I had this game penciled in as a loss, so the fact that the Warriors lost at home against the Celtics did not come as a surprise to me. But that doesn’t mean I have to like the way the Warriors lost this game. I’m not referring to the shooting struggles of Monta Ellis, David Lee or the Warriors’ bench. I’m referring to the fact that in this game, as in several other games this season against better teams, the Warriors under Coach Keith Smart did not try to win.
I have catalogued several instances this season where I thought Keith Smart demonstrated a losing mentality. When, for instance, after the David Lee injury, he started Dan Gadzuric alongside Andris Biedrins. When he refused to run the ball, and told his team on the sidelines: “To win this game you have to win the rebounding battle!” When he had his guards walk back for handoffs after rebounds. When he refused to let Dorell Wright and Monta Ellis leak out, because “What’s the use of them waving their hand for the ball if we don’t get the rebound?” When he wanted to run motion offense instead of pick and roll, “because we don’t want to fuel Utah’s fast break.”
Always letting the other team’s coach dictate matchups and style of play to him. Remember? A losing mentality.
I have also catalogued several games, particularly recently, where Keith Smart demonstrated tremendous growth in this regard. The Warriors have begun running. They have begun matching up small at key times. Ellis and Curry have been given greater freedom. The pick and roll has come alive. And the Warriors have begun winning.
And I have begun harboring hopes that Keith Smart had turned a strategic corner, for good. That he’d turned into a winner. A coach that knew how to seize the jugular. Who played to win.
This game destroyed those hopes. Once again. Has anyone counted how many flip-flops this has been for me?
Under Don Nelson, the Warriors had beaten the Celtics at home the last 6 seasons. 6 straight home wins against the Celtics. Obviously Don Nelson knew something about how to beat them. He possessed the blueprint to beating them, that enabled him to beat them with teams far worse than the one that Keith Smart commands. With rookies and D-leaguers, in fact.
Do you think that Keith Smart absorbed Don Nelson’s blueprint? Do you think that he absorbed the lessons Nellie imparted to him over several long seasons about how to beat bigger, stronger teams?
Well if he did, he failed miserably at demonstrating it in this game. I’m sure regular readers of this blog know what’s coming. The way that this Golden State Warriors team, visualized and assembled with great care by Don Nelson, can beat the Boston Celtics, is by going small. By pulling the Celtics’ big men out of the lane. By spreading the vaunted Celtics defense out to the three point line. By putting four three point shooters on the floor, with one big man, and scoring three points to the Celtics two. By creating open driving lanes for Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry. By pushing the ball. By creating early offense.
By running the Celtics’ old men off the court.
Yes, Smart and the Warriors caught a bad break in that they caught the Celtics with fresh legs after the all-star break. But it shouldn’t have made one damn bit of difference. We saw it in the second quarter didn’t we? When Biedrins and Lee left the floor, and the Warriors went small with Udoh at center, and Vlad Rad or Dorell Wright at four, the Warriors reeled off a 10-5 run to seize a 52-45 advantage. Keith Smart immediately gave that lead back, by bringing back Lee to play alongside Udoh, instead of replacing Udoh with Lee, and continuing with the Warriors’ best lineup until halftime.
Even assuming that Keith Smart has forgotten every single thing that Don Nelson ever taught him, don’t you think that this emphatic second quarter demonstration would have given him a clue? Did he really believe going into the second half that the Warriors could beat the Boston Celtics by matching up big?
After 1:30 of the third Q, Kendrick Perkins tweaked his knee and was replaced by Big Baby Davis, who was already in foul trouble. GAME OVER. That’s what I shouted at the Thaiblonde. Surely Keith Smart, schooled at the knee of Don Nelson, couldn’t miss this opportunity, could he? This was the perfect time to go small, with David Lee at center and Dorell Wright at the four!
How could Kevin Garnett and Big Baby Davis guard these two players without fouling? Do you put Garnett on Lee? We already saw Lee blow by Garnett three times in the first half for layups or free throws. Can Big Baby Davis guard Dorell Wright out at the three point line?
No, obviously you have to guard them the other way around. But didn’t we see David Lee destroy Big Baby on a pick and roll at the end of the first half? And wouldn’t Dorell Wright be pulling Garnett, the Celtics best remaining defender at the rim, all the way out to the three point line? Wouldn’t the entire floor open up for Monta and Curry and Williams?
Well, you might ask, but wouldn’t this lineup get killed on the boards? Do you mean worse than the 52-35 drubbing they actually took? The Warriors can’t worry about that when matched up with teams like the Celtics. They have to take their chances with Lee on Big Baby, which is a matchup I like, and DWright on Garnett, which is a matchup I would be very intrigued to watch.
And they have to take their chance with offense. Their best offense. They have to, as Jim Barnett puts it, play to win.
It got worse. Far worse. At the 6:00 minute mark of the 3rd Q, Glen Davis went to the bench with foul trouble. And Doc Rivers started trotting out giant meatballs. Like Semih Erden. And Luke Harangody.
OK, this was the moment, right? Surely Keith Smart couldn’t miss this one!!? Oh yes, he could. Despite the fact that the Warriors offense had been stuck in reverse against the ramped up Celtic defense ever since the start of the second half, Keith Smart refused to try to create matchup problems for the crippled Celtics. He stayed BIG throughout the third Q, which the Warriors lost by 10 points, to go down 88-78.
Smart finally went small to start the fourth Q, and what happened? The Warriors immediately went on a run to pull within four.
And then, at 8:47 the game reached a turning point. Big Baby steamrolled Udoh for the second play in a row, resulting in free throws. He made both to put the Celtics up 6, but more importantly, Doc Rivers hustled Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett into the game for crunch time. Did Smart come back with David Lee and Monta Ellis for crunch time? Did he get Udoh away from a difficult matchup? Did he get his best lineup on the floor? No, Smart dithered, as he has done all year long, “coaching the score.” And this time it bit him and the Warriors in the ass:
- 7:54 The Celtics leave Acie Law unguarded at the three point line. He bricks it, as he is supposed to, and the Celtics run it out and dunk.
- 7:25 The best shot the Warriors can get is a Vlad Rad midrange pull-up off the dribble. Another run out.
- 7:00 Keith Smart finally calls timeout with the Warriors down 12.
Ok, I thought, there’s still time to get your best lineup out there. But no. Smart came back with Andris Biedrins alongside Lee. And at 4:40, with the Warriors still down 12, still within reach, Smart replaced the injured Biedrins with Udoh.
By lacking the courage to attack this Boston Celtics team with what he knows is his best lineup, by lacking the courage to play to win, and let the chips fall where they may — Joe Lacob be damned — Keith Smart forced his Warriors team to eat yet another blowout on their home floor. How many times did Don Nelson get blown out at home in his last two seasons, coaching rookies and D-leaguers?
I’ve taken a lot of heat over the years for my “obsession” with Don Nelson. Inexplicable to many. But at the heart of it was something very simple. Don Nelson never believed he was going to lose. Every single time he set foot on the hardwood, he coached to win. Every time. He may not have had championship teams, but he himself was a champion, with a champion’s heart.
During the post-game press conference, Keith Smart was asked: “What happened to the Warriors’ offense in the second half?” This is what came out of his mouth:
“The Boston Celtics.”
He elaborated: “Nothing you can do is going to surprise them.” “Everyone has to play great. That’s what happened [when Don Nelson beat them 6 times straight], everyone played great.”
Do you see the theme here? If Keith Smart truly dared to look at himself in the mirror after this game, this is what he would see staring back at him:
A losing mentality.
Before the game, Ray Allen was caught on camera telling his teammates:
“This team here, they don’t belong on the same floor with us.”
He got it wrong. It’s not the Warriors players that don’t belong on the same floor as champions.
It’s the Warriors’ coach.