Monta Ellis rewrote the title of this Warriors-Pacers recap for me. I had several titles in the works. “Outpaced” was one, jotted down when the Pacers were running away with the tempo and the game in the second quarter. Others had to do with how badly Dorell Wright — the putative Warriors stopper — was getting worked by Danny Granger, and how badly Keith Smart was getting worked by the very underrated coach on the other bench. There was a moment when I thought Stephen Curry might have overcome the abominable way in which he is being used to be the hero of this game. But we know what happened there.
In the end, there was no longer a choice. This game belongs to Monta Ellis. Once again he put the Warriors on his back, playing 44 minutes and putting up 36 points (on 16-28 shooting), 5 boards, 6 assists. But it was his last shot, the game-winner with 0:00.6 left on the clock, that made the hair rise on the backs of necks all around the Bay. It was cool, it was composed, it was perfectly created, it was wide open. And it was pure.
Last year I was all over Monta for his repeated failure to close quarters and games. We saw all manner of botches. Turnovers, offensive fouls, horrible shots, easy bricks. Nothing worked for Monta last year, as he worked himself into shape, and into a better attitude. This year has been a different story from the start. His success rate to end quarters has improved dramatically. But game-winning shots are another animal completely. With shots like the one he hit tonight, Monta Ellis is stepping into the most elite rank of NBA players there is:
Keith Smart: No way to sugarcoat or hedge this, Keith Smart’s decision to play a lineup of Lou Amundson, Vlad Rad, DWright, Reggie Williams and Acie Law in the second quarter was an egregious FAIL. I don’t say this because of the poor outcome. I say this because the poor outcome was predetermined and foreseeable. If Keith Smart went to this lineup 5 times — against a lineup featuring Foster in the middle, Granger at power forward, and George and Dunleavy on the wings — he would get blown out 5 times. If he went to it 10 times, he would get blown out 10 times. If he went to it 100 times, he would get blown out all 100 times.
By going to this lineup, Smart ceded to the Pacers the advantage in size, rebounding, skill, quickness and shooting. What edges did he create for the Warriors in return? If you’re still scratching your head, you’ve taken my point.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. Barring immediate risk to life or limb, or immediate risk of fouling out of the game, Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry should NEVER both be out of the game at the same time. NEVER.
I’m also just about ready to say that Lou Amundson should never be put into an NBA game that is not a blowout. I’ll hold off on that conclusion for now. But I’m close. Let’s just say this: I’m 100% certain that Lou Amundson should never play center in an NBA game in which the opposing team is playing Danny Granger at the four.
Fortunately, Keith Smart corrected his mistakes in the second half. And I’m willing to give him credit for it: I flat out don’t believe the story that Amundson didn’t return because of his rolled ankle.
And I’ll go one step further: going to Brandan Wright at center was very, very clever. (Shocked? More on this below.)
Stephen Curry: I’ve been meaning to write a feature about my contention that the Warriors could be and should be the fastest team end-to-end in the NBA, a contention that was hotly contested in the comments section. Instead, I’ll attack the question piecemeal, beginning now.
It is obvious that any team with Monta Ellis could be a devastating running team. Take a look at Miami: they frequently have a one-man fast break in Dwayne Wade, and their centers are stuck in cement.
It’s also obvious that Dorell Wright is a nice running three.
What’s not so obvious is how Andris Biedrins, David Lee and Stephen Curry help make the Warriors fast break one of the best in the league. I’ll focus on Beans and Lee in another post. Curry is the guy I want to talk about now. Isn’t he one of the slowest guards in the NBA? How could he contribute to making the Warriors the fastest team end-to-end in the league?
This is how:
4:35 2nd Q: Curry receives the outlet, glances upcourt and instantly throws a perfect three-quarter court alley oop to Dorell Wright.
2:58 2nd Q: Curry throws another perfect three-quarter court bullseye to David Lee at the basket, for two free throws. Note that Curry took no longer in assessing how to make this pass, and yet didn’t throw an alley-oop to David Lee. He threw him a pass that hit him right in his floor-bound hands.
That’s how. Curry’s transcendent passing ability literally shrinks the court for the Warriors. Take a stopwatch to those plays.
The fastest team end-to-end in the NBA. I stand by it.
I don’t have too much else to say about Curry’s game that wasn’t obvious to all. This was one of his best defensive games in a while, at least in terms of generating turnovers and getting rebounds. Smart’s failure to protect him from foul trouble — and overreactions when he does get in foul trouble — had him playing matador defense on occasion. Right up until his brainfart at the end of the game (which I think was caused by him pressing too hard to preserve his star of the game status, because he had not had a chance to be a star since last season).
On the offensive side, I love the fact that the Warriors have weapons all over the floor this season. But I hate what that is making Smart do to Curry’s game. There is a giant elephant in the room that no one, but no one, is discussing:
If Stephen Curry got 28 shots, he would put up 36 points too. Maybe more.
Or has everyone forgotten that already?
Dorell Wright: I suppose you could call this a nice game from Dorell Wright. His 21 points offset some of the damage that Granger did. He again played yeoman’s minutes, and is part of the glue that holds our pathetic Lacob-designed second unit together. His “team” defense was great on occasion: 4 steals, 2 blocks, one absolutely spectacular.
But this Warriors team cannot hope to win a playoff series until Dorell Wright decides to become a stopper.
To become a stopper, you need to commit more than zero fouls when guarding the other team’s best player. You need to get right up in someone’s face. You need to get into their jersey. You need to get into their head. You need to reach into their chest, rip out their heart, and eat it in front of their eyes.
Like Paul Pierce did to Kobe Bryant in the 2008 finals. Like Stephen Jackson did to Dirk Nowitzki when We Believed. That’s how you win a playoff series.
Dorell Wright does not seem to have an ounce of this quality in him.
David Lee: DLee deserves more, but I’m going to keep this real short. I have a question for Matt Steinmetz, and all the other main-stream Bay Area basketball pundits:
That ferocious box out that Lee put on Jeff Foster with 1:18 left on the clock and the game in the balance, that resulted in a loose-ball foul on Foster and free-throws…
Did that improve the Warriors’ defense?
Mike Dunleavy: I don’t think I’ve ever written this before, and it should be written:
Mike Dunleavy’s biggest problem in Golden State was Gilbert Arenas and Jason Richardson.
They froze him out. When he was open, the pass was late, the pass was poorly thrown, or the pass didn’t arrive at all. I saw it over and over and over again. (And then I read Dunleavey allude to it, once he got to Indiana). They had an agenda. An agenda to get themselves big contracts, at his expense.
They wanted him to lose confidence, they wanted him to fail, and he did.
I’m not saying that Mike Dunleavey is a great player. I’m just saying what Gilbert Arenas and Jason Richardson did to him.
Vlad Rad: Surprised by Vlad’s poor showing in this game? Don’t be. You see, Vlad was asked to match up with Danny Granger, and Danny Granger is a THREE.
Brandan Wright: Surprised that Brandan Wright had a decent game? Don’t be. You see, in this game Brandan Wright was asked to play the only position in the NBA that he can possibly play: backup center.
His three shots? Point blank range, which is the extent of his range. Made possible by the fact that he was hanging around the basket, as centers do. (With David Lee spreading the floor.)
But the real reason he was useful in this game was spelled out by Keith Smart post-game. First of all, Smart was able to hide him against a non-scorer, in Jeff Foster. (There is simply no way to hide Brandan Wright against NBA power forwards.)
Secondly, his combination of quickness and length made him able to switch onto Granger and George under the basket when Foster picked their defenders. That shut down Indy’s penetration nicely.
Third, in the event that he got fouled, he could presumably convert his free-throws at a rate higher than 27%.
Nice call, Keith Smart. And nice contribution, Brandan Wright.