeping the pedal to the metal, or you can give it away by trying to run clock.  Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry both got in foul trouble, which complicated matters further. And on top of that, the Warriors don’t have a backup point guard, nor enough shooters behind Ellis and Curry.  But where is the fun in belaboring these points? Let’s pick a bone with the coach.

Keith Smart: The Warriors’ real trouble in this game began with both Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry out of the game.  As I’ve written before, that should never happen.  Given the Warriors’ ridiculous lack of a bench, there is no foul trouble so dire that both Ellis and Curry should be out of the game at the same time.

The backcourt of Jeremy Lin and Reggie Williams managed to play the Pistons even to close the third quarter, but fell apart to start the fourth.  The Pistons cut 7 points off the lead in only two and a half minutes, leaving the Warriors up only 11 with an eternity left to play.

With both Curry and Ellis sitting on only four fouls, and Curry having already rested most of the third quarter, that just never should have been allowed to happen.

Smart compounded his error by benching Ellis after he picked up his fifth foul, and holding him out until the 1:50 mark.  This was a terrible mistake, so terrible that it is provable mathematically. It should be obvious to all that if you played Monta Ellis with 5 fouls in 1,000 games, the average amount of time he succeeded in playing before fouling out would greatly exceed 2 minutes. It would probably greatly exceed 4 minutes. It might even exceed the 7 minutes that Smart kept Ellis out of crunch time in this game. So it follows naturally that the expected value of bringing Ellis back significantly earlier, or indeed never taking him out in the first place, greatly exceeds the expected value of bringing him back with 2 minutes left.

That doesn’t even factor into account the difficulty for Ellis of coming into the game cold with 2 minutes left. Which he promptly demonstrated by airballing his first and only shot attempt.

Traditionalists shook their heads in amazement at Don Nelson’s refusal to sit his star players when they got into foul trouble.  Nellie trusted his stars to play with fouls. And over time, they rewarded that trust. Nellie refused to let the opposing team or the refs dictate his game plan to him. He sucked every last drop of expected value out of his star players when it counted. And it worked.

I am shocked that Smart didn’t absorb this lesson after three years on Nellie’s bench. So shocked, in fact, that I wonder if he didn’t suffer a significant case of clenched cheeks last night, playing in front of the new owners on their big night. What do you think?

In every other respect, I think Smart coached this game well. I was especially appreciative of his small ball lineups, which started with the opening tip. If he’d had the courage to play rough and tough Milwaukee that way, the Warriors would have had a much better chance to steal that game.

Monta Ellis: Fantastic performance in the first quarter.  The Pistons have no answer for him. So why didn’t we see it repeated in the third quarter, when he took only 2 shots? Because the Warriors were already in run clock mode, with motion offense. I don’t know if you can blame Smart for that.

Two of Monta’s greatest flaws bit him in the fourth quarter. The first was his fifth foul, which once again was the result of a brain-dead out of position contest on a jump shot. He really needs to learn his lesson on these.

The second was his missed free throw in crunch time. I’ve already noted that his free-throw form is poor, and subject to malfunction in crunch time. But he also violated Feltbot’s First Rule of Free-Throw Shooting:

Unlike birdie putts, you should never miss a free-throw long.

Vlad Rad: Anyone who thinks Vlad Rad is a bad basketball player should re-watch the third quarter of this game.  Vlad is actually a very smart player, and Smart used him cleverly in the high post to bust the Piston’s zone. He had 3 very nice assists in the quarter.

There is a difference between a very smart basketball player who frequently suffers brain spasms, and a low-IQ player. Vlad Rad is the former. Brandan Wright is the latter.

Vlad has also changed one part of his game radically for the better. A few games ago I wrote:

I continue to be astounded by his inability to make layups.  Earth to Vlad: You are not George Gervin, and you are not Doctor J. Take it strong, and use glass.

Ever since that game, he has gone glass on every layup attempt, and he hasn’t missed a one. Spooky.

Jeremy Lin: Lin has an astoundingly high IQ on the defensive end, and astounding athletic ability to go with it. Stuckey tried to take him with a one-on-one move in the lane. Lin stoned him and stuffed him. Impressive.

As a point guard, he has a serviceable handle and decent court vision. But…

Unfortunately, his jump shot is tragic. I had a friend once who had that right-ear release. A high-school friend.

Joe Lacob: We were treated to a court-side interview of Lacob last night, on top of his pre-game media interviews. In addition to firing off a few more parting shots at Nellie, he offered us a couple more gems: He wants the Warriors to be a combination of the current Celtics, and the Showtime Lakers. Right, that makes sense.

And Lou Amundson is the best rebounder in the NBA, per minute. (Can there be any doubt now who was responsible for the Tolliver/Amundson disaster?)

God help us. Did Lacob really trot out the “per minute” analysis for a back-up power forward? Oh, god.

We were told that one of the duties of Warriors’ “Director of Basketball Operations” Kirk Lacob will be statistical analysis. He’s a budding John Hollinger, and we can now safely assume that he will be kept busy counting rebounds, and dividing them by minutes played . (Don’t bother taking into account the difference in energy expenditure between 38 minute players and 15 minute players, and don’t bother charting the competition they match up against. Not important.)

God help us.

I wonder, did Joe Lacob ever pause to consider why Phoenix — who is so desperate for power forwards after the departure of Amare Stoudemire that they brought in Hedo Turkoglu, Hakim Warrick and Josh Childress to fill the position — had zero interest in retaining fan-favorite Amundson? Zero. Did that ever cross his mind?

Anyway, someone should inform Joe Lacob that he’s wrong. Lou Amundson is not the best per minute rebounder in the NBA.

Jeff Adrien is.

Larry Riley: The most amusing part of yesterday’s media extravaganza? Joe Lacob informing us that Kirk’s title “Director of Basketball Operations” was invented by Larry Riley.

I don’t know which of my feelings for Larry Riley increased more at that news, my admiration or my dismay.

35 Responses to Piston Trouble: Pistons 97 Warriors 101

  1. Agree with you that Smart brought Monta back in way too late at endgame. Not even a close call. In his postgame, Smart was asked if he thought he brought Monta back too late and he didn’t flinch–no, I’d do it like that every time. His point was that Detroit had two aggressive offensive guards in there who immediately would go after Monta and Curry to get them in foul trouble. Monta’s a big boy; he should be able to handle that. He backs off a bit on D–at least you still have him on O.

    I disagree with you re Vlad. Yes, he can show a decent BBall IQ and some vision like Q3 last night, but most nights he plays like he’s in a fog (come to think of it, he shoots like that, too). And he’s a great practice shooter who can’t deliver when the game clock starts. He’s close to worthless on the court most nights.

    By the way, Childress is a PF?

    As much as I despised Cohan, and was not a Nellie fan (though I do greatly value Nellie’s player evaluation talent–and hope Riley picks Nellie’s brain on this in the future), I thought the pot shots Guber took at Cohan and Lacob took at Nellie yesterday were unfortunate. I’m hoping this new regime takes a step up in class from the Cohan era.

  2. Highlights from last night. (BTW, I continue to be frustrated beyond description at Lee’s injury and the lack of immediate medical attention that this specific case required. The fact that Lee was again hospitalized after his initial release following surgery further illustrates the seriousness of a situation that can be blamed largely, if not entirely, on the Warriors medical team. Inexcusable! Get well soon, David.)

  3. I agree with you on this Steve. I was shocked when I saw Lee was giving interviews while waiting for the Knicks medical staff. He should have received immediate attention and been packed off to the hospital for the necessary antibiotics. Appalling ignorance.

    I am also not a little worried. Once these infections get established, very bad things can happen. Which I’m sure is why he’s still in the hospital.

  4. Felt, MT just posted this update. Despite what the Stanford doctor said, the reference to Nowitzki’s injury and immediate treatment (end result…one game missed) speaks volumes to what happened here with Lee.

  5. most fans are enchanted with the highly visible, well-spoken new owners, but it would surprise me not at all if we again end up in the twilight zone on the fringe of the playoffs (barely in or out, with unfavorable draft positions) while the owners are very successful with the marketing and profitability/return on investment. most of the coaches for the contenders will out-manouvre smart, as skiles and thibodeau did recently.

    Lacob and Guber, without putting up the majority of the stake, get to run the show, and from Lacob’s statements it isn’t clear if there will be any executive making long term hoops decisions above Riley, other than Lacob himself. He might be intoxicated with his acquisition if he believes his hoops acumen will be sufficient to midwife the hippogriff (part Kelt, part Minneconjou) he envisons.

    The relative youth of the key players might lead to success in two to four years, if a lucky trade develops and the owners make the right guess on a coach, because of the advancing years of elite players in the conference’s powerhouses. The skill and knowledge of an exec with substantial hoops standing couldn’t hurt.

  6. Moto: I have only a slim idea what you were shooting for with “midwife the hippogriff” (concept reserved for real cognoscenti only?) but when I looked up the words I loved this image:


    Too bad the team has already decided on a bridge as a logo for Warrior which is a nice logo but again I only vaguely see the connection. Heck, I’d buy a jersey that had a hippogriph on it.

    Oh, and against Detroit, the 32 point lead, no foolin’, scared me to death. Not that it would disappear–that happens a lot in this game–but us having a game to point to that showed us all the gains made this off-season were illusory.

    Please Mr. Guber, find us a backup point guard, and please Ekpe Udoh, get well soonest…

  7. Get ready for the PR show, and it’s already begun. Marketing has destroyed our culture and I guess it’s time to take on sports. I hate to think what Guber has in mind to make the Warriors more entertaining.

    We’ve seen a lot of good teams become mediocre teams because someone tried to turn them into “great” teams, taking bad risks, making uninformed decisions.

    Successful franchises depend on good minds, usually the coach, maybe the GM, guys who are not only bright but have experience around the court.

  8. I agree with your analysis that Smart allowed the Warriors big lead to evaporate in part by having both Elis and Curry on the bench at the same time. But he compounded the mistake by not changing his defense and have his players defend the three ball. Regardless of what Smart learned under Nellie, being a new coach is a trial and error process. It’s taken him time to develop plays for D.Lee and he has stubbornly stayed with Radman even though in virtually every game has shown how ineffective he is on both sides of the ball. Also, his starting Biedrens and Gadzuric was horrifying.

    I’m hopeful that overtime Smart will recognize his mistakes and adjust according. Stay tuned.

  9. oregon, rgg, yes the carnival has started — best to keep Barnum’s dictum about suckahs in mind — exotic mutations always a good way to get ’em in the door. would we seriously want or be able to emulate either Bos or LA-L ? superstars are easy to fantasize about , reality delivers odens and thabeets, or b.roy who has no knee cartilage left. they’re more likely to follow the path of the beisbol gigantes: keep the revenue stream and marketing hype flowing until you get lucky.

  10. moto and Oregon Guy —

    Here are the new Golden State Jerseys, per OG’s request. I can’t figure out how to put pictures in comments, so threw it up on my blog (you can ignore the rest and feel free to pull the picture and put it up here if you know how):


  11. Well, now that I’ve seen a hippogryph on a jersey… I’m thinking I like the bridge just fine!

    Thanks, rgg, that was above and beyond.

  12. OG–

    My pleasure. I kind of like it, though.

  13. Glad he’s out of the hospital, with both arms.

    OG, you catch that Portland-Denver game? Batum ate Melo up… Gonna be a heck of a player.

  14. FB, I’ve already added both Batum and Matthews and dropped Fernandez. I’m such an effin genius why do I not lead my lead? Baffles greater minds than mine, I’m sure.

  15. league, not ‘lead’

  16. Why, according to MThompson, Smart “won’t emulate Don Nelson’s small ball:”

    “We’ve had so much success thus far when we’ve won the rebounding game, came close or being even. I’ve got to keep it that way because right now that has been pretty good for us. … I don’t want to lose the rebounding edge. I’ve got to keep the rebounding edge as close as possible until David gets back.”


    Spoken like a man who has Kirk Lacob with his adding machine looking over his shoulder….

    btw, I don’t understand this gratuitous slam of Nellie by Thompson. Who on this team would Nellie play at power forward but Vlad Rad? And if you’ve been watching, you’ll know that Smart has ALREADY used DWright at power forward in the small ball unit at the end of games. (Which is why Smart needed that head-to-head meeting with DWright. Like his namesake, he hasn’t been rebounding.)

  17. Why does Keith Smart have DWright working on low post moves, if he’s not going to use him as a small ball power forward?


    Needless to say, Thompson went out of his way to slam Nellie in a story that was all wrong.

  18. I won’t be able to recap the Knicks game. A higher duty calls: partying with friends! Anyway, I feel like I’ve turned into a shrill nag and need a break. Have at it guys, let’s hear your thoughts for a change….

  19. Nellie ball almost saved the day. Came too late though.

  20. Impressions — and someone disagree:

    I’m not going to criticize Ellis for anything, obviously, but it seems to me we’re still not getting the same kind of ball movement as we did last year. First half it’s the Ellis show, and it’s a great one. But it looks like he and Curry take turns running half court sets, each calling his own number when the mood strikes. Ellis is much better at this than Curry, and I don’t see Ellis or the team looking to Curry as much as an outside threat. Rather, Curry has to create his own shots when he has the ball. Curry’s much better coming off the ball. Also Curry looks constrained. Second half, Curry comes into his own more. I assume this is the plan.

    I want to turn the kid loose. I would also like to see Curry and Reggie working together more, as they did 4th. quarter. I think the two of them could get some scoring mojo working.

  21. Wait…what year is this? Give me a minute… Seeing a no-name have a career game against the Warriors, 2008? Playing mostly 6 guys and Reggie Williams scoring 18…that’s right, 2009!

    You know, I don’t mind going back in time, but for christ’s sake guys, make it 1974!

  22. Didn’t have time for much last night. Still don’t have a lot, but:
    I certainly don’t want the Warriors to go small most of the time, but during most of the Knicks game it seemed that the Warriors were simply outmanned due to all the injuries. Because of this, going with four shooters and a big – preferably Biedrins when available – seemed the best chance at a victory. I wish they had tried it earlier.

    The warriors HAVE GOT TO GET TO THE LINE MORE. It was the statistical difference in the game. It’s always seemed to me that an underrated benefit of running ISOs is that when your player gets fouled, everyone sees it very clearly. You don’t always get the call, but if your coach knows how to work refs, you start getting them eventually. But I guess Smart – and much of the fanbase – doesn’t want to see many ISOs anymore. Sure seems like we have the right players for it.

  23. Come back, Feltbot! The discussion elsewhere is getting bad!

  24. Enjoy the Blake griffin show!

    Oh, and the Knicks are 3-0 when AR gets DNP-CDs. How bad teams improve??

  25. I have been writing about the subtle good things that Vlad Rad does for the Warriors, even while the most obvious things are his not infrequent brain seizures. Here’s Keith Smart on the subject:


    Passing, spacing, defense.

  26. I had no illusions about the chance of a competitive game tonight against the Lakers. But when down 30 still in the first half, I stumbled across this and–unlike the Warriors game–was entertained.

    Sorry for the irreverency….

  27. OG, here’s something for you in case the troops go down to defeat again tonight, or even if they don’t. (BTW, this gal IS really a nun)

  28. Latest “Power Rankings”. http://espn.go.com/nba/powerrankings Unfortunate that the Warriors haven’t been able to play with all their pieces in place. Now 7-6, they’ve already finished their season series with the Lakers in LA (one game without Curry, the other without Lee), and those two losses combined with three losses in games without Lee (vs teams not named Lakers) should leave GSW at least somewhat satisfied with an above .500 record after their first 13 games. Can this team EVER catch a break on the injury front? Tonight the odyssey continues.

  29. Marc Stein’s “Weekend Dime” includes further speculation about Melo and a Q & A with Joe Lacob.


  30. Appreciate those clips guys!