We saw a lot of great things in this Warriors win over the Thunder, not least among them Monta Ellis outshining Kevin Durant, and Stephen Curry and David Lee shutting up their critics. But those great performances were not what stood out the most about this game for me.
Very quietly, something changed for the Warriors on this night. As quiet, in fact, as Ekpe Udoh’s 0-4 line in 27 minutes of play. What was truly interesting about this night is that for the first time this season — indeed, perhaps for the first time in decades — the Warriors actually put a team on the floor that can win with defense and rebounding.
To my consternation, the Warriors played big this entire game, and didn’t pay for it. Not only didn’t pay, but looked good doing it. I think they owe a big debt of gratitude to the Thunder’s coach Scotty Brooks for that, but I don’t want to take too much away from what we saw tonight. It was significant.
The Nightmare: Why am I leading with the player who scored 0 points on 0-4 shooting, with a meager 4 rebounds in 27 minutes of play? Because I think he was the Warriors’ most interesting player on this night.
This was Udoh’s most extensive run of the season, in a meaningful game. And what kept him on the court was all the stuff that doesn’t show up in stat sheets. Defense. Dirty Work. Intelligence.
It used to be the case that when Biedrins left the floor, the Warriors defense would collapse. With Udoh taking his place, that will no longer be the case. Udoh is even better than Biedrins at flashing out to double the pick and roll, if that’s possible. He is even better than Biedrins in stepping up to deny penetration. All while never losing contact with his own man. He is a phenomenal team defender, right now, with about 20 NBA games under his belt.
Udoh is also doing the dirty work on offense. The dirty work of pick-setting. This absolutely cannot be taken for granted, simply because the Warriors’ previous two rookie big men could never do it. They couldn’t remember the plays most of the time. But also lacked the will. Udoh doesn’t lack will, and he is learning the Warriors’ plays in record time. Intelligence is meaningful in basketball. I lost count of the number of well-timed back-screens Udoh set to free up Warriors players in this game, but one to remember was the one that got Reggie Williams that alley-oop from Curry.
Udoh was also doing dirty work on the boards. The unglamourous work of boxing out. Unlike Brandan Wright and Anthony Randolph before him, Udoh knows how to get position on the boards, and he has the will and strength to HOLD it. He didn’t have many rebounds himself to show for his work on this night. But David Lee did. After watching this game, I am convinced that Udoh helps David Lee get rebounds in a way that Vlad Rad can’t.
I couldn’t take my eyes off Udoh in this game. And I wasn’t the only one. Gary St. Jean (who, by the way, I love as an analyst) stated at half-time: “Udoh is my favorite guy tonight.”
This is a special rookie, folks. A special player in the making. And we have a lot more to look forward to. Because as he gains confidence and starts to take a larger offensive role, the Warriors will no longer be sacrificing offense in order to play defense, as they do with Andris Biedrins.
Monta Ellis: He’s so good that everyone takes him for granted. Are there any other players putting up 33 point 7 assist games that David Stern won’t put on the all-star team?
This one came against one of the toughest defensive backcourts in the league. Ho-hum.
Stephen Curry: Matt Steinmetz has been vociferous lately that the Warriors need a “true” point guard. I wonder, has any NBA player who wasn’t a true point guard ever put up 13 assists against 0 turnovers? I don’t pretend to know the answer to that, I’m just wondering.
Seriously, I think Steinmetz’ opinion is ridiculous. And I don’t think anyone will even be debating this in a year. Stephen Curry’s learning curve as a point guard is phenomenal, particularly given the turnover in personnel and coaches and systems he has been handed in his first year and a half. Curry is a basketball genius, and if that wasn’t apparent to you last season, there really is no talking to you.
You will have to be shown, game after game, gem after tonight’s gem.
Just like Matt Steinmetz.
The Under-Sized Backcourt: Were Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry exploited in this game? They outscored Westbrook and Sefolosha 56-28. And out-assisted them 20-5.
Quite obviously (unless you write for the San Jose Mercury News) the defensive success of this backcourt relies heavily on who the Warriors are playing at center. So long as the Warriors can trot out a healthy Biedrins and Udoh, I would bet on our backcourt against any in the NBA.
David Lee: Tim Kawakami’s latest hit piece targeted David Lee. I’m not going to bother refuting it, or the utterly bogus stats he cites (he’s too lazy, both intellectually and morally, to dig up and use the stats of Warriors games where both Beans and Lee were healthy).
David Lee will refute it himself.
He is an incredible basketball player, in ways that are not fathomable by statistics. And like Stephen Curry, he has had a lot to overcome so far this season. Not one, but two major injuries (the first his pre-season break of his finger, remember that?). A new team. A new coach. A new system. A new POSITION.
He, the Warriors, and Keith Smart are starting to figure it out. Do you remember the last time Lee got 20 shots in a Warriors uniform?
Andris Biedrins: Decent on defense. But I have to quote the great Jim Barnett, after a panicked Biedrins rushed a layup: “You can’t play this game if you don’t want to get fouled once in a while.”
Isn’t that exactly what Don Nelson said in his latest interview?
Vlad Rad: You see that -11? Well, please note that Vlad Rad was used only at small forward in this game, not at what I argue is his best position, power forward.
Smart never went to the small lineup in this game. Maybe he didn’t want Scotty Brooks to follow him, because the Thunder’s small lineup of Ibaka at 5 and Green at 4 is devastating to the Warriors. Mysteriously, Brooks seemed to have forgotten that. Nick Collison, despite his nice Lacob Quotient, was a gift to the Warriors guards. And Jeff Green, who in his career against the Warriors averages 20 points on 49% shooting, mysteriously only got 6 shots. Another gift.
Congratulations to Keith Smart for not doing anything to stir Scotty Brooks from his trance.
And to Ekpe Udoh, who made it possible. Maybe the Warriors are discovering a new, best lineup.