Wow, what an incredible win by the Warriors against a Rockets team that I had all but decided they could never beat. I was so amazed that as soon as the game was over, I rewound the tape and watched the whole thing again.
This is what I believe happened: Quite obviously, this was Bogut’s best game of the season. But not so obviously, the Warriors coaches made a major adjustment on offense that was hugely effective in integrating Bogut with this Warriors team. And then there was Klay Thompson’s superb game going head to head with James Harden.
But before we get to all that, we should note that this is not the same Rockets team that dominated the Warriors in their first three meetings this season. Not even close.
What was Daryl Morey thinking? While every other pundit in the league fell all over themselves praising Daryl Morey’s trade deadline moves this year, I questioned them the very day he made them. Trading away both of the spread fours that had been so integral to the team’s success this year, for essentially nothing in return. Trading the dramatically improved, and still improving, Patrick Patterson, along with Toney Douglas, for #5 pick Thomas Robinson. Simply giving away Marcus Morris for a 2nd round pick.
I stated immediately that Morey had sabotaged this year’s Rockets team. I have remarked since, as the Rockets struggled after the trade, that Morey had destroyed the team’s chemistry. And that was never more evident than in this game.
It was literally impossible for David Lee, and virtually every conventional power forward in the league, to guard Patterson and Morris. Couldn’t back off their threes, couldn’t challenge their threes without giving up drives and layups. Couldn’t play help defense without opening them up for dunks. Patterson and Morris ran the floor and spread opposing defenses out to the breaking point. And Patterson, at least, was part of the glue that held their defense together.
Without these players, the Rockets have been relying on Donatas Motiejunas, a huge downgrade in almost every aspect, as we saw by tonight’s performance. The Warriors didn’t even bother guarding him, and yet he couldn’t hit a shot. Can’t run the floor, rebound or defend. Behind him they’re playing mostly Parsons and Delfino as stretch fours, but again those guys leave a huge hole in their defense and rebounding.
As for Thomas Robinson? I haven’t seen a single indication that he can even be a decent NBA player. Nor, apparently, have either of his coaches this season, Keith Smart and Kevin McHale. TRob has no range on his jumper. No refinement to his inside game. I don’t watch the NCAA, but I think it’s likely he succeeded there largely by bullying smaller opponents. I don’t think he’ll be able to bully anyone in the NBA at 6-9″, 235. He’s undersized and undertalented.
Acquiring James Harden was a brilliant coup. But Morey blew this trade badly. He blew up a team that could have made some noise in the playoffs. This season.
Jeremy Lin: While I’m on the subject of the Rockets, let’s talk a little about the former Warrior. Lin was one of the few Rockets to play well tonight. It was ironic that the Rockets’ worst three point shooter was their best in this game.
Lin’s effort inspired Bob Fitzgerald to pronounce him the perfect backcourt mate to James Harden. Huh. As is the case with virtually everything Bob says, I couldn’t disagree more.
I think Lin is a solid NBA player now in his third year. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player so radically improve every facet of his game in such a short time. But Lin has struggled badly this season attempting to adjust to the Harden acquisition, because Harden forces him off the ball so much. That’s not Lin’s strength: although his shot is much improved, he is still an erratic jump shooter and probably always will be. To play to his potential, Lin needs to get to a team where he can be the primary ballhandler in the pick and roll. As he was during Linsanity.
And I think it’s self-evident that what James Harden ideally needs in a backcourt mate is a guy who can catch and shoot threes at 40%. (Like Stephen Curry. That idea didn’t work for Joe Lacob, though.)
For these reasons, Lin lost a lot of time to Toney Douglas early in the season. And he’s currently losing a lot of time to rookie Patrick Beverly, who occasionally even finishes games for Kevin McHale. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to see Lin moved again in the offseason.
Bogut on Offense: Stay away from Curry!
When he joined the Warriors broadcast team during that horrible beat down by the Bulls, Jerry West said some very interesting things. One of which was in response to Fitz asking him what Stephen Curry could do to combat the frequent double teams and blitzes he has recently been subjected to. West responded dismissively, something to the effect of: “Oh, that’s on the coaches.”
My ears perked up immediately when I heard that. What did West mean by that? Of course, the first thought that came to my mind was that West was suggesting that Andrew Bogut be benched! It was, after all, the Andrew Bogut high picks that were causing Curry to get trapped so regularly. Opposing teams had figured out that Bogut simply didn’t need to be guarded out there, freeing up their big men to double-team Curry.
I didn’t have to wait long for my answer. It became evident as soon as this next game started. Andrew Bogut was no longer being used to set the high pick for Stephen Curry. The job reverted to David Lee, while Bogut stayed as far away from the play as possible, usually in the low post area. And voila! The Rockets refused to blitz Curry (except out of desperation to start the third quarter), because it is extremely dangerous to leave David Lee unguarded in the middle of the floor. If Curry is able to beat the trap with a simple pass to Lee, the Warriors are playing 4 on 3 with the slick passing Lee as point-forward.
This adjustment also led to some beautiful high-low action between Lee and Bogut. Check out the play at 7:50 3Q, where Lee helped Bogut exploit his mismatch against Delfino with a beautiful lob entry from the key. Thanks to the greatness of Lee, this is a much more effective way to get Bogut the ball in scoring position, than simply forcing the ball to him in the low post.
It appears that the Warriors coaching staff have made a major breakthrough in integrating Bogut into the offense. The Curry — Lee pick and roll is at the very heart of what makes the Warriors offense great.
Bogut, stay away! And reap the rewards.
Bogut on Defense: The Houston Gameplan
In this game at least, Bogut’s inability to leave the lane to defend the pick and roll actually worked in the Warriors favor. Take a look at the Warriors defense at 10:10 1Q. Bogut simply remaining under the basket on the Lin–Asik pick and roll. Curry actually daring Lin to shoot or drive right. And David Lee completely ignoring the hapless Motiejunas in the corner, to help Bogut wall off the basket.
The Warriors simply packed the lane with Bogut and Lee, daring Lin and Motiejunas to beat them with the jumpshot all night long, while guarding everyone else closely. Particularly Chandler and Harden. For the first time this season, the Warriors were successful running Chandler off the three point line, and Bogut’s increased mobility and the packed lane stymied his drive.
As for Harden, I was quite surprised that the Rockets didn’t attack Bogut more with Harden and Asik in the pick and roll. Harden has a deft mid-range game that could make Bogut pay for sagging off.
Perhaps McHale didn’t think that was necessary. Perhaps he felt that Harden could simply take Klay Thompson off the dribble without a pick. I think he might change his mind on that after this game. More on that below.
Bogut Lives: Bogut was no myth on this night. This was as healthy as he has looked all year. And quite obviously he had a major effect on the Warriors’ defense. His mobility, although not sufficient to defend the pick and roll, was quite good around the basket. He blocked some shots, but changed far more, and was a huge deterrent to Houston’s preferred drive and dish offense.
His role on offense was diminished by removing him from the high post, which resulted in taking the ball out of his hands. But lurking around the basket waiting for opportunities to flash and receive deft entries from Curry and Lee just might be the perfect role for him at this stage of his career.
It was fantastic to see him congratulated so jubilantly by his teammates after the game. It was clearly a big moment for him, after so much torment and struggle.
Trust me, if Bogut can stay healthy and play like this on a regular basis, I will greatly enjoy watching him do it. I can’t help but think that remains a very big if, though. Particularly one game removed from that disastrous performance against Joakim Noah and the Bulls.
But on this night at least, Warriors fans got their first real glimmer of hope that a miracle could happen.
David Lee the defender: It has been absolutely laughable to me that everyone has become so obsessed with Lee’s defense lately, when his defense is so obviously not the problem with the Warriors.
How many people were complaining about his defense earlier in the season, when the Warriors were charging up the Western Conference standings, everyone was talking Opponents’ Field Goal Percentage and Culture Change, and Lee was in the process of making himself an All-Star?
What changed? Did David Lee change?
No, what changed, quite obviously, was that Festus Ezeli was replaced in the starting lineup by Andrew Bogut.
Isn’t it remarkable that on a night when Andrew Bogut showed up, David Lee was magically transformed into a decent defender? A part of holding the Rockets to their lowest point total of the season, in a crucial game on their home floor?
Stick that in your computer, Mr. Goldsberry.
Stephen Curry the point guard: Ever wonder what Stephen Curry’s assist totals might look like if he ever got to play with a legitimate NBA big man who could catch and finish? You know, like Chris Paul has played with every season of his career?
You got a glimpse of it, on that beautifully executed drive and lob to Bogut at 4:00 4Q.
Man, it was great to see Curry and Lee released from Bogut high pick hell. As we saw in this game, Lee’s ability to roll to the rim will be considerably diminished by Bogut’s presence in the low post. But he still has a special ability to play out of the high post.
And Stephen Curry suddenly free to operate against a single defender?
Klay Thompson — Birth of an All-Star: On a normal night, a night when Andrew Bogut didn’t party like it was 2009, this recap would have been all about Klay Thompson. Klay has blossomed before our eyes in the last couple of weeks. The Warriors’ quiet third or fourth option on offense is suddenly asserting himself. Asking for the big shot, and making it with the game on the line. Coming up big against one of the best players in the league, in one of the most important games of the season.
He’ll never be the man on a team that has Stephen Curry, but after tonight, I don’t think there’s too much doubt left around the league that he’s an all-star caliber player.
This was his second hugely clutch performance of the last two weeks. His dagger threes in the third quarter got the reeling Warriors back on their feet. And in the fourth quarter, put the Rockets to sleep.
His much-criticized finishing problems appear to be behind him. Take a look at that tough left-handed finish of the driving layup over the longer Parsons at 3:10 2Q. There are maybe ten wing players in the entire league who have Klay Thompson’s left hand. Left hand dribble, left hand pass, left hand finish. Maybe fewer.
But the most eye-opening thing about Thompson’s performance on this night was his defense on James Harden. Klay is not a great athlete. His foot speed leaves a lot to be desired. What he has used to turn himself into a two-way basketball player is a hoops IQ that is through the roof.
Harden simply couldn’t shake Klay on this night. Klay seemed one step ahead of him on every shot fake, every jab step, every cross-over, every lean-in. Every single move that has proved so impossible for everyone else in the league to defend. Remarkably, Harden wound up simply abandoning any attempt to drive the lane.
I don’t think this had much to do with Andrew Bogut’s presence in the paint — it certainly didn’t in prior meetings, where Harden challenged Bogut relentlessly. Harden simply couldn’t get around Klay. It was incredible to watch.
This is now the second dominant defensive performance in a row that Klay has put on Harden. The first I attributed to a fluke: Harden was dealing with a knee injury. But it’s clear now that this is very real. Klay simply matches up extraordinarily well against one of the toughest two-guards in the league.
This doesn’t change my opinion that Klay belongs at small forward. In fact, it reinforces my opinion. Harden is the exception that proves the rule about the players Klay is equipped to defend. Klay struggles badly against the quicker two-guards in the league. But Harden is not a quick player. He uses craft, not foot speed, to get into the lane, and get himself to the line.
He met his match in craft on this night.