I am as delighted by this Warriors win over the Knicks as anyone. More than delighted. I’m ecstatic, not just for the single win in a long NBA season, but for the promise of many more wins to come that I see in the quality of their coach, Mark Jackson.
But before I get into that, I just have to get the nonsense out of the way. The nonsense that is spewing out of the mouths of the Warriors media right now. And yes, spewing out of the mouth of their head coach.
First of all, the Warriors did not win last night’s game because of their newly acquired size. They won last night’s game playing small. The game was tied entering the fourth quarter. And then the Warriors small-ball unit took over. David Lee at center, the Dominator at 4, Dorell Wright, Brandon Rush and Monta Ellis destroyed the Knicks to the tune of +16. Ball game. Kwame Beans (my new name for Mark Jackson’s two-headed center) rode the pine for the entire 4th quarter.
Secondly, the Warriors new defensive focus has very little to do with Warriors management, or their new head coach Mark Jackson, who are braying loudly about the change in culture and the new defensive identity in the media. Nor does it even have much to do with Mike Malone, the defensive guru quietly doing much of the work in practice.
It’s about the players.
Those Warriors that spearheaded the Warriors defense in the fourth quarter, that held Carmelo Anthony to 1 point on 0-4, and Amare Stoudemire to 2 points on 1-2. Dom McGuire, Brandon Rush, Dorell Wright. Those guys. Do they remind you of anyone?
How about Stephen Jackson, Matt Barnes, Kelenna Azubuike, Mikhael Pietrus, Baron Davis? The guys that destroyed Dirk Nowitzki back when we believed? The guys who ran Eric Dampier off the court, and held the number one seed in the NBA ten full points below their season scoring average? Wing athletes of extraordinary length and quickness and defensive intensity.
Just a few short years ago, under a guy named Don Nelson, the Warriors weren’t just a good defensive basketball team, they were a great defensive basketball team. Was it because Nellie “insisted on accountability,” “wanted to change the identity of the Warriors,” and make the Warriors a “no excuse team?”
Don’t bother answering. And don’t bother listening, when Mark Jackson opens his increasingly annoying mouth and calls his own number.
Its about the players. This is a truism in the NBA. Teams play hard on defense when they possess a core of true defensive pieces that can get the job done. Like a healthy Biedrins, the Dominator, Rush, and Wright. Teams play hard on defense when playing hard on defense works.
It’s about the players.
Joe Lacob finally decided to protect the fabulous core of this Warriors team with some true Nellie-ball wings. And the result has been overwhelming and immediate. As predicted.
Third, let’s be real clear about this: The Warriors weren’t “only” down 6 after the first half because “their defense kept them in the game.” The Warriors were also down 6 at the half because the lineups they had on the court were lousy on offense.
Basketball is a two-way sport. When you put a one-way player in for defense, there are two ways to look at his failure to create point differential for you. You could say, as the Warriors and the media would prefer, that this player “succeeded in keeping the score close.” Or you could recognize, as Mark Jackson did in the fourth quarter, that this player is screwing up your offense just as much or more than he’s helping on defense, and is not helping you win.
I very much doubt that Don Nelson would have returned Biedrins to the court in the second quarter (6 minutes, -1), and I very much doubt he would have ridden Ish Smith most of the second quarter (8 minutes, -4). Not when he had a fabulous point guard by the name of Monta Ellis, nor players like Ekpe Udoh and Dom McGuire at his disposal.
Don Nelson would have taken a shot at blowing this inferior Knicks team out in the second quarter.
I say this not to insist Nellie’s way was better — I’m not going to quibble with the way Mark Jackson set his trap and engineered this great win.
I say this because fuzzy thinking about basketball drives me crazy. It was the impetus that lead me to create this blog. And the stuff that is pouring out of Mark Jackson’s mouth at the moment is way beyond fuzzy. It’s propaganda.
If his players buy it, fine. But the media? That’s when feltbot cranks his engine.
Mark Jackson: I forgive Mark Jackson for every silly thing he’s saying, because he’s a great coach. Great. I’m ready to say that after having watched three games, one of which he blew.
Mark Jackson understands the NBA matchup game, instinctively. The contrast between him and Keith Smart in this regard cannot be overstated. I don’t know if he game-planned the second half adjustments he made in this game, or they came to him at half-time, and I don’t care. They were brilliant.
David Lee at center. McGuire at the four. Lots of Brandon Rush. Monta at the point. Small ball. Mark Jackson understands it, and knows how and when to use it. I somehow don’t think he’ll be repeating the mistake of that Clippers game.
Kwame Beans: There might really be merit in Jackson using both of these players for short intense stretches. They played exactly the right amount of time in this game. Which was very little.
But in their way, they prepared the way for the fourth quarter. They rope-a-doped Tyson Chandler. Tag-teamed him, roughed him up, out boarded him, got him in foul trouble, got him frustrated.
Chandler got two one-minute stints in the fourth quarter. Either he was used up by then, or D’Antoni knew he couldn’t match-up against the Warriors small ball.
Monta Ellis: In the absence of Curry, Monta was seduced in the first half into thinking he needed to put the whole Warriors offense on his shoulders, as before. Food for the critics.
In the second half, helped greatly by a message from Jackson, as well as the insertion of a much better lineup, we saw the true Monta Ellis.
The great point-guard. I have been saying for some time, to a lot of ridicule, that Monta Ellis could be one of the best point guards in the league, if he wanted to. We saw it in the fourth quarter last night: 7 assists against 0 turnovers.
I would take Monta Ellis over all of the athletic score-first point guards in the NBA. Over Tony Parker, over Westbrook, and yes, over the MVP, Derrick Rose. Guys like John Wall aren’t even in the equation.
Do you know why? Because not only is Monta Ellis a better shooter and scorer than those guys, but he also passes better than those guys. He sees the pass, and when he throws the pass it hits his target right in the hands.
David Lee: Lee seemed very nervous, and stunk it up on the offensive end. You think he wanted this game badly?
And yet his defense was again superb. Amare Stoudemire 5-14. Or was it that Lee was helped by being surrounded by good defensive players? You decide.
Despite his tough game, Lee dominated at the center position in the fourth quarter. The way he dominated is not obvious to those wedded to the traditional idea of centers. Lee dominates because on top of being a willing defender and great rebounder, he is a fantastic offensive basketball player. His offensive chemistry with Monta Ellis is growing by the game, and is already a thing of beauty.
That give and go at 8:49 in the 4th Q? How many NBA centers are there who could run that?
Brandon Rush: The obvious star of the game. He showed me some mid-range stuff I didn’t know he had. A very intelligent and gritty as well as talented player, I enjoy watching him on the defensive end even more than on offense. He mixes it up and gets tough rebounds. The Warriors have desperately missed having a player like Rush ever since Kelenna Azubuike went down.
The Dominator: Wow. Do you think the Warriors had specifically watched tape of Dom playing Carmelo Anthony before they targeted him? I kind of have a sneaking suspicion that they did.
Dom just swallowed Melo whole in the 4th quarter. Melo felt him once or twice, and that was it, wanted no part of it. First he forced Melo into an airballed turnaround. Then he just stuffed him on a spin move in the lane (that was not a foul). And from then on, it was threes and pass-offs.
Wow. Dom is a terrific small-ball four, in the mold of Vincent Askew, Adrien Griffin and Eddie Najera. To name three Nellie small-ball fours who similarly couldn’t shoot.
And unlike Kwame Beans, Dom hits his free throws, which makes him real playable in the fourth quarter, alongside David Lee. Real playable.
Wow. In Brandon Rush and The Dominator, it looks like Joe Lacob really hit the nail on the head. With maybe a slight assist from assistant GM Larry Riley, who knows something about the importance of defensive wings. Full marks.
Klay Thompson: Ok, did you see Landry Fields blow by Thompson for a dunk at 3:42 1st Q? Did you see Fields drive Thompson again at 2:34, for free throws? Did you sense that D’Antoni had painted a big bullseye on the rookie’s back?
Did you see Thompson ride the pine the rest of the way?
That’s what I’ve been talking about. Landry Fields is not one of the quicker two guards in the league. Not quick at all, in fact.
The Nightmare: Take another look at Udoh’s work on Amare Stoudemire in the second quarter. That is the promise of this kid.
Mark Jackson correctly kept Udoh on the bench in the fourth quarter. The Dominator is the guy you want when Melo is at the four.
Ish Smith: Adequate, but I’m yearning for Charles Jenkins. Ish has made a lot of shots to start the season. Has he really re-made himself as a shooter? I have serious doubts.
One thing I like about Ish is his court smarts. He’s always in the right place for rebounds, for instance.
But I was really disappointed in his inability to push the tempo in this game. Jim Barnett correctly pointed out that he was walking back for handoffs from his bigs instead of leaking up court. Ish also completely blew a two on one. If he can’t initiate and run the fastbreak, what kind of player is he?
Jeremy Lin: It was nice of the Knicks to trot him out for a farewell brick. (Flame away.)
The Warriors Bet: Now that I’ve seen Mark Jackson coach, I think the Warriors are a lock to go over 25.5 wins. Unfortunately, I didn’t make that bet, because I hadn’t seen Jackson coach yet, and I felt that if the Warriors did show signs of gelling, I could make the bet in a different way during the season. That moment is now.
After blowing a case of Fat Tire for me in the first game, the Warriors have destroyed the spread in the last two. I think that is a trend that is going to continue, because I don’t believe the bookies are going to post correct lines on this Warriors team for several weeks.
I’ll be betting the Warriors every single game going forward, until the bookies adjust their lines.