Warriors fans enjoyed their first extended Nightmare of the season, as Ekpe Udoh delivered an amazing all-around performance off the bench that electrified the Oracle. The highlight sequence of the night, of course, began with his soaring, left-handed putback slam at 9:35 of the 4th Q. As the Oracle went beserk, the Rockets kept their head, and quickly inbounded the ball and connected over the top to a streaking Courtney Lee, who beat the Warriors defense, and… there was Udoh again, soaring to block Lee’s layup from behind. Wow.
What this game also showed about Udoh is that those highlight sequences — of which there are going to be many going forward — are far from the only things that make him special. Udoh is special because he possesses extraordinary desire and extraordinary intelligence. And he showed those qualities throughout his performance in this game. Let’s go back to that highlight sequence. For me, the highlight actually begins at 9:45, when Udoh beat Jordan Hill to the offensive boards to tip the ball and keep the possession alive.
Gary St. Jean raved about Udoh’s intelligence after the game, pointing out that the rookie played perfect hedging defense on the Rocket’s lightning-quick small guards, and also knew enough to direct Vlad Rad where to go on one of the Warriors’ offensive sets.
I noticed a few other things, like that he didn’t mind using his body to hold his position against Scola (Oh, Hallelujah!). And that he had the intelligence, as a 3-game rookie, not to go for the Scola shot fakes that baffle 10-year vets. And that he had the length to bother a few of Scola’s shots. And that he boxes out on the defensive boards (6:55 2nd Q. Oh, Hallelujah!). And that he knows exactly where rebounds are going to come off the glass.
Oh, you down-trodden sufferers of Wrights and Randolphs, shout it out along with Reverend Feltbot: Hallelujah!
And one other play, which would have been the highlight for me if it weren’t for that incredible 3rd Q sequence. At 1:15 of the 1st Q, Udoh scrambled for a loose offensive rebound, and in a crowd, tipped it to David Lee for a layup. To me, this bespoke a number of wonderful things about Ekpe Udoh. Desire, awareness, presence, vision. Basketball IQ. I could not ever, even under the influence of hallucinogens, imagine Brandan Wright making this play. It could never happen.
Udoh finished with 4 assists in his 25 minute stint, to go along with his 3 blocks. He showed us another soft and sweet jump hook. He showed us a fadeaway turnaround from 10 feet, that went in and out. And he showed a nice stroke at the free throw line, although he missed one of two.
In short, Udoh finally got the chance to show Warriors fans why Don Nelson drafted him over Greg Monroe at #6. And he made feltbot — who insanely went out on a limb to predict just this sort of Nightmarish talent — very, very happy.
Don Nelson stole the draft. Again.
This is going to be fun.
Keith Smart: Oh, did the rest of the Warriors play a game? You probably expect me to resume my Smart-slamming, don’t you? Well I’m not going to do it, because although the short-handed Warriors lost this game, I saw all sorts of good stuff from Coach Smart:
- For the first time in dogs’ years, the Warriors actually scored the first basket of the game, because instead of going to Andris Biedrins on the first play, they went to Monta Ellis. Actually, I’m not sure I can credit Smart for this, as Biedrins was inactive.
- Nevertheless, Smart went to Ellis early and often, which helped the Warriors play the Rockets even in the first quarter. And do you think getting him started early might also have had something to do with Ellis’ incredible performance in this game? Food for thought.
- The Warriors actually looked to run this game. They pushed the ball from the opening tip. Take a look at that great David Lee outlet pass at :50 of the 1st Q that resulted in a layup. And they even ran once after a made basket. I almost dropped my Lagavulin snifter when I saw that. First time all season. Unfortunately, the numerous early offense threes for Reggie Williams and DWright refused to drop. But they were created, they were there, and they were taken.
- With DWright and Williams stinking up the court, Smart got creative, even going to a Nellie-esque three point guard lineup of Lin, Law and Ellis for a while in the second half, to match up with Houston’s smalls. It didn’t work half bad, despite the fact that no one on the court besides Ellis could score.
After these positive signs, I’m ready to cut Keith Smart some slack for awhile. Let’s see what happens when he gets Curry and Biedrins back, and the Warriors start playing some mediocre teams for a change. (Are there any bad teams left in the league? I think Warriors fans may have forgotten what they look like.)
Monta Ellis: 44 points on 15-20, 7 assists. What an incredible performance against the Rockets’ triple team, with no other Warriors players hitting shots to relieve the pressure. Do you think David Stern will let him play in the all-star game this year?
And for what it’s worth, I caught Monta saying this in his post-game interview: “Before the season ends we will be right in the hunt for the 8 seed.”
David Lee: We’re seeing signs that Lee is getting back to normal. I think he actually hit a jumper in this game.
Rebounding, great. Shotmaking, nice. But what makes Lee a truly extraordinary player is his court vision, intelligence, and passing ability. Off the pick and roll, drive and dish, high post, you name it. Extraordinary ability.
And let’s not forget that outlet pass. Please, Keith Smart, let’s not forget it.
DWright: Of all the soft performances that Wright has given this season, and there have been many, this may have been the softest. He just never seems to play well when his shot is not falling. Didn’t defend. (as eg., Barnett noticed that it was his blown switch that gave Scola that ridiculous bucket on the inbounds play with :00.4 on the clock to end the first half.) Didn’t rebound. Didn’t finish strong.
Trying to get back into the game, Smart tried DWright at power forward alongside Lee at one point in the 3rd Q. The 6-6″ Chuck Hayes ate him alive. After one disgusting Hayes offensive rebound and putback, Smart gave Wright the yank, and left him nailed to the bench until about 2 minutes left in the game.
Take a good look at that -22. You can be sure he won’t.
Lou Amundson: Lou put up enough rebounds in this game to get Kirk Lacob tapping furiously on his calculator. Unfortunately, he gave up a lot more than he pulled in. If you watched closely, you saw the Rockets’ bigs eat Lou alive inside. And the Rockets’ won the rebounding battle handily, 45-35. (If you want to point the finger at David Lee’s 6 rebounds, remember that he was stationed outside on both offense and defense, and Amundson inside).
He put up a couple of Lou Amundson highlight hustle plays and putbacks. He even got a Suns-flashback layup on a fastbreak. But the fact of the matter is that the Warriors are not a very good team when he is on the floor, offensively or defensively. Compare his -14 to Udoh’s +9.
Vlad Rad: After that brainfart, once again exposing the ball after a rebound, getting it stripped, and giving a ridiculous flagrant foul in frustration, Vlad’s performance in this game will be completely lost on the media and the fans. It’s too bad, because Vlad played great in this game right up until that moment. The fact of the matter is, until Udoh becomes fully ready, the Warriors best lineup has Lee at the 5 and Vlad Rad at the 4. Vlad is a terrific offensive facilitator. He is also playing terrific defense, far better in fact than DWright, the so-called stopper. He is shooting close to 40% from three. He’s finally begun taking the ball to the rim with authority. And last but not least, playing him at the 4 spreads the floor. It is he and Udoh, not Biedrins and Amundsen, that will eventually break the triple-teaming of Monta Ellis. And it is he and Udoh that will eventually open the lane for pick and roll with Curry and Lee.
I have noticed Vlad getting the ball stripped after rebounds at least 5 or 6 times already this season. Can’t someone on the Warriors staff teach him how to put the ball away and swing an elbow?
Hey, this might be a job for our Director of Basketball Operations!
Acie Law: We saw his limitations tonight. 0-5 from three. We also saw how much better this Warriors team would have been had they re-signed CJ Watson, or not broken their deal with Jannero Pargo. Good enough, in fact, to steal this game and perhaps several others they’ve lost this season while short-handed.
Jeremy Lin: Admire his toughness and competitiveness, but his inability to create offense was obvious in this game. And Keith Smart, while praising his energy post-game, also let slip that he’s not NBA-ready. And Gary St. Jean said he needs to develop his game in the D-league. So I guess a move is imminent.
Thanks, Joekirk! It’s been entertaining!