The newly big Warriors were thrashed by small ball in this game. If you don’t know already that the Thunder are a quintessential small ball team, let me explain. Forget about Nenad Krstic at center. Many of Nellie’s best teams had non-scoring defensive anchors at center. Andris Biedrins, for one. Shawn Bradley for another, who came within a Nowitzki knee injury in game 3 of the 2003 Conference Finals of winning a title. (Can you imagine the consternation of snake-oil salesmen like John Hollinger and Dave Berri if Shawn Bradley had won a title?)
Take a look at the Thunder’s power forward, Jeff Green. Green is 6-9″ in high heels, and 235 lbs. soaking wet. He’s not a great rebounder, at a little over 6 a game. What he is is this: A great athlete, a great team defender, and a great runner and finisher on the fast break. He’s also great at spreading the court, because he’s a very competent three point shooter (35%). And, according to John Thompson, he’s this:
You’ll stop and think when I say this, but it’s true: Jeff Green is the smartest player I’ve ever coached.
In other words, Green is a player that Don Nelson would have LOVED to have as his power forward. He is a quintessential Nellieball four.
Now take a look at Serge Ibaka. Ibaka is the Thunder’s backup center, at 6-10 240. He gets more minutes than Krstic this season. And he’s another quintessential Nellieball player. Fast as the wind, devastating finisher. And a great defensive presence and rebounder in the middle. Nellie would have LOVED to have Ibaka as his backup center.
I missed the beginning of this game, tuning in when the Warriors were already down 12-2. But its not hard to divine what happened, considering what I witnessed for the remainder of the game. Green and Ibaka ran David Lee off the court. In his current poor shape, Lee had no prayer of sticking with Green and Ibaka, particularly since Keith Smart didn’t see fit to zone the Thunder until the second half. The game flow tells the tale: Jeff Green was +17 to start the game, and +14 against David Lee for the first half. Serge Ibaka was +12 against David Lee for the first half.
Even if Lee were in great shape, the result may not have been much different. Jeff Green is a nightmare matchup for Lee. You do not want David Lee being pulled away from the basket to guard Jeff Green at the three point line. You do not want Lee attempting to guard Green’s lightening quick drives to the hoop. You do not want Lee attempting to outrun Green in the open court. And you don’t want Jeff Green defending Lee on the pick and roll. Having Green guard him is almost as bad for Lee, as it was for Dirk Nowitzki to have Stephen Jackson guard him during Nellie’s infamous spanking of Mark Cuban and The Squeaky General.
In the NBA, Speed wins. Quickness wins. Spreading the floor wins. Small ball wins. NELLIEBALL wins. The Thunder are living proof of that. They gave the Lakers a real test in the playoffs last year, as inexperienced kids, with no post-up players, and with no outside shooters besides Durant and Green. (That is still their biggest weakness. Can you imagine what the Thunder would be if they had taken Curry over James Harden? I’ll tell you what they would be: Title Contenders.)
Nellieball won this game. And I will lay you 100-1 that you won’t see that written anywhere in the Bay Area Media. Or mentioned on TV or radio. Or mentioned anywhere in the national press. Or mentioned in the office of Kirk Lacob, Director of Basketball Operations.
It won’t go unmentioned here.
Keith Smart: For this game at least, I come to praise Coach Smart, not to bury him. Although he didn’t zone the Thunder to start the game, as feltbot suggested, he did figure it out by the start of the second half. It was that, and Smart’s own rapid move to small ball that got the Warriors storming back into this game.
Smart did several other things right:
- DGadz only played center, only in the first half, and only in a small ball unit.
- Monta Ellis was brought back to finish the first half, despite having three fouls. (With stars, Courage pays. Trust pays.)
- Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry were never both out of the game at the same time, even though that meant overplaying Curry due to Monta’s foul trouble.
- Curry was not benched for his turnover troubles. Smart did rest him in the fourth, after Curry had played 41 straight minutes. Not going to fault him for that are you? Curry was rested for 2 minutes, then brought back to finish the game. A+
- David Lee was benched for the entire fourth quarter. Say what? Feltbot agrees with this? Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t. I would greatly prefer Lee as the smallball center over Biedrins. But I believe there were other factors at work. Lee was probably gassed. And whatever the case, this really wasn’t his night. Couldn’t hit his outside shot, which is the chief reason to prefer him at center to Biedrins. And while Biedrins wasn’t good in this game, he wasn’t terrible (+1). Full feltbot marks to the coach for this courageous decision that helped the Warriors get back in the game.
Which leads to the final reason to like Smart’s performance in this game. He was greatly handicapped, obviously, by Lee’s struggles to get back into form. And he also suffered from the loss of Rodney Carney for this game. Carney could be an extremely important piece when the Warriors play the Thunder. He might be the perfect man to match against Jeff Green in the small ball unit.
Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis: Fully unleashed, Curry and Ellis are an all-world backcourt. As their phenomenal 68 point barrage on the home court of one of the toughest defensive teams in the league attests.
So why are they only fully unleashed when the Warriors get into desperation mode?
Keith Smart, let my people go.
Monta Ellis: Ellis gets a second mention from me tonight because of his defense on Russell Westbrook. Westbrook is averaging 24 ppg this season. He got 19 in this game, on 4-16 shooting.
In case you haven’t noticed, or were still entertaining doubts: Monta Ellis is a superstar.
Russell Westbrook and Monta Ellis: I wonder if Russell Westbrook gets all of those ridiculous foul calls on his “non-pass and crash” drives because he is so lightning quick and so completely out of control when hit? And I wonder if Monta Ellis gets no foul calls whatsoever because he is so lightning quick and so completely in control when hit?
Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry: Westbrook is a big-time player, no doubt. But I’m not a fan of how he runs a team.
I am so much more a fan of Stephen Curry’s brilliant, slow-motion decision-making. And gorgeous quick-release shot, from anywhere on the floor, moving in any direction. And absolute, unquenchable clutchness.
Thank you, Don Nelson. The whole world — including Monta Ellis and Stephen Jackson — had you picking Jordan Hill, and trading for Amare Stoudemire.
As if. Thank you.
Dorell Wright: Not a stopper. So, so, so not a stopper.
And he is also showing a disturbing habit of showing up lame on the offensive end when he is the process of getting dismembered and fed bits of his own body on defense. I’m not going to fault him for missing that wide open three in crunch time that would have cut the lead to three. But I will fault him for his continual fumbleitis and indecisiveness on this night. He looked depressed and nervous all game.
I’m starting to get a little down on Dorell Wright. He’s a very nice player. A very nice, soft player.
Maybe that’s why Pat Riley didn’t want him.
Bob Fitzgerald’s Special Moment: The inimitable BFizzle whined loudly over Curry’s turnover on a one-handed pass under the basket.
Bob, a one-handed pass is not the same thing under the basket as it is at the top of the key. Which is why your world-class color man bit his tongue at your rant. Steve Nash makes one handed passes under the basket. So does every other point guard in the league. Because it is the only way to pass in traffic under the basket.
Please, Bob. Please. If you care anything about the mental health of your listeners, please stop pretending you know something about basketball. That is the job of your color man.
Brandan Wright: The name that must not be spoken?
Ekpe Udoh: Are you wondering why I am mentioning the name of a player who has yet to play in an NBA game? Have you also been wondering why I haven’t discussed until now how the Warriors can ever hope to beat the Thunder, given their difficulty in matching up on the front line?
The answer to both questions is the same: It’s because I believe that Ekpe Udoh can beat the Thunder. Ekpe Udoh alongside David Lee and Monta and Curry will eventually beat the Thunder. I believe it.
I believe in Ekpe Udoh. I believe he is going to rival Serge Ibaka in everything that Serge Ibaka does well. And I believe he is going to exceed Serge Ibaka in everything that Serge Ibaka doesn’t do well, like shoot, and pass. And Think. Because I believe that Ekpe Udoh will also exceed Jeff Green, the smartest player John Thompson ever coached, in that most elusive of NBA qualities: Basketball IQ.
Why do I believe this? Because I believe the scouting reports I have read on Ekpe Udoh.
And I believe, sight unseen, in the judgement of the greatest GM in NBA history, Don Nelson, who drafted Ekpe Udoh with the last pick of his career.
I’m making my prediction now — laying myself open to ridicule and scorn — at the same moment that I make all of my predictions. Like the moment I predicted true greatness at point guard for Stephen Curry (after seeing him in the preseason of his rookie year). Like the moment I predicted absolute wretched failure for Brandan Wright (after seeing him play in his first NBA game — I can’t link to this, you’ll have to ask Adam Lauridsen about it). It’s the moment that you can make money on: the moment before anyone else sees it.
The Nightmare is coming soon. And he’s going to be BAD.