“There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.” — Ernest Hemingway
Keith Smart is driving me crazy. The guy has done everything possible to torture me this season. Which includes his frequent habit of coming up with extraordinary coaching performances immediately after abysmal coaching performances. I was in despair of Keith Smart after the last game, not for the first time this season. Now, I’m confused again. But confused in a good way.
This convincing 101-90 Warriors victory over the powerhouse Chicago Bulls was easily the best of the season. And it began and ended with the coach.
This is the game I’ve been looking for from Smart. This is the game — literally the first all season — in which Keith Smart dictated terms to the coach on the opposite bench. And the guy he did it to is not just any coach. He’s Tom Thibodeau, the real guy behind the Celtics’ rings.
Smart dictated the tempo of this game. Smart dictated the matchups. He even dictated how Chicago would run its offense. He made the Bulls dance to his cape.
And in the Cuarto de Muerte, he unsheathed his long knife — the Warriors’ best lineup — and delivered the exhausted Bulls to the embrace of their locker-room.
Keith Smart: Got everything right. I mean everything. It was crazy. Let’s run down the list.
1) The offensive game plan: I have been repeating over and over this season that this Warriors’ team should be the fastest end to end in the NBA. They proved it tonight. I have never seen the Warriors push the tempo under Keith Smart like they did in this game. Their outlets were lightning quick, and made to half-court. Or beyond. They even ran after made baskets, as at 8:00 1Q, when Curry and Biedrins beat the Bulls down court.
Lets be clear. This Bulls team, led by Derrick Rose, is one of the best running teams in the NBA. Last season I saw them literally run the San Antonio Spurs off the court — in San Antonio (which no doubt had something to do with Pop’s change of philosophy this season). Earlier this season, in one of Smart’s more benighted performances, the Bulls outscored the Warriors 37-20 in fastbreak points.
Well, the Bulls are not faster than this Warriors team. By halftime of this game, the Warriors had outscored the Bulls 23-7 in fastbreak points. And I’m pretty darn sure that total got worse by the end of the game.
2) The defensive game plan: Let’s start with the backcourt matchups, which I have been arguing for all season: Monta Ellis on the quick guard, Stephen Curry on the big guard. Smart finally got it right, and Monta Ellis was a huge part of a defensive game plan that completely dismantled Derrick Rose.
The frontcourt matchups were equally brilliant, with Smart cross-matching Biedrins onto Boozer, and Lee onto the immobile Kurt Thomas.
Andris Biedrins v. Carlos Boozer: Weapon. Boozer is shorter, slower, and has less range than Ersan Ilyasova. Beans tortured him.
Then of course, there was the trapping of the pick and roll by Biedrins and Udoh and Vlad Rad. I have seen a lot of blog posters over the years rant about Nellie (and now Smart) using Biedrins to trap the pick and roll away from the basket. This game gave the lie to those posters. Biedrins is one of the few centers in the league who can do this effectively, when he’s healthy. And the Warriors executed Smart’s defensive game plan to near perfection.
Rose was held to 14 points on 6-15 shooting, and was turned over 9 times. Much of Chicago’s offense was funneled not just to the second and third options, but to their escape valves: Kurt Thomas and Taj Gibson. If those guys hadn’t been hitting, this might have been a blowout.
3) Ekpe Udoh and Vlad Rad: I will try to pretend that Lou Amundson sitting in street clothes had nothing to do with this, but Smart found the best lineups for the Warriors in this game. Please take note of Vlad Rad’s +23 in this game in an 0-2 performance and understand that he does things for the Warriors that go far beyond hitting threes. He is one of their best defenders (on fours). He runs the floor. And he spreads the floor for Monta and Curry. +23.
Udoh, who had a fantastic game defensively (more on this below), was a more modest +6. But it should be noted that on both occasions that Udoh was brought into the game, the Warriors went from losing to winning.
This frontline, Udoh and Vlad Rad, is going to be one of the Warriors’ most effective, going forward.
4) The crunchtime sword thrust: At 3:55 4Q, with the Warriors up 10, Smart took out Vlad Rad, and brought David Lee in to play alongside Biedrins.
And feltbot began to gnash his teeth. Keith Smart, it appeared, was once again going to try to win a game with defense. He was once again going to take the Warriors out of what they do best. He was once again going to incarcerate Monta and Curry in cat hell.
But something happened. The Bulls scared him by trapping Beans at half-court. He remembered that Beans can’t shoot free-throws. His fear of Joe Lacob disappeared. The ghost of Don Nelson descended from the rafters and whispered in his ear. Something.
At 3:40, Smart replaced Biedrins with… Reggie Williams! The Warriors went into crunch time with David Lee at center! Dorell Wright at PF! and Reggie Williams at SF! And of course, to top it off, the undersized backcourt that can’t play together.
Here’s what happened:
- Out of the inbounds, Curry finds a wide open drive, for free throws. (Why was that drive wide-open?)
- @3:20 Curry rebounds (yes, Curry and Monta can rebound) and hits DWright over half-court for a layup to beat the Bulls’ press.
- @2:50 David Lee blows a perfect Curry pick and roll pass at the rim. (Why was that pick and roll wide-open down the lane?)
- @2:23 Reggie William blows by Luol Deng, earning free throws. (Why does feltbot insist that small forward is Reggie Williams best position?)
- @2:00 Curry again beats the trap with an over the top pass to Monta for a dunk.
Game Over. The Warriors ran one of the best teams in the NBA — a team that in my estimation could potentially come out of the East — right out of the gym.
That’s what these Warriors can do. That’s how they roll.
Andris Biedrins: I’m leading with Beans, because he had a fantastic game that doesn’t appear anywhere in his boxscore. Beans played fantastic team defense against Derrick Rose in this game. Fantastic. When healthy, he is one of the very best defenders of pick and roll in the league, with an amazing ability to flash out and quickly recover to pick up his man back at the basket.
Fat Shaq can’t defend Rose like this. Kendrick Perkins can’t defend Rose like this. Which is why Derrick Rose routinely drops 40 on the Celtics in the playoffs, and will do so again this year. Which is why the Bulls might come out of the East.
The Nightmare: Ekpe Udoh also had a fantastic game that is not reflected in his box score. Tonight we saw in action the things that had me so excited to watch Don Nelson’s final draft pick play for the Warriors.
Enormous Intelligence. Defensive Desire.
Ekpe Udoh is an extraordinarily brilliant defensive player, already, in his rookie season. It’s difficult to describe what intelligence in action looks like on the defensive end, so let me just refer you to the tape, for a sequence: Beginning at 6:20 2Q, Udoh left Boozer to stop Rose’s penetration, Rose rotated the ball as Udoh returned to Boozer, then Udoh left Boozer to stop Deng’s penetration, then returned to lay a body on Boozer as the ball was rotated and the Bull’s missed an outside jumper. Rebound Warriors.
Check this play out if you’re interested in seeing a budding defensive genius, as well as the single biggest reason neither Brandan Wright nor Anthony Randolph could stay on the floor for Don Nelson.
This is not even to mention the phenomenal one-on-one defense he played against Carlos Boozer. His anticipation, balance, and footwork, as a rookie, are borderline supernatural.
And then there is his desire and willingness to bang, which is not something that can be taught. If Smart had played Brandan Wright in Udoh’s place, Oakland CSI would still be scraping bits of flesh off the hardwood.
But the rebounding. I’m not sure yet what to think about Udoh’s rebounding. He clearly needs to add strength, especially after several months of being banned from the weight room. I think we will see a huge difference in him in his second year.
His rebounding is also affected by his huge defensive responsibilities. He doesn’t yet have Biedrins’ knack of effortlessly moving from shot-contesting to rebounding. But Biedrins himself didn’t have that knack until Don Nelson got ahold of him in his third(?) year.
And there is one other thing that is hindering Udoh’s rebounding: Take a close look at the play at 9:00 4Q, where Udoh had Boozer perfectly boxed out on a rebound, but wound up completely out of the play. Brandan Wright-like weakness? No. Boozer cleared him out with a blatant shove in the back, and the refs all swallowed their whistles.
A clear example of how the refereeing is biased in the NBA, against rookies, and in favor of stars. And one more reason why
David Stern is a complete fraud: Earlier today, Stern selected Kevin Love of the 11-39 Timberwolves to replace Yao Ming in the all-star game. And thereby completely blew out of the water all of his remaining credibility, if he had any left.
All last year, the excuse given for leaving Monta Ellis off of the all-star team (and didn’t Stern have three injury bites at the apple?) was that the Warriors had a losing record. That Monta Ellis didn’t make his teammates better.
What a crock. Does Kevin Love — he of the 11-39 record, and of the 2 assists/gm and the 1-1 assist/TO ratio, he who can’t hold the Anthony Tolliver’s of the league to less than 34 points — does he make his teammates better?
The idea that Kevin Love is an all-star is an utter joke. It is not even at all clear — except to the money men in the league offices — that Kevin Love is a winning NBA basketball player. I truly do not believe that he is.
Kevin Love an all-star ahead of LaMarcus Aldridge, who has put an injury-decimated team on his back, and has them in playoff contention? What a crock.
But the idea that Monta Ellis is not an all-star is even more incredible. Forget about all the statistical arguments. Forget about all the respect around the league that Monta has garnered this season. Forget about the respect of his coaches, and the teammates that he is leading.
In this game that we just watched, Monta Ellis went head-to-head against a player that many are touting for League MVP.
And destroyed him.
DWright: In another great performance, this is what I liked the most: at 3:50 3Q, Luol Deng caught the ball on the wing, and DWright got all the way into him. Got in his shirt, ripped his heart out, and forced him to give up the ball.
That’s what a stopper does.
He finished the Bull’s possession with that great sucker-steal on Carlos Boozer and a fastbreak basket. I kind of liked that too.
The Defensive Liability: Isn’t it astonishing what a healthy Andris Biedrins, and a coach that gets the matchups right, can do for the defense of Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry?
This is something that Adam Lauridsen — to name just one Warriors pundit — will never be able to understand. How about you?
The Closers: In crunch time, Smart let his superstars take over the game. And what did Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry do?
Lou Amundsen: Lou let his Fabio flag fly on the Warriors bench. Andria, I expect to hear from you on an important issue:
Who has prettier hair, Lou or his anthem-singing girlfriend?
Bob Fitzgerald’s Special Moment: Wonder of wonders, there wasn’t one. In fact, I thought Bob called an exceptional game. He was so good that he even created some great crunch-time moments for his listeners:
3:10 4Q: “Play to Win!” Echoing Jim Barnett’s mantra, after Smart went small and Curry found DWright on the break.
2:00 4Q: “Attack! Attack! Attack!” After Monta’s press-beating dunk.
And, of course, he provided feltbot with the title of this post. Thanks, Bob.
Joe Lacob: As I have been insisting since the start of the year, all alone and to not a little ridicule, this is a playoff team. All they need is to repair the damage that has been done to their bench. To be specific, all the Warriors need is one big two-way shooting guard to protect the phenomenal Ellis–Curry backcourt.
Joe Lacob, “the sins of the past” have the Warriors on the cusp.
Take them over.