Oh, Mama, can this really be the end?
To be stuck inside of Mobile
With the Memphis blues again. — Bob Dylan
The Warriors franchise hit absolute rock bottom tonight. Which means it’s time for Feltbot to look at everything that was encouraging about this game.
Yes, I’m serious. I’m a bit of a contrarian, but it’s not about that. I am also notoriously early on my calls — that’s how you make money — but it’s not really about that either. Well, maybe a little bit. What it’s really about is that I saw a lot of improvement in the Warriors in this game. Yes, I’m serious.
Starting with the fact that they tried to win the game. By which I mean, Mark Jackson tried to win the game. By actually playing the style of basketball that this roster was built to play.
Mark Jackson: Coach Jackson might be turning a corner with regard to the Warriors’ style of play. For the second game in a row, the Warriors broadcasters stated that pushing the pace and generating early offense were points of focus for the Warriors. I think we can assume those talking points are coming from Jackson.
And unlike the Pacers game, in this game, those talking points were actually put into action. I saw a lot more pace to the play of the Warriors starting unit to start this game, as the Warriors jumped on Memphis early.
And I thought Jackson did a great job with the Warriors rotations. I loved the fact that he didn’t return with Biedrins in the fourth quarter, but made the commitment to match up small for small and offense for offense in the fourth quarter. That will be a winning choice on a lot of nights going forward.
His players just didn’t get it done on this night. As Nellie would have said: “Their smalls were better than our smalls.”
The Memphis Grizzlies: Before going into your well-deserved fit of apoplexy over the play of the Warriors backcourt, you should stop for a moment and give some credit to the Grizzlies. This team is for real. They are legit. And they are getting better.
Mike Conley and Marc Gasol broke out in last year’s playoffs. I think Conley clearly outplayed the “allstar,” Russell Westbrook. He is just a tremendously assured player, and a team leader on both sides of the ball.
Gasol was also incredibly good in last year’s playoffs. And now he’s legitimately great.
Yes, I’ll go there. I think he’s the second best center in the league. Don’t laugh. He was the Western Conference Player of the Week this past week. And he’s currently the 8th ranked player in fantasy basketball: 15 and 11, along with 3 assists and 2.5 blocks and other goodies. I’m particularly well-disposed towards him since he’s kept my Stephen Curry-led fantasy team afloat through Ankle-Gate. (Oh yes, I scooped Gasol in the fourth round.)
Fantasy basketball just gives you an inkling of the stats Gasol’s putting up. Unlike Greg Monroe, he’s about more than just the stats. He’s a winning basketball player, the anchor of the Grizzlies defense, and a terrific pick-setter and facilitator on offense.
The pundits are going to start noticing soon that Gasol’s a legitimately great center. Just as soon as someone like Jeff van Gundy tells them.
We haven’t even gotten to Zach Randolph, who’s out this year, and Rudy Gay, who was out last year.
Nor Tony Allen, who as the premier defensive wing in the league has had a huge impact on the Grizzlies identity. (Does anyone else find it curious that the ex-Celtic whom Joe Lacob busted a gut trying to get was the completely overrated Kendrick Perkins, and not Tony Allen? Lacob let the Grizzlies scoop up Allen for peanuts, while he was busy signing Jeremy Lin and tanking, errrr… preparing for the lockout.)
Tony Allen won this game for the Grizzlies. He was the guy who took on Monta Ellis single-handedly and won. The guy who shook his team by the ears and said, “Let’s go!”
He would have looked great in a Warriors uniform.
Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry: Our stars got absolutely steamrolled by the ferocious defensive pressure of Conley and Allen in this game. 12 turnovers: ball game.
Don’t panic. This kind of play won’t last. I remember an almost identical thing happened a year or so ago against the tremendous wing pressure of Westbrook and Sefalosha of the Thunder. They picked apart the Warriors wing entry passes and dominated the Warriors backcourt.
It didn’t last. Curry and Ellis have owned the Thunder’s backcourt ever since that game. And they will own the Grizzlies backcourt in the future.
What needs to change? Well, first, obviously, Curry needs to get his conditioning back. This may take several weeks. Second, Curry needs to knock the rust off his game. And third, Curry and Ellis need to re-establish their chemistry in Mark Jackson’s system.
Who knows how long that will take? Because Mark Jackson, at least up until now, has not been too clear himself what his system will be. Are the Warriors going to pound the ball inside to the Kwame Brown Era, or use guard play? Walk the ball up the court, or push the pace?
There were positive signs in this game that that fatal indecision is getting resolved.
With one minor quibble: Against aggressive and defensively talented, ball-denying wings like Conley and Allen, the Warriors cannot initiate isolation with a simple wing entry. They need to start with a high pick and roll, penetrate and swing the ball. So on the possessions they want Monta to initiate, they have to let him bring the ball up.
You know, like the Mavs did with JJ Barea against the Heat in the Finals. Anyone on the Warriors staff watch that tape?
That would have eliminated at least half of the backcourt’s turnovers.
The Nightmare: Another huge positive in this game. Please take another look at the sequence that began at 7:15 2nd Q:
1) Udoh/ Nate Robinson pick and roll. Yes, yes, yes! It took over a year to get to a play that Don Nelson would have run from day one. Did you see how wide open that play was?
It wasn’t pretty, Udoh was a little slow to roll, but Nate completed the pass, Udoh picked it up with no problem and finished. More please!
2) Udoh challenges Gasol’s shot, and on the miss TRIED TO BEAT HIM DOWNCOURT.
Yes, yes, yes! This is how Ekpe Udoh can beat big centers! Come to think of it, this is how David Lee and Andris Biedrins have beaten big centers. And can again. Yes!
It didn’t work on this play. Gasol ran with him, there wasn’t much separation, and the pass was deflected.
But ask yourself this: would Gasol have run with the Warriors centers the fifth time they tried to beat him downcourt? The sixth? Don Nelson would have found out the answer to that question. That’s the question he asked of Eric Dampier, back when we believed.
On this night, though, I will take some small encouragement from Mark Jackson’s baby steps in the right direction.
3) At 6:35, with Udoh now matched against Haddadi, the Warriors iso’d Udoh on the left midpost. Udoh faced Haddadi up, and dribbled right around him to the rim.
Yes, yes, yes! Isn’t this what I have been arguing for? Ekpe Udoh is a high-post center. He’s more mobile than the guys guarding him, and he’s a very good (and very under-utilized) passer.
This wasn’t technically the high-post, but it would work equally well there. And Udoh didn’t actually finish this play, he missed the bunny. He was so wide open at the rim though, that he forced the rotation, which opened up the offensive rebound putback for Dom.
4) Later in the game, Udoh faced up against Marc Gasol on the right wing. Drew him out of the lane, and buried an 18 footer in his face. Yes. Yes. Yes.
These four plays represent the way that Don Nelson would have played Ekpe Udoh from the very first day he set foot on the floor. Just like the way he played another rookie by the name of Anthony Randolph, remember?
Udoh is a lot better basketball player than Anthony Randolph. And I caution all those people who have been so quick to label Udoh a bust, and an inferior player to Greg Monroe.
You have never seen Udoh play.
Not the way he was supposed to be played. Not the way Don Nelson drafted him to be played.
And that’s where I’m going to leave this game. On an upnote.
…. No, sorry, I can’t resist. I’m going to let my landsman Robert Zimmerman sing us out:
And here I sit so patiently
Waiting to find out what price
You have to pay to get out of
Going through all these things twice.
Oh, Mama, is this really the end?
To be stuck inside of Mobile
With the Memphis blues again.