Bad Things Come in Threes: Nuggets 106 Warriors 89

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.

Failed.

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.

21 Responses to Bad Things Come in Threes: Nuggets 106 Warriors 89

  1. Can any of you Twitterati help educate me? I’m trying to figure out how to get my own message in front of a retweet, like everyone else does…

    Man, it’s tough trying to keep up with the world! Great, but tough.

  2. Which leads to the question why they’re not shooting well. I’m probably off here, but I’ll give it a shot. The guys look tense shooting, all of them. Under Nelson they were free to shoot threes–they were supposed to. Under Smart–even last night–it’s a last resort. Shoot if you don’t have anything else. I wonder if this attitude is affecting them.

    I don’t think I see the team looking for Curry as much when he’s not handling the ball and works to get open. Some shooters, like Curry, need to crank a few to get going.

    I have no answer why Denver and the Knicks shot lights out.

  3. Cut DWright some slack. Carmelo is one of the best players in the league for a reason.

    We just need DLee back. Then everything will be okay in Warriorland.

  4. Pingback: Warriors Game Day Links: Golden State Warriors 89 vs Denver Nuggets 106 | NBA Rock

  5. I agree with most of your above comments, which are very well stated. I couldn’t believe it when he took Carney out for DW, who couldn’t score or defend anything last night, and then brought in Gadz instead later. I didn’t see him bringing in Gadz as a surrender, I saw it as terribly misguided strategy (which probably is even more concerning).

    For me, last night was a big test for DW. Guarding a guy like Melo was exactly why we signed DW and his D was pathethic. He wasn’t moving his feet, allowed Melo to spin and drive past him consistently (looking for help), and failed to close on Melo as he made those dagger outside shots in Q4.
    Also concerning is the slowed tempo of the offense. I like the focus on rebounding but we need to turn our guards and wings loose down the court. Steph and Monta look like “dead men walking” half the time out there. Free Steph and Monta! (fka Curse of Mullin)

  6. “Reggie Williams is a great scorer” “The Warriors are a great three-point shooting team”
    Felt, you gotta stop with your propensity in describing the art of shooting as it pertains to all things Golden State Warriors with the most overused and misused word in the hyperbolic world of sports vernacular……”great”. There is nothing even remotely “great” about the current edition of GSW, with an even bigger emphasis on their glaring “greatlessness” at what had been a profound strength in recent years, perimeter shooting.

    Simply put, which current Warrior (entire roster) would you feel comfortable watching or want shooting a 20 ft jumper at the buzzer with the game on the line (for the sake of this argument disregard the difference between good shooter and good clutch shooter)? For my money, the ONLY player of choice would be Curry, with Monta a somewhat distant second choice.

    DWright started the season looking like a bigger version of Ray Allen from the outside but has since come crashing down to something far less appealing. As I stated before, Reggie Williams is NOT a good shooter, let alone “great”. He’ll have very occasional hot streaks from the outside, but he’s a volume scorer who’s most effective driving inside (sound a lot like Baron Davis minus the PG skills?). Vlad Rad will shoot four rim-clankers for every one made-basket, and Carney is as hot and cold as my ex-girlfriend. OK, maybe not quite THAT hot and cold. :) DLee? Obviously, a smaller sample size in comparison, but to this point his outside game has generally been MIA. Do we really need to discuss Biedrins, Gadzuric, BWright, Adrien or Lin? And while the rebounding and shot-blocking will be reinforced with the additions of Amundson and Udoh, their welcomed bodies ain’t making GSW any better offensively from the outside.

    The Warriors have really struggled without David Lee (man, was his health situation scary or what? http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=%2Fc%2Fa%2F2010%2F11%2F23%2FSPBG1GFUDF.DTL ) and his return will give a definite boost to their offense, but let’s face facts here. Other than the “big three” of Monta, Curry, and Lee, this is an offense with FAR less scoring acumen than the Nelli teams of recent past. Gone is not only the offensive genius of Nelson, but also the likes of Morrow, Watson, Azubuike, Maggette, and even Tolliver. How often have the Warriors failed to score 100 pts through the first 14 games? Too often, but not surprising given their lack of offensive firepower and “great” shooters.

    For my taste, “great” is Italian food, true love/soulmate (still searching), summer sunsets, Sandra Bullock movies, and finally being able to say I’m a fan of the WORLD CHAMPION SF Giants. “Great” is NOT the Warriors nor their shooters, as presently constituted. C’mon, Felt!

  7. Hate to admit it, but I dropped Reggie Williams for Landry Fields on my fantasy team. I believe in Reggie, but I’m not convinced that Smart knows how to use him.

    I also dropped Marcus Thornton to pick up Wesley Mathews, which was a no-brainer. I have Roy, so Mathews is insurance for him. And Thornton is in a Brandan Wright-sized doghouse in NO at the moment.

  8. Steve:
    Its almost unfair to judge the Warriors 3 point shooting now that Lee is out of action, because the attention he demands gets the three point shooters a lot more open. DWright in particular is much more closely guarded right now because of the absence of Lee.

    Nevertheless, I am content to contend with you straight-up, right now.

    The Warriors team 3 point shooting percentage is 35.9. Do you know what that comes to in true shooting percentage? If the Warriors shot nothing but threes every game, and every game shot that percentage, then THEY WOULD WIN EVERY GAME. Do the math.

    Stephen Curry shot 44% from three last year, as a rookie. GREAT. He is struggling right now due to his ankles and conditioning, but do I want him to stop shooting threes? No. Why? Because he is GREAT.

    And despite his current struggles, Curry is shooting 36% from 3 this year.

    Dorell Wright is shooting 40%. GREAT. Despite having a coach that is discouraging him from shooting them, and making him work on stupid jump hooks like the one he flung up yesterday.

    Monta Ellis has improved enormously as a three point shooter. Currently 35%.

    Reggie Williams, despite being misused horrendously, is shooting 36% from three. Last year, he shot 36%. This is what you call streaky? Reggie has not even played one full season in the league, and he’s dealing with a catastrophic coaching change, an inconsistent role, and inconsistent minutes. If you’re judging him by what you see this year, as opposed to what you saw last year, you’re making a mistake.

    Vlad Rad is shooting 34% from three. Still good. But his career average is 38%. GREAT. Whatever other problems Vlad is having on the court, he is a GREAT three point shooter.

    Rodney Carney is shooting 36% from three.

    Three indisputably great 3 point shooters, and the others very good. That makes the Warriors a great three point shooting team in my book.

    I welcome disagreement and pushback, Steve. But if you want to step in the ring, you better bring it :>

  9. Felt, please stop with the numbers. I realize that stats can be everything and mean everything to sports fans in this day and age, more than ever before. Fine. To a point I understand. But my post was strictly about the true shooting ability of this Warriors’ squad, and regardless of what you consider “great” as it applies to all your stats, other than Curry, who I consider to be a VERY GOOD shooter, the Warriors are NOT a “great”, or even good, perimeter shooting team.

    You can use all the coaching schematic excuses for why this guy or that guy isn’t more productive, but the naked eye doesn’t lie. This team does not shoot the ball as well as the Warriors teams of recent years. Different teams, different players, different coaches, different overall philosophies. This team has failed to score 100 pts in half of their games thus far, albeit with injury issues a contributing factor, but that’s also an indicator of this team’s offensive makeup. If GSW keeps this same group intact for the full 82 game season we’ll see how “great” all those stats are come next April. Otherwise, I guess we can just agree to disagree.

  10. I am the furthest thing from a stat phreak imaginable. But how else do you judge three point shooting if not by percentages?

    4 of the games the Warriors scored under 100 Lee was sidelined. And do you completely discount Smart’s slow-it-down system, and lineup choices as contributing factors? I certainly don’t. Nellie would have this team among the league leaders in scoring.

    The problem is not shooting. The problems have been Lee’s injury and Smart’s decisions: not to run, not to allow open threes early in the shot-clock, and putting non-shooters on the floor at ridiculous times in the game. Like last night.

    In other words not allowing the Warriors to do what they were built to do, and what they are best at.

  11. Feltbot–

    I wonder if Lee is the answer to the shooting. The Warriors had much smaller lineups last year with the same shooters plus roughly comparable ones, yet shot better (from memory, but I’m sure I’m right here).

  12. Felty

    I agree with your observation that Lee’s injury and Smart’s decisions have caused the recent major problems. But among Smart’s decisions, by far the biggest for me is not allowing open threes early in the shot clock. As you know, Nelson’s mantra was, “a shot created must be taken.” How Smart or anyone could disagree with this maxim is beyond me, given that bad shots later are often the result.

    Several times a game, especially early, I’ve noticed Curry passing up an open three so he could start an offensive set instead. That is folly for several reasons I’m sure are understood by your knowledgeable readership, most especially that those are open shots.

    But most disturbing is that Curry has looked less-then-focused at times, especially in the first half. I suspect he is frustrated with Smart’s dictum, hasn’t bought into it, and the frustration has affected his long-range shooting. It’s an assumption, I know, but I fail to see any other reason why Curry’s three-point percentage is a shocking 7.5% below last year’s.

  13. rgg, Nellie created open threes by running and shooting the first available shot. Smart wants to create them inside out, with ball movement. You can see why the presence of Lee is more key in Smart’s system than it would have been in Nellie’s.

    mwlx, I too am wondering what’s going through the mind of Curry. He’s being asked to make a significant adjustment, from green-lit aggression and creativity to ball-control. Early in the year, I saw him being asked to run around and set back-screens in the lane, ala John Stockton under Jerry Sloan. This will be an interesting theme going forward. We all know how productive Curry can be — both individually and for his team — in a Nellie/D’Antoni offense.

  14. Well, that’s my other question, why they aren’t running more — Barnett asked the same question, I think.

    My sense of Curry, too, is that he always works best when in motion. Does he need to make the adjustment, or should the team build around his talents?

    But we know where these comments lead.

  15. Watched Duke/Kansas State last night. Looks like Steph’s little brother Seth is getting upstaged by Irving. Seth should have gone to Davidson. He had an offer and would have played along side Steph for a year or two. Imagine.

    Irving reminds me of someone. . . .

  16. How the wrong coach can destroy even the best of teams:

    http://www.cbssports.com/nba/story/14345404/plodding-style-slowing-down-lebron-wade-and-heat

    It is extraordinary that Lebron has been shackled with first Mike Brown and now Spoelstra. The greatest open court player in history has really never been allowed to show it.

    It’s also amazing to me that Lebron himself doesn’t get it. First, he signed Shaq to the Cavs. And then, he chose Miami over the Knicks and D’Antoni. And once in Miami, he signed Ilgauskas. Incredible.

    See any parallels between that story and the Warriors situation?

  17. OK, we know where this is going and it’s been said before and I know the answer and we shouldn’t mention any coach’s name but I want to ask anyway.

    Even with just Gad and Biedrins, the team is rebounding better than last year, in fact fairly well. Why, after a defensive board, aren’t they looking to pass and run up the court? Curry, Ellis, Reggie, and probably DW could run just about any team off the court and put up big numbers.

    Curry is a perpetual motion machine. I think you wear him out by slowing him down. That’s my take, that he looks frustrated, hampered, maybe emotionally worn.

    Smart said something in a postgame interview last week that struck me. He said he was always aware of the clock. To spell starters, partly, but also to keep in control of the game, start to finish. I feel it’s the stamp he’s put on the team.

  18. Allow me to clarify my statement above that Curry’s three-point shooting is “a shocking 7.5% below last year’s.”

    On threes, Curry shot 43.7% last year (8th in the league) and is 36.2% this year. On a numerical basis, that’s 7.5% lower. But on a percentage basis, it’s 17.2% lower, which is even more shocking for such a pure shooter.

    Last year, Curry started out slow with his three-pointers; he was a rookie, after all. But he heated up after a couple of months, shooting at least 45% during the last third of the season. But this year, he’s not a rookie, and he had the Team USA experience to keep his shooting hand warm.

    This deterioration of his three-point shooting (admittedly only a 12-game sample), together with his deer-in-the-headlights look at times, is cause for more concern to me than any other factor for the team right now. I agree with Felty that it comes back to Keith Smart’s on-court coaching style. Something is amiss. Based on recent comments by Joe Lacob about post play, etc., I wonder how much of it has to do with Smart, and how much might involve owner meddling.

  19. MWLX

    I’m too lazy to look. How many 3 pointers is Curry taking per game now, compared to last year? My sense is he’s taking fewer, and is under pressure to score then. I’d like to see him take 6-10 a game and get into a rhythm.

    Then again, he looks beefier. He didn’t start off well last year, and speculation was it was because he was working out too much.

  20. Let me throw out another possibility: Playing for USA basketball. How did Durant, Billups and Gordon start the year shooting?

    Fatigue, different ball. Something to think about.