The Spurs were quite obviously ripe for the plucking in this game. This was their 8th road game in a row, of their annual 9 game “Rodeo” road trip. They were on a back to back, having waxed the Clippers last night in Staples in an emotional statement game. Old man Tim Duncan is essentially playing on one leg, having just returned from a seriously wrenched knee. Kawhi Leonard has a sore knee that forced him out of the previous game. Stephen Jackson was sitting out, having just returned from a personal tragedy.
The Spurs were an exhausted team, and it showed quite clearly in their play. A team averaging 13.7 fastbreak points a game managed only 2. And one of the best-shooting teams in the league simply couldn’t hit an open jumper to save themselves. 18% from three (4-22), for a team 5th in the league at 38%. 72% from the free throw line, for a team fourth in the league at 79%.
That’s what exhaustion looks like, and in a game this close, that accounts for more than the difference between the two teams in the final score.
Which doesn’t mean the Warriors didn’t stick a fork in the Spurs with superb play. They did. And in my opinion, it was play inspired by the unavailability in this game of the Andrew Bogut Myth.
Spearheaded by a superb effort by Andris Biedrins in the half court, the energetic, scrambling, mobile Warriors defense was back. And free of the lumbering Bogut, the Warriors virtually never got beat down court. They got matched up with the Spurs shooters early, and shut down their early offense.
And unburdened by the need to play Bogut in crunch time, General Mark Jackson was free to draw his long knife, NELLIEBALL, and slice the Spurs’ defense to pieces.
After a disastrous start to the four quarter that saw the Warriors go down 10, 77-67, Mark Jackson replaced Carl Landry with Harrison Barnes at the four and went to all out Nellieball.
We all saw what happened: Quick scrambling defense generating steals and runouts. David Lee fighting off Tim Duncan mano a mano, and gobbling up rebounds at his true position, center. Fast breaks, spread floor, penetration, pick and roll.
Running a superior team into the ground.
Sans the crippled, lumbering Andrew Bogut, the Warriors reclaimed their true identity, as one of the best Nellieball teams in the league.
And seized an improbable win with huge playoff implications as a result.
Stephen Curry: If you want to know why Stephen Curry is so often off the ball in the fourth quarter, while Jarret Jack takes the reins of the Warriors offense, you need do no more than notice how the Spurs guarded the two players in this game. Curry was guarded by the tough and long Danny Green, and Jack by Tony Parker. The Warriors attacked Parker, as they should.
A highlight, at 3:00 3Q: On the drive, Curry leans into Duncan to initiate contact before throwing in the circus shot for the And One. Getting that league best FT% to the line. More of this would be a good thing.
Jarrett Jack: How much will Jack be worth on the open market this summer? Seriously, how much do you think he’s worth? A point guard who can drop a 30 and 10 on the Spurs? A guy who can get his shot anywhere on the floor, from three, from 15 feet, with a floater, a layup through contact? A guy with the moves and handle to get to the middle of the lane with ease? A guy with the vision to find his teammates when he does? Who has the strength to take the contact and deliver the And One with regularity?
A point guard with the toughness and desire to play both ends of the floor, and the size to guard twos? A point guard who lives for the big moment? Who seizes fourth quarters by the throat?
How much is a point guard like that worth? Is he worth, say, what Aaron Afflalo got? 5 years, $43 million? $8 million per. Personally, I’d trade Afflalo and a high first rounder for the right to pay Jack that money.
Is he worth less than, say, Ty Lawson? 4 years, $48 million. $12 million per. Hmmm. Can Ty Lawson put a team on his shoulders, and take over a game down the stretch?
One thing is for certain. We’re going to find out just exactly what skinflint Joe Lacob is made of this summer. We’re going to find out just how much his (up to this point laughable) insistence that he’s willing to spend money to win is really worth.
Because Jarret Jack is going to get paid. One way or another.
David Lee: 25 and 22 against the league’s best team, for the win? Stat stuffing, obviously. Not clutch.
Struggles against length? I don’t know, are Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan long?
Lee doesn’t struggle against length. He was BORN to play against bigger men. To run them off the court. To go around them with his quickness, handle, spin moves, ambidextrous finishes, talent. To stretch them out with his shooting ability. To dice them up with his passing ability.
To hold them off in the low post with his toughness and desire and will to win, the way he did to Tim Duncan in the fourth quarter of this game.
What Lee struggles against is superior quickness and athleticism. He struggles against stretch fours, who pull him out of the lane, away from the defensive boards. Like the (former) power forwards of Houston, Patterson and Morris. Like Ibaka and Durant of OKC.
What Lee struggles with is his Warriors GM and coaches. Because it is Joe Lacob and his coaches who have continously forced him to play out of position, in the wrong system, with the wrong teammates.
David Lee should never have to match up with stretch-fours. Because David Lee is a NELLIEBALL CENTER. He has proven it over and over and over again in his career, with two trips to the all-star game, and this winning season.
And he proved it again last night.
Klay Thompson: Is it odd that Thompson could barely hit a shot after the first quarter? No it’s not, given that he was given the assignment to chase Tony Parker around all night. He had a superb floor game, playing great, unrelenting defense on Parker on one end, and spreading the floor and setting up his teammates on the other.
And he made two huge plays down the stretch. That huge bucket at 1:52 of OT. And the steal of the Duncan pass at 0:18 that clinched the game. Bob Fitzgerald got the call wrong. It was Thompson who cheated off his man to step into the passing lane and steal that pass. Check it out.
But nothing was bigger in this game than Thompson’s defense on Tony Parker. And I have been promising an analysis of why Mark Jackson gives Thompson this cross-match assignment, so here it is:
So far this season, Jackson has assigned Thompson to guard Parker, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook. Why? To start with the obvious, all of these point guards struggle against length. They all love the mid-range jump shot off the dribble, and that is something that the 6-7″ Thompson can deny right out of the gate.
Secondly, Thompson’s length helps deny the pick and roll. Particularly the over-the-shoulder pass back to the screener, that both Parker and Paul love. THAT is why Thompson tries to go OVER the screen, much to Jim Barnett’s chagrin. He’s denying the PASS. And if the point guard decides to pull up for the shot, Thompson can use his length to challenge the shot from behind.
Third, this cross-match works best when the opponent’s two-guard is not a primary scorer who can torch Curry. OKC plays Sefalosha at two, the Clippers Willie Green: perfect. The Spurs Danny Green is tougher, but he’s a one-dimensional three point shooter.
Fourth, in the case of Westbrook and Parker, at least (I like Curry’s defense on Paul), Curry has no prayer of staying in front of them. So Curry, Thompson, makes no difference in terms of preventing penetration. These two point guards must be guarded by the entire team. And in Parker’s case at least, Thompson does a remarkable job of catching up from behind to bother his shot. Sometimes length trumps quickness.
So, as was amply demonstrated last night, this is a very clever, grown-man tactic on Mark Jackson’s part. Not that he invented it. Scott Brooks turned around the Thunder-Spurs series last year when he made the adjustment to guard Parker with Sefalosha in Game 3. Parker struggled horribly from that moment on.
Phil Jackson frequently used Scottie Pippen, and later Kobe Bryant, to guard troublesome point guards, deep in a playoff series.
And of course, we all remember Don Nelson guarding Chris Paul with Stephen Jackson, don’t we? Well, maybe you do, but Mark Jackson most certainly does not. As he stated last night, his memory goes back exactly one and a half years.
Those tapes have been burned.
The Brand: Up until the fourth quarter, this was an utterly embarrassing performance for Harrison Barnes. The Spurs completely disrespected him by frequently guarding him with Tony Parker and Gary Neal. Jackson tried to punish the mismatch by sending Barnes into the low-post, but Barnes failed miserably attempting to convert from there. Parker simply stripped him of the ball, not once but twice, and when Barnes didn’t turn it over, he was either forced to pass out, or try and brick one of his patented off-balance mid-range fall-aways.
Barnett was moved to discuss Barnes’ shot in this game, stating at 11:00 2Q: “Harrison Barnes has to think about shooting the ball before he reaches the peak of his jump.”
In other words, Barnes has Billy Owens disease, shooting on the way down. It might be a function of his non-fundamental release, which I’ve already discussed. He pulls the ball too high and far back behind his head.
In short, his shot is messed up. Needs to be remade. Isn’t that something that Joe Lacob’s scouts noticed? Or did he ignore their advice, and go with Spokesmodel Bob Myers’ considered opinion?
In the fourth quarter, Barnes helped the Warriors greatly simply by being played at power forward, where he could spread the floor, and help up the tempo with his running ability. Spread-four, as I mentioned before the season, is actually the perfect position for a player of Barnes’ size and one-dimensional skills. If only he had the heart and desire to rebound and play defense. And if only there weren’t two better spread-fours already on the Warriors.
But even in that glorious fourth quarter, Barnes ended up being embarrassed. For some reason, Mark Jackson decided to play him over Draymond Green on defensive possessions. And gave him the ridiculous assignment of attempting to guard Manu Ginobili.
Ginobili simply tortured Barnes. First at 1:28 4Q, pinning Barnes on his back right under the basket to receive an easy entry pass and earn free throws. To me, that play tells you everything you need to know about Barnes as a defender. Forget about NBA players for a second. What rec-league player doesn’t know enough to get between his man and the ball when standing under the basket? What rec-league player doesn’t care enough about winning to even think about this with the score tied at the end of the game? That play just made me want to throw up.
Does Draymond Green give up this play? Richard Jefferson?
And then, of course, came the play with four seconds left, where Ginobili gave Barnes a simple fake and got wide open for the layup that sent the game to overtime.
What was Mark Jackson thinking having Barnes in the game at this point? Just take a look at how Draymond Green guarded Ginobili on the identical play at the end of overtime. Yes, the Warriors had seen the play before and were anticipating it. But still.
Why is Harrison Barnes playing over Green and Jefferson? Not just on defensive possessions in crunch time, where it is a completely obvious blunder. But at any time?
I can tell you, the answer has absolutely nothing to do with winning basketball games.
Draymond Green: 8 rebounds in 13 minutes. Barnes 4 rebounds in 31. Barnes had 2 rebounds heading into the fourth quarter. And 2 for a quarter of all-out Nellieball at power forward.
Carl Landry: Finally had a big game, after weeks of disappearing. I can’t help but think that the exhaustion of the Spurs helped him more than anyone in this game. Except possibly this next guy.
Andris Biedrins: Beans played some great defense in what for him is extended minutes now (15). I somehow think an exhausted Duncan and Splitter contributed to that.
Festus Ezeli: I enjoyed Ezeli’s defense in this game, and was as perplexed as he was by those foul calls he received.
Jim Barnett: “I like Ezeli in there because he can recover out to Duncan on that pick and roll… He got back quickly.”
Love you, Barnett. Spit truth about the Andrew Bogut Myth.
The Andrew Bogut Myth: Watching the Suns game, I found myself wondering why it was the first time all season long that Bogut was sprinting up and down the court. Well, I knew some of the reasons. It was a home game, a game of extreme importance, and Mark Jackson had just called Bogut out for poor effort.
But now that Bogut has gone out with back spasms, I think we discovered another reason. He’s so out of basketball condition that his body can’t handle it, and I think he knew that on some level.
Back problems are not new to Bogut. I’ve been writing about the stress fracture in his back that cost him a season, and which Warriors management has wished to remain unmentioned, since my analysis of the trade that brought him to the Warriors. And Rusty Simmons has now come forth with the whole history.
You all know what my analysis of this situation has been. On a personal and professional level, I wish the best for Andrew Bogut. On a Warriors level, my feelings are mixed, at best.
The Warriors can make the playoffs this season without Andrew Bogut, if they re-affirm their identity as a fourth quarter Nellieball team.
With Andrew Bogut…?