As the third quarter came to a close, I wasn’t planning on recapping this game. The Warriors trailed by 14, and if they had gone on to lose, I was just going to write one line in the comments to the last post:
I think Don Nelson could have solved the puzzle of this game.
But surprise to end all surprises, Keith Smart stepped up and solved it himself. The key to beating the Kings in this game was to go small, with David Lee at center, and Vlad Rad at power forward. On offense, spread the floor and let your great slashers and shooters work. On defense, use your quicker players to deny King’s penetration, and when you get the rebound off of that inevitable Tyreke Evans brick, RUN.
Of course, if you are of a mind to question Keith Smart, plenty of questions remain. Why did he wait to go to this lineup until all other options had failed? After Amundson had ignominiously fouled out in 13 minutes against the Kings putrid front line? After Udoh had been exhausted? Why did he try to guard Cousins with Udoh, and Landry with Lee in the third quarter, when it should have been the other way around?
Why does Keith Smart only put his best lineups on the floor when the Warriors are in uphill battles? Why does Keith Smart only ask his phenomenal open court team to push the pace when they are staring defeat in the face?
Those are questions for another day. For this day, Keith Smart found the answer in time, and got the win. Let’s hope it continues.
Vlad Rad: It was only yesterday that I wrote that the Warriors best lineup has David Lee at center, and Vlad Rad at power forward. But in general, I have been writing on this theme since the start of the year. And its been a very lonely job. To my knowledge, Smart’s use of Vlad Rad has been met with open ridicule by every prominent Warriors commentator. Marcus Thompson, Rusty Simmons, Steinmetz, Lauridsen, all of them.
Only one Warriors commentator has seen fit to find the good in Vlad’s game. Only one has tried to present both sides of the story through every disaster, every brainfart, every yanking. Only one has insisted, through everything, that hidden inside Vlad Rad is a very good basketball player.
That would be me.
We saw every bit of how good Vlad can be in this game. Let’s start with his defense on Carl Landry. If you replay only one quarter of this season, make this the game, and watch Vlad defend Carl Landry in the fourth quarter. The same Carl Landry that had burned through every Warriors defender for 20 points and 9 rebounds up to that point. Vlad held him to 2 points and 1 rebound.
But it was how he did it that was so special. He denied him the basketball. And he denied him the basketball so spectacularly that I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed it done better. Landry grew so frustrated that he began throwing Vlad all over the court, and even off the court. Vlad wasn’t intimidated in the slightest. He stuck his nose right back in Landry’s shirt, and never took it out.
(Like Alex in A Clockwork Orange, Dorell Wright should be required to watch Vlad’s fourth quarter defensive performance for three days straight, while having his eyelids held open with clips, and being fed intravenously. Maybe that would work.)
And even while he was so focused on Landry, Vlad was still actively engaged in rotating to prevent the Kings’ guards from penetration. Vlad Rad is the Warriors’ best help defender, by far. There is no one close to him. Particularly Dorell Wright, who somehow manages to show up late on every single rotation. To my eye, Vlad never misses a defensive rotation. He is great at it.
Now let’s talk offense. Everyone of course will be talking about the terrific clutch three that sent the game into overtime. But just as Udoh’s highlight reel sequence last night obscured the real value of his performance, Vlad’s shot will obscure his total contribution to the Warriors’ offense in this game. It is almost difficult to describe what Vlad does for a team on offense, because he has what is called a total floor game. He can do everything. Shoot the three, and thereby open up the middle of the court for David Lee and the Warriors slashers. Slash to the hoop himself and finish with authority. See the floor and make the perfect pass.
Oops. Of course, Vlad’s performance would never be complete without one completely egregious brainfart. And that thrown away outlet pass would once again have been the story of this game if he hadn’t rewritten the ending. But it’s because he is such a good passer that that pass was even attempted. He is a great passer, and the Warriors offense never runs better than when he is on the court, playing the four.
Unfortunately, I don’t think he’s long for the position. When Biedrins returns, Smart will probably slip right back into conventionality at all times. If that happens, it would be a pity, because Vlad belongs at the four, where he can competely distort the opposing team’s defense.
If he is moved back to the three though, it should be in front of Dorell Wright. He is a better basketball player than Dorell Wright. He did something in this game that Dorell Wright has never done in his life.
He was a stopper.
Prediction: This Warriors season hit rock bottom in the third quarter of this game. Curry will be back for Christmas, and I don’t care if Biedrins ever comes back. It will all be uphill from here.
I’ll turn the mike over to our superstar, Monta Ellis:
Before the season ends we will be right in the hunt for the 8 seed.
From his mouth to Santa’s ears. Happy Holidays, everyone!