It is more than a little sad to say that I’m somewhat pleased by this ultra-competitive Warriors’ loss to the Lakers. But that’s where we Warriors fans find ourselves in relation to our insufferable LaLa land counterparts these days. The Lakers are the defending two-time champs. They have a bankroll that dwarfs ours. One of the best big men in NBA history fell into their lap, even if they don’t completely know what to do with him.
And of course, they have a GM who knows how to build a winning bench. The Warriors have a GM — Joe Lacob — who gave us Lou Amundson and Jeremy Lin. Two players not good enough to even dip a toe into this game against the big boys.
This was a game that could very easily have been won with a slightly better bench. With a big man who could actually shoot the ball, and bring the giant Lakers behemoths out of the lane. A big man like, perhaps, Anthony Tolliver, who got 14 points on 5-8 shooting in a 3 point Warriors loss to the Lakers last year. Or perhaps like Chris Hunter — remember him? — who got 22 points on 8 for 14 shooting in the same game. Apparently only Don Nelson believes he can play. Or in the value of having big men who can shoot.
And the Warriors also badly missed having a big defensive guard off the bench who could have given Monta a breather on Kobe and Shannon Brown. A piece that was also a staple of all Don Nelson teams.
(Did any of you wonder whether the Warriors could have used Rodney Carney to guard Kobe in this game where Amundson was left to rot on the bench? Anyone stop to think that Rodney Carney might be more needed by this Warriors team than Lou Amundson? I sure did.)
But no, our GM gave us Lou Amundson, who very correctly was nailed to the bench in this game, and Jeremy Lin, who spent this game playing in the D-league.
But despite these ruminations, and some minor disgruntlement with Keith Smart, I was pretty pleased by this game. Thanks to a superhuman performance by Monta Ellis, and great play by most of the other Warriors players, this was a very encouraging performance against a ridiculously dominant team. The Warriors have played very competitively against the best teams in the league the last few weeks, which could be a harbinger of a sustained winning streak on this homestand.
Monta Ellis: All those who wanted to trade Monta Ellis for OJ Mayo and Hasheem Thabeet, raise your hands. You know who you are. Let’s start with the Bay Area newspaper boys. Raise your hands, boys. You wanted to trade a superstar for a journeyman and a road cone.
I thought it was clear that Monta Ellis was becoming a superstar by January of last year. That opinion was shared by almost no one. David Stern left him off the all-star team, despite numerous openings for alternates. John Hollinger, the pre-eminent snake-oil salesman of NBA player analysis, wrote a feature calling Ellis one of the most overrated players in the game. Well, suck on this game, John Hollinger.
This performance by Monta was beyond incredible. Beginning with the obvious: 38 points on 15-26 shooting. But let’s look a little deeper. He put up this line while being face-guarded by Ron Artest for three quarters, followed by a completely fresh Kobe Bryant in the fourth quarter, and being double and triple-teamed by the longest and best defensive front-line in basketball. He put up this line while playing 48 minutes. And he put up this line despite having to expend enormous energy guarding Kobe Bryant and Shannon Brown, and giving help on the Lakers’ bigs.
In the end, of course, Monta’s performance was overshadowed in the eyes of most fans and all media members by the performance of Kobe Bryant, and the Lakers’ win. But let me draw some distinctions between the two performances:
- Monta guarded Kobe every minute he was on the court. Kobe guarded Dorell Wright for three quarters.
- Monta played 48 minutes. Kobe got 12 minutes of rest, including a long stretch preceding his patented crunch-time showcase.
- Monta scored his points in the teeth of a great defensive front-line. Kobe scored most of his against a front-line of DGadz and Lee, with Biedrins on the bench with foul trouble.
- Monta scored his points because he had to, to keep the Warriors in this game. Kobe scored his points in spite of a dominant front-line that was 20-38 in this game. Could the Warriors have won this game going inside to Biedrins, Gadzuric and Lee? Heck, no. Could the Lakers have won this game going inside to Bynum, Gasol and Odom? Heck, yes. But that will never happen, so long as Kobe Bean Bryant is drawing breath.
Monta’s performance was nothing short of superhuman, and made in a winning cause. He is a bonafide superstar. To even contemplate trading him — as Joe Lacob has indicated he is — would be a crime not just against this Warriors’ team, and not just against Warriors’ fans. It would be a crime against basketball.
Stephen Curry: Stephen Curry this year is nothing like the player he was last year. Watching him play last night, I couldn’t decide how much of his uninspiring performance was a result of his lame ankles and poor conditioning, and how much had to do with Keith Smart. There is no question that Smart has taken a lot of wind out of Curry’s sails. Unlike Don Nelson, he doesn’t want Curry looking for his own offense early in the shot clock. He especially doesn’t want Curry taking quick threes, which is something he totally excels at. And of course, he is leaning hard on Curry about his turnovers, which is not totally uncalled for. But I think it has had an undeniable dampening effect on Curry’s creativity.
If ever a game called for Stephen Curry to be unleashed, it was last night’s game. Every coach in the league knows that the key to beating the Lakers is attacking Derek Fisher, their one weakness on the court. Every coach in the league but Keith Smart, apparently. Was it Smart, or was is it Curry?
David Lee: I am going to keep harping on this as long as David Lee keeps getting attacked in the press as a weak defender. David Lee guarded Pau Gasol man to man last night. How long has it been since the Warriors had a player who could even attempt that, physically? This was the result (confirmed by PopcornMachine’s Gameflow): In the first quarter, Lee held Gasol to 2 points on 1-4 shooting. In the third quarter, Lee held Gasol to 6 points on 2-4. And in the fourth quarter he held Gasol to 4 points on 0 shots.
Two points: 1) David Lee is a very adequate defender at power forward. 2) David Lee is a much, much better defender when Biedrins or Gadzuric is behind him. This point continually escapes the media when the Warriors centers are in hospital.
Dorell Wright: I have been astonished by DWright’s growth as a player in the last few weeks. He has become a tremendous all-around player. And even more pleasing than his offensive performance last night was his defense and rebounding. He has really stepped it up on that end as well.
You might be surprised to learn that Wright is currently ranked at #30 among fantasy basketball players (by Basketball Monster). A third round pick!
That simply confirms what my eyes have been telling me lately. Wright is looking like one of the best small forwards in basketball. He is a winning player.
Thank you, Don Nelson.
Andris Biedrins: Beans was pushed around like a ragdoll last night. Some of that no doubt had to do with his poor conditioning, so I am going to give him a pass for this very poor game.
It should be noted, though, that Biedrins suffered his first bad sprain at midseason a couple of years ago. And he wasn’t himself for the rest of the season.
It should also be noted that Biedrins is still suffering from a very severe mental block, that I have referred to unapologetically as cowardice. On the Warriors first play last night, Smart went of course to Biedrins. But this time, instead of trying to post him up, he used him the way Don Nelson used him: getting him the ball on the right mid-post with room to face up and use his speed to get to the basket. Curry set a screen and Biedrins found himself in the middle of the lane, guarded by Derek Fisher. Did he take the ball to the basket? Force Fisher to foul him? No. He threw a panic airball out to the wings for a turnover.
There is simply no other way to put this: this is gross cowardice. Biedrins’ fear of going to the free throw line has crippled his game, and is crippling his team.
I never, ever thought I would say this. I was a huge fan of Biedrins a couple of years ago, right along with Don Nelson, who called him the best center he’d had since Lanier. But it has to be said. It is time to trade Andris Biedrins.
He has become a dog.
Keith Smart: You could say a lot of nice things about Smart based on last night’s performance, and that’s where I will start. Obviously, he had his team ready to play. The half-court offense was remarkably efficient against an all-world defense, particularly the high-post offense. The best it’s been run so far this season.
He made the choice to shorten his rotation, leaving Amundson — who can get nothing done against this Lakers front line — and Udoh — who’s not ready — on the bench. I liked this decision.
And the Warriors came out with a plan to run. This was a huge change from the Warriors last two disasters against the Lakers, in which, as Smart admitted post-game, his strategy was to slow the game down. Two questions: Why in the world was that his previous strategy? And did he really need to see the Miami Heat demonstrate the Lakers’ weakness to believe it, after several years on Don Nelson’s bench?
The Warriors running even extended, for the first time all season, to running after made baskets: see 4:25 of the 1st Q. Bravo. (But why did it take so long?)
I have a couple of quibbles with Smart in this game, though. The first, as I’ve already mentioned, has to do with his use of Curry.
The second has to do with his failure to use Vlad Rad more. At 5:25 of the 3rd Q, Jackson took Bynum out, going with Gasol and Odom up front. And at 5:27 of the 4th, Jackson again took Bynum out. On both occasions, Smart left DGadz on the floor to battle with Gasol and Odom, rather than going with Vlad Rad. To me, this is inexcusable. This is, as Jim Barnett likes to say, playing not to lose, rather than playing to win. Or perhaps it is simply playing to get your contract extended.
To beat this Lakers team you need to run. You need to spread out the tall timber of the Lakers’ defense. And you need to bury threes, as Vlad Rad did twice in 20 seconds when he was finally brought in — only in desperation — at the end of the game.
It might not have worked. Perhaps relying on Vlad Rad rather than DGadz would have resulted in the Warriors losing by even more, with Joe Lacob frowning on from the front row.
But at least if that happened, the Warriors would have lost PLAYING TO WIN.