You don’t have to look much further than the two teams’ lines from three to understand what happened in this game: the Nuggets were on fire at 12-21, and the Warriors ice-cold at 6-26. A lot of people (starting with the fingernails on chalkboard Bob Fitzgerald) might find fault with the Warriors shooting that many threes. I don’t. The Warriors are a great three-point shooting team, and because the Nuggets were completely ignoring Andris Biedrins and Dan Gadzuric in order to zone up and pack the paint against the depredations of Monta Ellis, the three is what was wide open in this game. The Warriors missed their open shots, the Nuggets didn’t. If it had been the other way around, the Warriors could easily have buried the Nuggets in the first half.
But shouldn’t the Warriors have stopped shooting threes if they weren’t falling? You could argue that, but it’s easier said than done. With David Lee (and Vlad Rad) out, the smart teams have both of their big men playing free safety in the middle. There is simply nothing else available. I thought the Warriors did a pretty good job attacking with the dribble, but what was open when they got there? Nothing but the spot-up shooter on the three point line.
Keith Smart: I fell in and out of love with Keith Smart in this game. I groaned of course when he started Gadzuric at the four. But I didn’t hate it quite as much when I realized that Denver starts Shelden Williams at the four, who is also a non-shooter. Nor when I realized that Vlad Rad was spending the night in the Brandan Wright Memorial Doghouse.
I began to actually smile when Smart went small at 6:28 of the first quarter with DWright at 3 (guarding Melo) and Reggie Williams at 4 (guarding Shelden Williams). And when Smart stayed small for the rest of the half — even playing Adrien at 5 and Carney at 4 for a stretch — I cheered. These small-ball lineups actually kicked Denver’s ass in the first half, in every way but by making their open shots. The Warriors went to the lockerroom up 1, despite shooting in the low 30%s. If they’d made a few shots, as I said, this might well have been a different game.
This lead to a little friendly Twitter exchange between myself and Marcus Thompson. You might remember that Thompson wrote a piece a couple of days ago stating that Smart had no interest in Nellie-ball. I of course fired off a few shots reminding him of this, and he very cordially fired back. For those interested, our discussion of his piece began with a comment I made on his blog. (Despite our difference of opinion on this subject, I have a lot of respect for Thompson’s reportorial ability. He’s an excellent beat reporter, easily the best in the Bay Area. And he has a great sense of humor, which goes a long way with me. Check out his tweet about Jeremy Lin: “Jeremy Lin drives and hits the basket to win the NBA Finals … err … cut Nuggets lead to 84-81.”)
Unfortunately, I grew a little irritated with Smart in the second half. OK fine, Gadzuric started again. If he’s buying time for the small ball unit then OK, whatever. But Smart badly mistimed his substitution, letting George Karl sucker him the way Nellie suckered so many coaches over his career. Karl quickly subbed Harrington for Williams, and Smart failed to answer by getting Gadzuric out. What happened next was completely predictable: The Nuggets hit three straight threes to take a 67-63 lead. Smart called timeout to get Gadzuric off the floor, but it was too late. The Nuggets had hit their stride.
This was bad, but what happened at 3:51 of the fourth quarter was in my mind absolutely terrible. With the Warriors down 11 points, 94-83, Smart brought Gadzuric back into the game for Reggie Williams. At a point in the game where he should have been pulling out all stops to make up points, flooding the floor with skill players, scrambling the defense, pushing the tempo and firing threes with :23 left on the clock, Keith Smart quit on his team. He shut down their three point shooting, forcing them to drive into packed lanes. He shut down their fast break. He shut down all chance at them winning. With 4 minutes left on the clock.
Rodney Carney was 7-9 in this game, including 2-3 from three. Rodney Carney was on fire. Why not bring Carney in instead of Gadzuric?
The Warriors scored all of 6 points in the final 4 minutes. It was not an accident. It was not bad luck. It was not Denver’s defense. It was a coaching decision.
Would Don Nelson have quit on his team with 4 minutes left on the clock? Or would he have coached to win?
Dorell Wright: This game was a massive fail for DWright. I’m not even talking about his 1-6 offensive showing. I’m talking about his defense on Carmelo Anthony.
Matt Steinmetz tried to butter things up in the post-game interviews by stating that the Warriors made Melo a “volume shooter.” I’ve got news for Steinmetz, when you shoot 17-17 from the line to go with your 10-24 (2-4 from three), you are not a volume shooter. You are a Destroyer. And DWright was The Destroyed.
DWright’s primary responsibility in this game was to be a stopper. He did not take the challenge. He let Melo drive him at will, and was fortunate that Melo grew tired at times of pounding him inside and shot jumpers. He let Al Harrington post him up. Al Harrington. He failed to show on picks. He failed to rebound. Failed to block shots. Failed to steal the ball.
And then he failed his post-game interview, when he failed to take personal responsibility for his performance.
DWright was brought to this team, first and foremost, to be a defensive stopper in the Stephen Jackson mold. Well, he’s not a defensive stopper. And if this game is any indication, he never will be. He doesn’t have the stones.
He’s not even close to being what Stephen Jackson was to this team. Not even close.
He’s not even close to Portland’s 21-year-old Nicolas Batum, who I watched a couple of nights ago reach into Carmelo Anthony’s chest and rip out his heart.
That’s what a stopper does.