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.