No Cigar: Lakers 115 Warriors 110

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.

12 Responses to No Cigar: Lakers 115 Warriors 110

  1. Great to have you back Felty. What about double teaming Mamba at the end of the game? Monta was clearly outsized by Kobe who went to work in the 4th by simply shooting over our superman. I’d rather see Artest get the bulk of the crunch time shots.
    And the free throw disparity? That was not OK. The best way to erase a deficit is from the free throw line and the Lakers put on a clinic.

    Man, I love watching Monta play.

  2. Speaking of plays, there was that 1 terrific inbounds play that resulted in a David Lee easy dunk. For whatever complaints Smart gets, he seems to get inbounds plays done right.

  3. I couldn’t agree more in general, but in particular with two things: 1) Smart’s handling of Curry, which is messing with Steph’s head. This must be the Bobby Knight influence and it’s not working. 2) The deterioration of Biedrins’ play at the offensive end. Another head-case situation that needs to be fixed soon. But how do you trade a $9 million/year man who is playing like a second-stringer?

  4. Very, very nice, Feltbot. Anybody who saw the game last night and was disappointed doesn’t appreciate basketball or our team and its potential.

    But actually I wonder what a Feltbot in LA might have said about the Lakers. I suspect they were so half-court, defense, control, Kobe oriented that they constrained their offense. I’m surprised they didn’t put up more points. Other games, I recall getting Fisher, Brown, and Artest in the offensive action, who have and could have burned us bad. Then they spread our defense and we got killed inside. Why was the game ever close? Our defense was good, but I don’t think that’s the whole answer.

    Ellis:
    Great, great tribute, all deserved.

    Curry:
    Just does not look right. Those of us who have watched him are disappointed when he doesn’t swish dead center. Health, maybe, but there is no question that when he has the ball and penetrates, his first thought is to pass — to whomever, even Gad and Am — and not take his shot, even when he is open. I assume this is the plan.

    I just don’t buy the Nash comparison for simple reasons. Curry does not the have the offense Nash had (you can flesh this argument out better than I). Nor does he have offensive sets that allow him to maneuver. I’ve heard several say this — when we go slow, post up low, we crowd the center and don’t leave much room to pass (not so much an issue last night). Some of his TO’s have been passes into a crowded lane, forcing something that wasn’t there. Because this is the plan, too. (I heard someone else say this is Lee’s problem — he’s not scoring as much because he doesn’t have as much room himself.)

    Most, Nash did not play with Monta Ellis. We have two point/shooting guards who switch roles, off and on, and I’m not really interested in any arguments about which one is better or should play point. The goal, then, is to figure out how to take advantage of their unique talents, this unusual but potent backcourt.

    Curry thrives on movement and spontaneity as a shooter and passer, who is moved by the spirit, not by brawn or iron guts. Slow him down, stick him in a corner and have him wait for a pass, and you lose this advantage. He is not Rondo, and at best would become a mediocre Rondo. This means he has to be turned loose and let the spirit flow. It’s how his team almost upset the best team in the nation in the NCAA, Kansas. And it means he has to shoot at will, without pause or reflection. And have him only drive when he sees an opening, not force himself into a crowd so he can shoot free throws. That will only break him. But Curry defines himself as a team player and thrives on this. Set him free, and he is just as likely to make a sparkling pass. And it’s the thing we haven’t seen that much of this year, those brilliant, brilliant passes.

    VladRad:
    Somebody more clever than I calculate this. Figure out how many more points Vlad would have given up over Gad, if any, if Vlad played most of the 4th. qtr. He has size and is not a timid defender. Be sure to add the points Gasol made shooting free throws when fouled by AB/Gad. Then put against this the points he might have scored if left in and worked into the offense. Also add points that the Warriors might have scored because his presence opened up the court and gave others open shots, room to drive. Somebody start toting up his clutch 3-pointers. And remember that slam dunk last night–gorgeous and decisive, cf. finishes by the centers and backup forwards. Surely this can be repeated.

    I must confess, however, I miss the beard.

  5. Curry’s line in that LA game last year:
    29 points–11/19, 5/9 on 3’s, only 2/2 FT, 5 boards, 9 assists, 1 steal . . . . and zero TOs.

    Did he just decide to get bad and clumsy since last year?

    Also note this:
    “C.J. Watson and Hunter then combined for all the points in an 11-2 run to end the half for Golden State and give the Warriors a 65-59 lead at the break.” (from the Yahoo recap)

  6. Felt, thanks for the Popoplay! Love it!
    Thoughts on Heat Rewards?
    http://www.peninsulaismightier.com/2011/1/10/1927865/heat-rewards-sheer-genius-or-fools-gold

  7. Arrrrgh @Comcast On Demand. I wanted to double check that first play where Biedrins mispassed it out to Curry for a turnover. I hope you misinterpreted that play. But given the history of Biedrins being afraid to play offense, I would not be surprised if your interpretation is accurate and correct. If this continues to happen, let’s see how Smart handles it. My guess is that he’ll cut Biedrins minutes down and put in someone willing to play offense. If that happens, we’ll know Biedrins is going through the exact same mental problems he went through at this time last season.

  8. Felty: Agree with many things you wrote, but disagree wiht some of your comments.

    First of all, you have no basis for saying that Udoh was not ready to play this game. He doesn’t take pump fakes, Biedrens does. Did you see Gasol pump fake and go right around Biedrens. Udoh is the veteran, Biedrens is the rookie. The Warriors in my judgment would have won this game if he had not only played, but played most of the game.

    He has played outstanding defensively in virtually every game. Do you think he is scared of playing the Lakers? He’s in the NBA.

    Moreover, you fail to point out that Biedrens was awful defensively.When the Lakers shoot 50% from the field something is radically wrong with our bigs.

    And Gasol going 1-4 in the first quarter with D. Lee guarding him was more related to the fact that it was the first quarter rather then D. Lee’s defense.

    D. Lee is not a good defender mainly because when his player drives past him, there is no one who has his back. Not Biedrens. Udoh has shown he does have his back, but was not played.

    Lakers win. Teams rarely shoot at 40% when Udoh is on the court.

  9. This was a good win, and no complaints, not even subbing for Curry at the end, and I loved that lineup end of 2nd. half, Curry/ Vlad/ Lee/ Reggie/ (DW?). Monta gets some rest and this unit can only get better

    Except why did Smart leave Law in so long end of 3rd., into 4th. qtr? Why not put Steph back in, or if that didn’t work (it would have) Ellis? Ellis can play with 4 fouls.

    Felt — do you think they read this blog?
    Steph was put on Davis.
    They got Steph started early.
    The whole team ran and shot.
    Etc. — go back to your blind comments on the last time they played the Clippers.

    And fear the beard! Or fear the guy who had a beard last week. Vlad showed so much down the stretch and can still offer more. Defensively, how much do you give up with him over Amundson, if anything?

    Even Biedrins got some points — and Smart is still committed to him. Just heard his post game comments, words of praise.

  10. Vlad Rad +19 on the night, tops.

  11. Someone’s going to argue we won because we played better defense than we did last week. Baloney. Gordon and Griffin still got their numbers and the team shot at a much higher percentage tonight. We won this game with offense. Brother Feltbot, I have seen the light.