Small Ball Storms: Warriors 109 Thunder 114

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.

And bloggers.

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.

45 Responses to Small Ball Storms: Warriors 109 Thunder 114

  1. Another reason for the team’s slower pace, point guard Stephen Curry said, is because of its emphasis on rebounding. In previous years, the guards would help center Andris Biedrins on the boards. When they rebounded the ball, they could start the break immediately.
    But the Warriors now rely on the big men to rebound. The starting front line of Biedrins, Lee and Wright has grabbed 49.9 percent of the team’s boards.
    “We can’t leak out because we’ve got to get that rebound,” Smart said. “We’ve got to get that rebound. What good is it to leak out and you’re down there by yourself with a hand up waiting for the ball?”

    My answer is that because the likelihood of getting an uncontested basket, or two free throws and into the penalty earlier, is well worth the risk of Andris Biedrins and David Lee and the other two players not getting the rebound.

    This is not rocket science. This is Joe Lacob and his Director of Dividing Rebounds by Minutes Played, err…. Basketball Operations, destroying what could be the fastest team in the NBA.

  2. After tonight’s performance, Stephen Curry is now the #2 ranked player in fantasy basketball, according to my stat service (Basketball Monster). Behind only Chris Paul.

  3. And I am one happy Steph owner!

    Great analysis once again Felty. I live in Australia and all of the games on league pass are on while I am on at work (except on weekends), so I never get the chance to see every possession but I sneak in as many as I can.

    So what was obvious in this game? What is obvious is that the 1st quarter struggles are easily fixed. There is a reason we won on total over the last 3 quarters. Once behind, we show energy and start running and gunning a little, and it sneaks past the coach because of the desperation of the diabolical situation we were in.

    Imagine if we embrace the lineups, urgency and tempo for the whole 4 quarters? Coach Smart seems in denial of where the strengths truly are. Steph and Monta can combine for those totals nearly every damn night if unleashed.

    Like you say Felty, maybe coach’s hands are tied by ownership?

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  5. yes felty yes, keep up the good work. more about lacob is interfering coaching decisions please?

  6. Take a shot at Steinmetz when you get a chance. Postgame, he wasn’t impressed with Curry’s performance last night — the Thunder let him go, he said. Also he criticized Curry for his lack of rebounds (compared to Westbrook).

  7. Brothaplease09

    That’s good coverage, I’ve been waiting for someone to point this out. Once Udoh understands the rotations and plays, he’ll be a factor. He’s the kind of player that is tough and nimble enough to gaurd a Jeff Green or athletic PF in this league. I suspect he’ll start off slow then the Warriors will really begin to appreciate Udoh after 15 games…

  8. Can’t add much to what Felty said, but three comments:

    1) With the exception of the one-pass rant, Fitzgerald was not his usual whiny self when the Warriors were down big. Did he clean up his act after reading the recent criticism on this blog?

    2) They say Curry can’t guard other PGs. Did you notice that Westbrook couldn’t stop Curry at all? Maybe the greater truth is that no one can guard the NBA’s amazingly talented PGs when they get on a roll.

    3) “Take a shot at Steinmetz….” Couldn’t agree more. What a small-minded man, picking at details and never seeing the big picture.

  9. Adrien’s minutes were interesting. Equally interesting was who was not put in.

  10. Rggblog: I find that I strongly disagree with about half the things Steinmetz says but that statement about Curry really frosted me. If you can’t see what makes Curry special on a basketball court, you don’t really understand the game.

    Felt: a couple of points– first Monta started the game guarding Westbrook but was burned a number of times. Monta’s head wasn’t into the defensive end of the court last night. Curry switched onto Westbrook the entire second half and played him very well (which surprised me a bit). Cudo’s to Curry. Growth game? Second the Ws did play some zone d mid first q but didn’t play it very well. Last, Durant is 6 11″–do we really call it Nellieball when they go two guys at 6 11″ and one at 6 9″?

    Your Fitz comment is right on. I hope you are right on Udoh. I haven’t seen him play. We desperately need the player you describe.

  11. Felt: one other thing. Smart didn’t have the team ready to start this game. This isn’t the first time but it probably was the worst time. Westbrook waltzed around like he was the only one with a dance card the first quarter. The Ws need to get much tougher and Smart needs them to go into each game with an aggressive game plan. The D scheme stinks and the O is too slow. Other than that Smart did fine.

  12. Memory lane:

    Last year, about this time, the Warriors went to Dallas and won, 111-103, playing 6 guys — Curry, Ellis, Mikki Moore, Vlad Rad, Randolph, and Morrow. Keith Smart was interim coach, btw.

  13. Our Team: You make several great points. I’m going to rewatch the game to see how Curry did on Westbrook. If he did ok, I think it had a lot to do with the fact that the Ws were in zone in the second half. But I’m very interested to see if I missed something, thanks.

    I did not see any zone in the first half, but again I will rewatch. I think Westbrook ran wild because under the current rules anyone with his quickness can run wild unless the lane is packed. But because Green and Durant had both Lee and DWright pulled out to the three point line, the Warriors were helpless to stop penetration. And yes, THAT is Nellieball.

    Nellieball is also having small forwards at the power forward position, and power forwards at the center position, and running rings around bigger slower players. If thats not what the Thunder have and do, then I’m at a loss. They are a classic Nellieball team, with only one MAJOR exception: Nellie wanted great shooters and great passers. I think he would trade Westbrook for Curry in a heartbeat, and if he couldn’t do that he’d trade both Harden and Sefelosha for shooters. Nellie wanted at least one hardnosed defender in the backcourt, but he would never tolerate two non-shooters there.

    As for Durant’s length, I think that’s meaningless. It’s how he plays, running the floor, spreading the floor, pushing the tempo. Jackson was 6-8″ at 2guard, Nowitzki was 7′ at 4, DWright is 6-9″ at 3 himself. Are they not Nellieball players?

    Re: Matt Steinmetz I agree with all of you guys. I find his dour opinions only slightly less intolerable than his bully boy persona. Unlike Fitz, tho, its his job to give his opinions, and unlike Kawakami, he’s not patently evil, so I’ll just confine myself to countering his opinions as they come.

    His opinion on Curry is as absurd as it gets. It is beyond me how someone can forget what his eyes told him about Curry in one year. To the extent that Curry doesn’t look like a point guard this year, that is all about the difference between Smart and Nellie. I really gnash my teeth when I think about what Nellie would be doing with Curry and with this team…

  14. Felt: Thank you for the explanation of your view of NellieBall. Interesting. I think you’ll see from the tape that Curry was often guarding Westbrook mano-a-mano in the second half, really down and moving his feet, and generally did very well. Let me know if my memory is wrong on that.

  15. It’s not often we hear someone in the everyday world (as opposed to some dictator) called “patently evil” these days, because it’s so politically incorrect. However, there are such people, some in the media, and Kawakami is one of them. He’s all about promoting himself, with a desperate need to pontificate like he’s an authority, no matter the facts or the vicious damage caused to someone else. I commend you for saying precisely what he is, because those kinds of hard truths help to illuminate the malice.

  16. Our Team, you are dead on about Curry guarding Westbrook in the second half. But I disagree that it was man-to-man defense. Curry picked up Westbrook at the top of the key, but it looked to me like the rest of the Warriors were in matchup zone, with all eyes on Westbrook. As soon as Curry was beat, either with a move or with a pick, the Monta Rules applied and Westbrook was swarmed. You’ll notice that Curry didn’t even attempt to go around the picks.

    What was striking to me rewatching the second half was just how effective this defense was at stopping the Thunder. Westbrook literally has either zero court vision or zero inclination to give the ball up. And his handle is erratic. He’s a phenomenal player, of sorts, but he has a long way to go to be considered a point guard. And the Thunder really lack for outside shooters. They layed some bricks last night. I look forward to the full Warriors team kicking their ass in the very near future.

    So props to Our Team, and apologies for the sloppiness and inaccuracies above. Monta deserves a lot less credit, Curry deserves a little more, but the bulk of the credit for the Thunder’s struggles in the second half last night should go to none other than…

    Keith Smart. For the killer defensive adjustment.

  17. I won’t be recapping tonight’s game, so feel free to let your analyis rip on this thread.

    Feltbot is as doggy as Erik Dampier, cuz he ain’t doing back-to-backs. Especially in the Texas triangle.

  18. felt: You have put your finger on the defensive Achilles heel of the Thunder. I hope they scheme Westbrook and the Thunder this way next time (for the entire game). I’d like to see us defend D. Rose and Tyreke (if he’s even playing point when we play them) this way, too. If we really want to walk the walk by playing D, we need to start playing with more strategic focus on D like this. Let’s get their pg out of his comfort zone, especially since the top teams are doing that to Curry constantly.

  19. By the way, Barnett mentioned that he thought Westbrook, who had only 4 pts or so at half, was intent on getting his points in the second half of a game they were confident they’d win. Regardless, your point about Westbrook’s reluctance to give the ball up applies.

  20. Making an argument to @poormanscommish on Twitter right now for the Warriors to bring up Kyle Weaver from the Dleagues (see article in comments above). It has struck me that the Warriors don’t actually need a backup pg, since Monta is a fine pg imo, and he and Curry can back each other. What the Ws need is BIG, RUGGED guard who can SHOOT.

    Weaver’s stats in Dleague: 6-6″(this one won’t change), 25 pts, 9rbs, 5 asts per game.

    Kirk Lacob, pull the trigger!

  21. Before the analysis starts, I’d be curious to see what might have happened with a bit more confidence, a bit more experience, and better execution — those missed free throws and turnovers. We saw a pretty good team on the court the last two nights.

  22. But OK — why don’t they pass more rather than have their guards dribble through, around double teams all night?

  23. Feltbot is right again. Lacob is ruining this team. since taken over, 2-8?

  24. The great Bill Simmons doing the Heat/Warriors game for ESPN. Must see TV just became Must listen TV also… This will be fun.

  25. Ever seen a better basketball photo? If so, post it!

  26. Patrick O’Bryant flunks out of the Chinese league, for unwillingness to practice, and being afraid to play under the basket.

    Anyone surprised?

  27. Kyle Weaver on the way? Steinmetz “reports” that Warriors about to address guard shortage. But is this just a Kawakami guess, or is it based on something?

  28. Vlad Rad speaks. Something tells me he’s talking about Monta Ellis as well as Keith Smart.

  29. Not gonna recap this mess guys, so this thread will remain alive…

  30. Increasingly likely that the Blazers and the Nuggets may get blown up:

    Which in my mind adds to the urgency for Keith Smart to get it together. The Warriors have a playoff roster.

  31. Warriors signing Acie Law today.

    My read on Law is that he’s a good defender, and can defend pgs, as well as bigger players. He can also push the tempo, should Keith Smart ever be interested in that. What he’s not is an offensive player. He will struggle to run the offense, and score. Nellie let him shoot the occasional three. Will Smart?

    I would have greatly preferred Kyle Weaver, until Curry went down. As it is, my preference is for Law AND Weaver.

    Jeremy Lin must get sent down to the DLeagues, or waived. HE IS NOT AN NBA PLAYER.

    But according to this report, Law is not replacing Lin. Jeff Adrien is getting released.

  32. Felty – Does the double high screen by Lee and Biedrins for Monta or Steph at the top of the key drive you as crazy as it drives me?

    Also, it’s time that Monta starts drawing some fouls. He needs to start using his body in the air in a way where he draws contact. He gets bumped, but its not enough to draw the foul and the free throw disparity is hurting the team. He should be shooting 10 to 12 foul shots each game instead of 6 like he’s shooting now.

    Comments about the Warriors play:
    *No hard fouls on any of the fast break run-outs the Spurs had in the first half. (Amundson was flying around a bit, however)
    *Monta did not push the pace as point guard – maybe blame Smart. This should have been a running game on the Warriors terms, not on the Spurs terms.
    *Reggie should have kept shooting all night long. The way he was stroking, he probably should have had 45 points. Monta does not seem to recognize when another player is hot, or he just doesn’t want to give up the ball.
    *Smarts offense is weak, and its too bad because this team has a lot of un-utilized talent on the offensive side.

  33. Basketball for Dummies

    Hey felt, noticed you ducked a respectful question Adam (#43) asked you yesterday. Why?

    But I noticed you had time to throw out a taunt at the expense of Azubuike. Touch of class there making a joke out of what might be a career ending injury for this kid!

  34. BfD, I don’t always read thru the comments there, and so I missed it. I would never intentionally duck a discussion with Adam. Thanks for pointing it out, I will go answer it now.

    re Buike. Don’t be absurd. Surely someone can point out that Nellie made a great trade for Lee, for all sorts of reasons, without it being at the expense of Buike. The Oregon papers are full of stories of how dumb it was for the Blazers to give Brandon Roy an $80 million UNINSURABLE contract, knowing he had no cartilage in both knees. Is that disrespectful to Roy?

    fwiw, Buike was one of my favorite Warriors, and I felt the pain in print when he got hurt like no other Bay Area Warriors writer. As you can verify if you choose. I feel terrible for him, and said so at the time.

  35. peteb24, just about everything that Smart runs on offense is driving me crazy.

    I’ve tried to figure out the purpose of that double high screen, and the best that I can come up with is that it attempts to pull both big men out of the lane and open the floor to Curry’s drives.

    At the moment, I’m guessing that Biedrins a significant impediment to simple pick and roll with Lee, both because he clogs the lane and because his defender is the one you want to be on Lee.

    Pick and roll opens up when Vlad Rad is on the floor and Lee moves to center. Hopefully Udoh (who can shoot) will be another big who can space the floor.

  36. Lebron James post game interview last night:

    “We know our best offense is before the defense gets set. You can’t teach speed, you can’t get back on speed.”

    Can someone please forward this to Keith Smart, c/o Kirk Lacob, Director of Basketball Operations?

  37. Udoh playing tomorrow aka Steinmetz!

    Riley says he’s hopeful Curry will play against the heat.

  38. Is Curry going to play hopping on one leg? I hope so. Last night he just landed a little wrong. This is a little scary.

    About the turnovers: Some are obvious and careless — telegraphed passes. But a lot of them come from forcing things, most notably the guards driving the basket into a crowd, looking to penetrate and pass. Or forcing a pass into a crowd. And usually the crowd is ready and standing there. But some are just bizarre — throwing to guys who aren’t there. It’s as if they’re trying to do two things at once, both things out of synch. Yes, I wonder about this offense–not enough movement off the ball, not enough passing.

  39. rgg – You are totally right about the lack of passing. The Spurs were ridiculous last night on several possessions where four players touched the ball without a dribble. As much as I like today’s NBA, I wish we would see more of that. A beautiful pass is something players should take pride in.

  40. And Barnett keeps talking about all the dribbling the guards are doing.

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