This was a tremendous win. But before I get to it, I’d like to say something about Brandon Rush. To me, what is really awful about these injuries — even beyond the shock and pain of the injury itself — is the disappointment and heartbreak they cause.
I was sitting very close to where Brandon Rush was lying when he went down. I could hear him. And I had a clear line of sight to his face when he was hauled up by his teammates. I saw what was written there. It’s a memory I wish I didn’t have.
I’m sure many Warriors fans were like me immediately reminded of Kelenna Azubuike. He and Rush are such similar players. Big, rugged two guards, ferocious on defense, tough as nails inside the paint. Deadly from three. Both with early struggles in the league, overcome with hard work. Both on the cusp of starting, and of stardom. Both on the verge of big contracts. Both going down in the first days of the biggest season of their lives.
It’s not just the long dreamed of payday that these players are losing. It’s the ability to play the game they love at a high level, to have the respect of their teammates and coaches, and the love of the fans.
It is absolutely heartbreaking to me.
I was gladdened to hear that it was an ACL, as opposed to what was first suspected –whatever that terrible injury was that Azubuike suffered. We know that players can come back strong from ACL injuries. Rush has already done it once before, with his other knee. Knowing how hard Rush works, the pride he takes in his game, I’m certain he can come back from this as good as ever.
Get well soon, Brandon Rush. I look forward to seeing you in a Warriors uniform again next season.
THE CLIPPERS GAME
So, I heard there was a game at the big bad Clippers last night….
Who could have suspected that we would feel such elation one night after feeling such utter devastation?
Mark Jackson: The biggest reason the Warriors played great in the Clippers game is that Jackson had a great gameplan. Yes, he got it right, in a big way.
The Clippers’ biggest weakness is their perimeter players. With the exception of Jamal Crawford, none of their wings has the ability to initiate the offense, and Crawford has somehow forgotten how to pass. The Clippers biggest strength is their frontcourt, unleashed to attack the rim by Chris Paul’s virtuosity in the pick and roll. The blueprint for beating the Clippers is to keep their frontcourt from dunking. Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan have no other game. If you can make it tough inside on Griffin and Jordan, the Clips struggle for offense.
The Warriors focused on denying Griffin and Jordan by refusing to switch or trap the pick and roll (except in that weird final defensive stand when Curry took the charge). This left Curry alone to chase Chris Paul for most of the game. (And Curry did a great job, in a defense designed to make him the sacrificial lamb.) Yes, Paul did wind up at the line 20 times. Yes, he was a great enough player to put the Clips on his back for that 4th Q run. But the Clips offense was disrupted just enough.
Mark Jackson chose his poison. Take away the pass, take away the dunks. Make Chris Paul beat you with his own offense. And it was the right poison.
Their were a couple of other major improvements to the Warriors’ game. First and foremost, the Warriors pushed the ball looking for early offense. The results were overwhelmingly positive. Wide open threes. Dunks from the big men on secondary breaks. I was afraid at one point that Jim Barnett would have a heart attack out of joy. He’s been advocating for this for two long years. As has a lonely voice in the blogosphere. Where has this been?
And there were a lot more high picks set for the Warriors ballhandlers, with the result that the Warriors offense ran significantly better than we’ve seen so far this year. Did you happen to notice the Clippers’ offense? They set a high pick for Chris Paul every single time down the court. In my mind, this is what you do when your superstar is your point guard. It is the simplest way to get the defense moving, which is the goal of NBA offense. And guess what, the ball is already in your best player’s hands!
The Warriors’ best player is Stephen Curry. It is beyond time that Jackson and Malone wake up to that fact. Set the high pick and let Curry operate.
Let Stephen Curry go.
The Two Point Guard Backcourt: The Curry/Jack backcourt really paid dividends in the Clippers game. It is a wonderful thing when you have more than one player who can initiate offense, more than one player who can find the perfect pass. If you can back it up with a solid defensive center, the offensive productivity of this backcourt will far outweigh its defensive deficiencies.
Too bad Monta Ellis never got to play with Festus Ezeli behind him.
The Harrison Barnes Brand: I was getting set to rip The Brand, before he put together that beautiful clutch 4th Q.
Caron Butler set him on fire and roasted marshmallows. He was a hack-machine on help defense. He looked slightly better the last game on Rudy Gay, but from where I sat, Gay was simply whiffing bunnies. Verdict: Not a stopper.
At 6-8″ 210, he’s averaging 1.3 rebounds a game in 19 minutes. Verdict: No nose for the ball, No heart, Not part of his brand. Take your pick. This, by the way, was predicted by those scouts who view him as a potential bust.
He’s not actually 6-8″. Either that, or Rudy Gay is 6-9″. When I pointed this out to my buddy Micah, whose floor seats I was sharing, he took a look at them standing together and pronounced: “It’s like a man against a boy.”
He’s extremely raw on the offensive end. Micah and I both left the Memphis game feeling that he’s simply not ready to play in the NBA. Against Memphis, he looked positively panicked with the ball his hands. He has tunnel vision when he puts the ball on the floor. If his path to the basket is impeded, he will make a bad decision: either a forced shot or a forced pass. He has no instinct for setting up his teammates, if he ever happened to spot one. This was also predicted by many scouts, who pegged his ceiling as a Glen Rice type spot-up shooter.
Barnes did come through when pressed into action against the Clips, though. First that Thompsonesque turnaround J off the curl. I didn’t know he had that in his arsenal. Then that decisive drive through the lane. I don’t think anyone expected that either, particularly the Clippers, who parted like the Red Sea.
I think I know already what we have in Harrison Barnes. I pride myself on my ability to size up NBA players at a glance — Curry, BWright, Belinelli, Udoh, Ezeli. But I’ll wait a little while on Barnes before pronouncing in absolute terms. Give him 10 games to surprise me, like he did in the fourth quarter of this game.
There’s one thing I’m completely certain of, though: Barnes and Klay Thompson play the same position. Which means that The Brand is going to spend a lot of time, and particularly fourth quarters, sitting on the pine.
Mark Jackson obviously agrees with me on this.
Klay Thompson the small forward: Matt Steinmetz has taken to calling the Curry-Jack-Thompson fourth quarter lineup the “three guard lineup.” That’s not what it is. The 6-7″ 205 lb. Thompson is a small forward. It’s his best position.
Despite the 6-17 shooting, this may have been the best game I’ve seen Thompson play. He really mixed it up inside, to the tune of 8 boards. (And he’s averaging 6.3 for the first three games.) He made some beautiful, aggressive drives.
And we saw him dive to the floor for a loose ball. Was that the first time? Unfortunately, he was rewarded for that by having Blake Griffin slam his face into the hardwood. Let’s hope that doesn’t create a Pavlovian response!
I like this new, hard-nosed Klay Thompson. Where he belongs, at small forward.
David Lee and Carl Landry: If Landry keeps burying his jumpers at this torrid pace, the Warriors will have really found something. I’m scratching my head over the 35% jump shooting he put up the last two seasons. Which is the real Carl Landry?
Landry is playing great on both sides of the ball. What I really appreciate about his game in the paint is his intimate understanding of the backboard, and his ability, like David Lee, to use both hands. If you have the kind of knowledge and skill that Landry has, you can get your shot up against anyone, even at 6-7″. Chris Mullin had that same kind of ability. It is such a lost art in the NBA — Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan don’t know what a backboard is. I know what it is, and I really appreciate watching Landry’s virtuosity in using it.
Steinmetz is now suggesting that when Bogut comes back, Jackson should sit Lee in favor of Landry. Ah ha ha ha.
That Steinmetz, such a kidder.
Andrew Bogut: Bogut didn’t play in the Clippers game, but there have been some developments that warrant mentioning. We learned from the Memphis postgame that he’s going to be on restricted minutes for at least a month. We also learned that he’s still dealing with soreness “and stuff” on the court, and it’s affecting his play, particularly with his footwork on offense.
It’s clear that the issue is inflammation. And it’s clear that even if Bogut does return to full-time play, this will be a lingering issue for him, just as it was for his osteoarthritic elbow.
What does this mean for the Warriors? Well, first of all, there is the question of how Bogut’s minutes should be distributed. I think Jackson botched it in the Memphis game, giving in to Bogut’s desire to play meaningful fourth quarter minutes. The team was terrible with Bogut on the floor. Their chemistry completely disrupted. He was -16 for the game, the worst of any Warrior.
For as long as he’s on restricted minutes, Bogut should get his minutes to start the first and third quarters. Period. That will be predictable for both him and his teammates, and allow the chemistry of the various units to form.
And it will keep him away from crunch time.
The Warriors need to recognize, and fast, that Bogut is not good enough to close games at this time. He’s simply not a very good player right now. He’s not the Andrew Bogut of old, and won’t be for some time.
Festus Ezeli: NBA player. Stud.
Ezeli will get lost in the post-game write-ups, but he’s the single biggest reason the Warriors got this great win. The Warriors not only dominated the boards 48-33, but they had the roughest, toughest man in the paint. Ezeli not only faced off with Blake Griffin, he backed him up.
I’ve raved about his size, speed and athleticism already. But what really makes Ezeli special is his intelligence. This rookie has a Udoh-like genius for defense. Always in the right spot to give help. Anticipates the plays, jumps the passing lanes. Guards beautifully man to man. Doesn’t leave his feet until he knows it’s coming.
Then crams that ball right down Blake Griffin’s throat.
Did I mention his heart? That joyful ferocity in the paint is something else that sets Ezeli apart from many more highly-touted rookies. We know all about that, don’t we, having suffered through Patrick O’Bryant, Brandan Wright and Anthony Randolph?
The offense is raw, but I have little doubt that it will come. Why? Because he already has terrific footwork and an appreciation for the backboard. And because he is so damn smart. Did I mention that he already knows most of the plays? Sets all the right picks? This is something that Brandan Wright and Anthony Randolph were still literally incapable of in their second seasons.
I was all over Ezeli in the summer league. But it’s still one thing to see it there, and quite another to see it against Al Jefferson, Marc Gasol and Blake Griffin right out of the gate. Now I know what I saw was real.
Where did Festus Ezeli come from? It’s like he dropped off the moon.
The entire Warriors Nation is counting on Andrew Bogut to rescue our sorry franchise. Me… I’m not so sure about that.
I think I’ll put my money on the unknown kid from Vanderbilt.