Not going to recap this Warriors loss to the Grizzlies, as I found it to be a relatively uninteresting game. All those who are feeling pangs over these last two losses should bear in mind that they were practically pre-ordained to be losses — even before Curry got injured. First of all, I consider the Spurs and the Grizzlies to be the cream of the Warriors opponents in the West this season — the second and third best teams in the conference. Tough veteran teams that already know exactly what they want to do when they take the court. They have a huge edge this early in the season against teams that are working in new players and new systems. And that’s what the Warriors are, in spades. The Warriors are working in two new players in the first unit — Iggy and a healthy Bogut, who still has played fewer than 50 games in a Warriors uniform, and only 7 of those “healthy.” The second unit is of course brand spanking new. As is, to my eye, much of the offense the Warriors have installed to accommodate their new players.
It would be asking a lot for the Warriors to be ready to meet the Spurs and the Grizzlies this early in the season even under ideal circumstances. But under the circumstances they did meet — Curry out against the Spurs… Barnes just coming back, and unsure of his role… road back-to-back… at the end of a 4 game road trip… finishing up a 7 game stretch to start the season in which 5 games were on the road, with limited practice time….
Forget about it.
In fact, if I take anything away from these last two games, it is the certain knowledge that the Warriors are better than the Spurs. I won’t get in to why I’m so certain at this point — I’ll let the Warriors’ game speak for itself the next time these two teams meet.
As for the Grizzlies, they are clearly an extremely tough matchup for the Warriors. But let me just point out a couple of things about the way Mark Jackson chose to match up against them. Last season, Jackson cross-matched the front-line: He put Bogut on Zach Randolph and David Lee on Marc Gasol. And it worked — check the box scores. And why shouldn’t it work? Randolph clearly prefers the low block, and Gasol prefers the high post. Bogut can’t be bullied by Randolph, and his length clearly bothered him. Gasol can’t take advantage of his size against Lee in the high post — heck, Bogut was nowhere near him when he shot anyway. If anything, Lee can use his quickness advantage to press up on Gasol and make him uncomfortable.
If you noticed, Jackson did crossmatch the frontline in the Spurs game — Lee on Splitter and Bogut on Duncan. To great effect.
So why didn’t Mark Jackson cross-match in this game? It’s a mystery.
The other matchup I didn’t quite get in this game was putting Iggy on the greatly slowed spot-up shooter Tayshaun Prince, and letting Klay Thompson chase Mike Conley. Conley is a far more dangerous scorer and playmaker than Prince. Iggy is quicker than Klay. Iggy is a defensive stopper. And Klay is not only bigger than Prince, but has no trouble staying in front of him.
And isn’t there a certain value to preserving Klay’s legs for the offensive end? Who would you rather have fresh in the fourth quarter, Iggy or Klay?
In short, Mark Jackson repeated the same mistakes in this game that he did in the Clippers game. The next time the Warriors and Grizzlies meet, if Jackson gets it right, the game could look completely different. Lee might not get in foul trouble, Randolph might struggle, Iggy might keep Conley from driving left, and… game on.
So, in other words, nothing about these last two games dismayed me. I remain confident that the Warriors have the best roster in the West this season. But to become the best team, they’re going to need help from their coach. Against the good teams, you can’t just roll out the ball. You need to game plan. You need to match up right, and get your rotations right. There’s a trick to beating the opponents that give you trouble, which coaches like Greg Popovich, Rick Adelman and Erik Spoelstra excel at:
Don’t match up the way your opponent wants you to.
It looked like Mark Jackson had developed a precocious understanding of this trick last season, and especially in the playoffs. But maybe he was just forced into it, by the injuries to Bogut, Ezeli and then Lee.
Maybe he was an inadvertent genius.