“Height is a blessing, but speed kills.” — Reggie Miller
“RunJCT.” — Shaq
A defensive shotblocker in the middle. (
Alton Lister, Shawn Bradley, Andris Biedrins, Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli.)
A three-point shooting stretch four.
Four shooters on the floor at all times.
The two point guard backcourt.
Matching up smaller than your opponent, but with more talent.
Outlets to half-court.
Early offense pick and roll.
Running the opposing centers off the floor.
Playing for three points with the best shooters in the league, while your opponent is playing for two.
“Gimmick defense.” Packing the paint. Zone. Gang rebounding.
What’s it called? C’mon, I know you know the answer.
Take a look at that stretch of basketball beginning at 10:45 4Q when Bogut picked up his 5th foul. The score is 99-87, and the Nuggets are trying fiercely to get back into the game, with the quicker Anthony Randolph at center hurting the Warriors at both ends. Mark Jackson goes to a lineup of Ezeli at 5, Barnes at 4, Thompson at 3, Jack and Curry. And this is what happened:
- 10:18 With Anthony Randolph trying to guard Harrison Barnes on the perimeter, Barnes gets an easy drive and dunk.
- 9:45 Jack and Ezeli pick and roll, Jack drives to the basket. (Just look at how wide open that lane is!)
- 9:20 Barnes beats Randolph again on the drive, for a vicious reverse slam in his face. (Can power forwards guard Harrison Barnes?)
- 9:07 Karl is forced to pull Randolph. Draymond Green comes in for Klay Thompson.
- 6:41 Curry and Ezeli pick and roll leaves Ezeli WIDE OPEN under the basket for a slam. (Why is that lane so wide open? How the sight of that must have made poor David Lee wistful….)
- 6:20 With Denver going ultra-small with a Faried/Chandler frontcourt, Jackson pulls Ezeli for Thompson. Leaving Green at center. The score is 115-100 Warriors, and the game is over.
What was that? What happened there?
I can only scratch my head in wonderment that it took the Joe Lacob Warriors three long years to get to this magical point. Three long years, and injuries first to Andrew Bogut, and then to David Lee, to see how Stephen Curry and a group of talented guards can play in an all-out running game. To see how Stephen Curry and Jarrett Jack can run pick and roll with a stretch four on the floor.
Three long years to get to plans B and C. When it should have plan A from the start. For three long years we have been witnessing a crime against basketball, a crime every bit as heinous as the Cleveland Cavaliers forcing Lebron James to walk the ball up the court. (That was a crime, by the way, in which the then co-head coach of the Cavs, Mike Malone, was fully complicit.) I’m referring to the crime of forcing Stephen Curry and David Lee and Monta Ellis or Klay Thompson, one of the most talented Nellieball cores in league history, to play in systems completely antithetical to their talents, on rosters crammed with non-shooters when they weren’t stripped to the bone.
131 points in a playoff game, in Denver. This is a Warriors team that could have averaged 119 points a game, like RunTMC in 1991-92, instead of the 101 points they actually did. Just how many teams in the league could keep up with that?
Did this win make it clear? Is this result going to register with Joe Lacob? With the ignorati in the Warriors media and on the blogs? Is it going to stick?
Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson and Jarrett Jack (and David Lee) are one of the greatest Nellieball cores the league has ever seen. For the God of Basketball’s sake,
LET THEM PLAY IT.
David Lee: Surprised I’m giving him pride of place, when it was his injury that facilitated this breakout of true Warriors basketball? Please don’t be. He deserves it, after the season he’s had getting the Warriors to this point.
I’m sure the ignorati at the Merc will fall all over themselves trying to connect the dots between Lee’s absence and this convincing Warriors win. Don’t believe it for a second. What created this win was Harrison Barnes at the four, yes, but even more than that, a total commitment to an all-out running attack. It could have happened with David Lee at power forward in the first and third quarters, and at center in the second and fourth quarters, just as it did so many times this season against the league’s best teams, when Bogut was out.
Stephen Curry: We came into this series expecting a center to get run off the court. Who would have thought it would be Kosta Koufos and Javale McGee?
Mark Jackson made it happen, by running 5-1 pick and roll with a stretch-four on the floor, when Curry was being guarded by Iguodala. Bogut and Ezeli brought the Nuggets centers out, but they were too slow to blitz completely, or unwilling to completely leave the lane. They hedged, and Curry simply picked them apart, either firing threes over them before they closed, or driving right around them into the heart of the Nuggets defense.
On many plays, Curry and Jack simply created off the dribble with no pick at all, specifically when they were being guarded by Ty Lawson. This was a fantastic adjustment by Mark Jackson, that prevented the Nuggets longer wing defenders like Chandler from being able to blitz them on the pick and roll.
13 assists, 1 TO.
Is Stephen Curry “emerging” as a point guard? Or is he finally playing in the right system, with the right personnel on the floor, under a coach who knows what the hell he’s doing?
Playing with a completely spread floor, even without a decent pick and roll big man, Curry simply picked the Nuggets apart.
One of the greatest point guard performances I’ve ever seen, in his second playoff game.
Jarrett Jack: Stepped up big time this game, after struggling in the last.
Mark Jackson was determined to attack the weakest defender on the floor, which was Ty Lawson, who guarded Jack. And the unselfish Curry was content to make that happen, starting from the opening tip.
Jack did a much better job on Andre Miller in this game. I’m not completely sure why, but I think it had something to do with the bigs giving better help. There were a couple of double teams, and I think they threatened several others.
The Nuggets have a really big problem with the Warriors’ two point guard backcourt. Lawson doesn’t have the size to bother Curry or Jack. And Miller and Fournier don’t have the speed.
Klay Thompson: Thompson had trouble guarding Iguodala in the first half, and got in foul trouble. The Nuggets went away from Iggy in the second half for some reason. Not sure what happened there.
But on the offensive side of the ball? The Warriors had a beautifully spread floor, and the Nuggets’ problems with Curry and Jack, and the Warriors tempo, made it simply impossible to guard Klay. He was far more wide open than you could ever dream possible in a playoff game.
And he made the most of it. How about these first two playoff games of his career?
Remember when people were saying that he’s not smart? That he’s not clutch?
What he is, is one of the greatest offensive players who has ever set foot in the league, and a future all-star.
Harrison Barnes: Obviously his best game in a Warriors uniform, and it is no coincidence that it came while playing power forward. I argued before the season even began that Barnes’ best position would likely be stretch-four, and this game illustrated why, in spades.
Barnes was virtually unguardable in this game. First, because the Nuggets couldn’t afford to guard him on the perimeter, what with the attention required by having Curry, Jack and Thompson on the floor at the same time. And he buried his open threes. Second, because as noted above, he can’t be guarded by bigger players. Barnes has the speed to get around them and dunk. Third, because of his speed on the fast break, which allowed him to beat the Nuggets down court. He makes the Warriors so much faster when he’s at the four.
And because of his floor-spreading abilities, if the Nuggets do choose to guard him, he makes it so much more difficult to guard Curry and Jack, and the Warriors’ center, in the pick and roll.
All that’s required of Barnes to be an exemplary stretch-four is the ability to hold down the fort on the defensive end and on the boards. He did a great job in this game, even when the Nuggets iso’d Chandler against him. It remains to be seen whether he has the willingness and heart to play the four against bigger players. Or whether Lacob and Jackson will let that happen.
Don Nelson said of David Lee that he was a very good power forward, but an all-star center. I think you can say something very similar of Harrison Barnes. His defensive deficiencies, poor handle and poor passing ability make him project as a mediocre small forward. But those problems all magically disappear against the slower, over-matched players he faces at the four. Barnes is currently a very mediocre three, but potentially a very good stretch-four.
Outlet Passes: At 5:50 3Q Barnes threw a long outlet to Jack on the fast break. This followed an earlier Draymond Green outlet to Curry at 8:11 2nd Q. Why do I mention this? Because all season long the Warriors rookies were forbidden from throwing these, and all season long the point guards came back to them to pick the ball up. Another indication of just what kind of breakout this game represented for Mark Jackson.
Andrew Bogut: This might have been one of those games where his ankle was killing him, or perhaps his early foul trouble setting screens just got him out of rhythm. But it wasn’t a great game for him. He was a step slow on offense and defense, resulting in foul trouble, and fumbled the ball away on numerous occasions.
He did set great screens for Curry though, and none so great as the one that knocked Iguodala out of the game at 11:13 3Q. That was one vicious screen, set with malicious intent.
Festus Ezeli: The man who saved this Warriors’ season came up big in this game.
I just have to point this out: did you notice the Warriors’ final play of the first half? It was a Jack/Ezeli pick and roll. Jack was blitzed by Koufos, found Ezeli in the lane, and the young man finished with authority.
Carl Landry: He looked better in this game than the last, possibly because Koufos and McGee played fewer minutes. He did have some nice finishes, and he helped get Chandler in foul trouble, but he was the only rotation player who had a negative plus/minus.
The Warriors need his minutes, but the Nuggets aren’t a great matchup for him, and the Warriors are at their best playing stretch-fours.
Anthony Randolph: Karl went to Randolph because his quickness at center allowed him to blitz Curry’s pick and roll extremely effectively.
If Koufos and McGee continue to get torn up by Curry, we could see a lot more of the seldom-used Randolph in this series.
Kenneth Faried: He is to the Nuggets what the rusty Bogut was to the Warriors during the regular season: a liability. Faried killed the Nuggets in this game. He is not a basketball player so much as he is a physical beast on the boards, and a finisher on the fast break. When you rob him of his quickness and athleticism, there’s nothing left worth playing. He’s a particularly poor defender.
If he doesn’t get fully healthy in a hurry, the Nuggets could be in real trouble in this series. They might be anyway.
The Chess Match: Mark Jackson made an incredible number of great adjustments and playcalls in this game.
The opening move to Barnes at the four, Jack in the starting lineup, and all-out Nellieball. Returning Bogut to the role of high-pick setter, to spring Curry free of Iguodala and Chandler, helped by the spread floor. Relentlessly attacking the weak link in the Nuggets defense: Lawson, Miller, and Randolph on Barnes.
Nellieball, Nellieball, Nellieball, even after the Warriors sprang out to a double digit lead in crunch time. Never took his foot off the gas. Whenever Karl got smaller and faster, Jackson did him one better. Draymond Green at center.
Mark Jackson outcoached the great George Karl. A few more performances like this one, and he will enter my pantheon.
I wonder what will happen when Karl reinserts the Manimal into the starting lineup? Will Jackson return to conventionality with Landry at the four? Or will he give Harrison Barnes the ultimate test?
The outcome of this series could ride on the answer.