The Warriors played too well against the Thunder last night to get screwed by Mark Jackson’s decision-making down the stretch. And yet that’s nearly what happened.
Don Nelson spent a career proving that conventionally big teams were no match in the fourth quarter against more talented smallball units. And his revolutionary vision is now common knowledge and the status quo among the elite in the NBA.
And the Warriors under Mark Jackson himself spent the better part of last season, and nearly two rounds of the playoffs, proving that there wasn’t a team in the NBA — not the Heat, not the Spurs — that could easily defeat their supernaturally talented smallball units.
You’d think that would have taught something to Mark Jackson — something the best teams in the league, like the Thunder, already know. But apparently not. Because Mark Jackson allowed the Thunder — who correctly played small the entire fourth quarter of last night’s game (as they do every game) — to do to the Warriors what the Warriors did to the rest of the league last season.
It is an act of extreme foolishness to match up with a big, immobile, non-scoring center and a conventional power forward against a more talented smallball team. The act of an NBA novice.
So while I’m extremely glad that Andre Iguodala managed to pull Jackson’s fat out of the fire last night, I don’t take a lot of satisfaction out of this win. As I expected, the Warriors gave me ample indication that they have a better team than the Thunder this season….
But I’m increasingly afraid that they don’t have the best coach.
The ingenious Mark Jackson of last year has disappeared. Replaced by a Mark Jackson who apparently wants to relive the horribly inefficient post-up basketball of his playing heyday.
Back in the last century.
The Fourth Quarter:
After four productive (+5) minutes matching up small to open the quarter, Jackson made the disastrous decision to match up big against the smallball Thunder frontline of Ibaka and Durant with 8 minutes left. And thereby all but gave the game away. Lee joined JON to produce a -3, and then Bogut replaced JON for an immediate -8. A total of -11 in 5 minutes, before Jackson attempted to reverse the damage by removing first Lee, and then Bogut.
This is not rocket science: Big non-scoring centers alongside conventional fours can not match up against the Thunder’s small lineup. On defense, can Lee guard Durant? Can Bogut/JON guard the stretch-five Ibaka? Can they run with them? Match up with them in transition?
Score against their quickness and shotblocking and tenacity?
And Bogut and Lee are even at a huge disadvantage on the boards, as was reflected in the box score. The Thunder pull Lee all the way out of the lane when the Warriors attempt to play man. And Bogut is far too slow to box out Ibaka, just as he was far too slow to box out DeAndre Jordan.
The Warriors attempted to deal with Bogut’s difficulty matching up to smallball by playing a 3-2 or 1-2-2 zone for much of the night. That helps with the defense, but has the effect of making it even harder for Bogut and Lee to find a man to box out on the boards.
Bottom line, the Thunder managed to render the Warriors’ frontline completely ineffective on the defensive end. Is that 115 points I see for the Thunder in the box score? 51% shooting? 28 free throws?
Are defensive results like that the reason why it’s so important to play a non-scoring center?
This may seem paradoxical to most, but against excellent smallball teams like the Thunder, a frontline of Lee at center and Draymond Green is better defensively than a conventional frontline featuring Bogut. Why? First of all because it allows the Warriors to play man to man defense. Lee can guard Ibaka. Green can guard anyone, including Durant, as we saw last night.
Second, because it allows the Warriors to guard the pick and roll. The lumbering Bogut cannot leave the lane. Lee is excellent at coming out to hedge the pick and roll — even as far away as the three point line — and recovering to his man in the lane.
Third, because it allows the Warriors to run with the Thunder. To get back, and match up in transition.
Fourth, because the Thunder have no post-up players to punish the Warriors smallball lineup.
And fifth, because as paradoxical as this may sound, smallball makes the Warriors a better rebounding team against the Thunder as well. Because the quickness of Green is far more effective than the size of Bogut in tracking down rebounds, when the floor is completely spread. And because Lee never has to leave Ibaka, and is quick enough to keep him on his back.
As for the offensive end of the court — well, we have ample proof of how devastating, how virtually unguardable this Warriors smallball unit is. Would the Warriors have been limited to a miserable 21 points in the fourth quarter, if Coach Jackson had gotten the right team on the floor, and let them play the style of basketball that they were made for?
Sometimes the best defense is a good offense.
That was never more true than last night. And if the Warriors ever want to beat the Thunder again, then Mark Jackson had better realize it.
The Post-Ups: Something else that Mark Jackson did to give the game away in the fourth quarter was to continually force the ball inside for David Lee post-ups.
Hasn’t Bob Fitzgerald been making all sorts of noise lately about how “analytics-driven” the new Warriors are? Aren’t Joe and Kirk Lacob avid and ostentatious attendees of the MIT Sloan conference every year?
Well, while the Thunder were busy attacking the Warriors with threes and layups — as modern basketball theory (I call it Nellieball) dictates — Mark Jackson was busy pursuing the least efficient form of offense that there is: low post offense.
I love David Lee, everyone knows that. And he’s one of the best low-post power forwards in basketball, when it comes to it. Particularly when guarded by bigger and slower players.
But not against Ibaka and Durant. Come on. Those are two of the handful of guys in the league that are both longer and quicker than Lee. This is a matchup you want to attack?
And particularly when the Warriors have so many better options on offense. Is this not the best passing team in the NBA? Just take a look at the (two) pick and roll plays they ran with Lee in the fourth quarter. Both resulted in great shots.
Look at the shots that Curry and Klay got in the offense last night. Where was that in the fourth quarter?
I’m guessing (hoping) that Mark Jackson became obsessed with attacking Kevin Durant, who had five fouls, and tried to foul him out of the game.
Huge mistake. Durant is too talented and too smart a player. And how many refs in the league are willing to blow that final whistle on the face of the NBA?
That whistle would be the Horn of Doom for their career.
Iggy: Hero of the game.
No, not for that ridiculous last second shot, that his career has shown he shoots at far less than 40%, and that Philadelphia fans ran him out of town for. I’m probably the only Warriors fan in existence right now who is dismayed that Mark Jackson has apparently chosen Iggy as his closer.
Iggy was the hero of the game for his extraordinary defense on Kevin Durant. Durant being limited to 20 points on 5-13 shooting was a huge win for the Warriors.
Andre Iguodala, not Andrew Bogut, is the reason why the Warriors have taken a quantum leap defensively this season. Iggy, not Bogut, is the reason the Warriors are contenders.
Iggy was the missing piece.
Curry: Fabulous through three quarters. Taken out of the game by Mark Jackson’s decision-making in the fourth quarter.
One of the best closers in basketball. But only his rookie coach, Don Nelson, has recognized it so far.
9 assists against 2 TO’s. By the end of this season, only Matt Steinmetz will be left among those who don’t believe he’s a point guard.
Bogut: I don’t want to pile on poor Bogues, particularly after a game in which he was victimized by his coach as much as his own abilities. I do believe he is important to the Warriors success, especially against the bigger teams in the league. When used correctly.
But has Bogut given us a game so far this season that has looked anything like those games he gave us in the playoffs? You know, the ones right after his ankle was shot up with horse tranquilizer, or whatever?
Why not? Is he only capable of those performances on chemicals?
Last night, Bogut gave us 6 points, 7 rebounds and 0 blocked shots in 29 minutes. In a big game. At home. After a rest. Going against a rookie.
For the season, he’s averaging 5.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks. While shooting 47% from the line, and like Andris Biedrins, doing his damnedest to avoid going there in the first place.
Is this worth $12 million a year for three years?
Thompson: Charles Barkley called Klay a certain all-star last night. So I’m no longer alone. But I don’t know if that’s the company I was looking for.
This might have been the best game I’ve seen from Klay as a pro. 27 points on 10-15, 6-9 from three, while chasing Russell Westbrook around all night.
Questions of clutchness? Answered in the fourth quarter last night with that huge post-up bucket over Reggie Jackson, and the And One fastbreak layup.
Klayups? Has he missed a single layup this season?
Questions of efficiency? How does 54% from the field for the season sound? That number will certainly regress, but I think the days of shooting 43% are behind him for good.
Klay is answering every question. Take a look at those 3 blocks last night.
That’s two more than Harrison Barnes — he of the 40 inch vertical — has for the season.
Barnes: The Warriors featured Barnes heavily in the mid-post last night, trying to punish the Thunder for guarding him with their undersized guards, and he was OK. Not dominant, but not terrible. 6-14 for the game, but got to the line a couple of times.
The problem I have with using Barnes this way is that it is horribly inefficient. This form of basketball — mid-post isolation — is horribly inefficient even in the hands of its foremost practitioners, Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony. And Barnes will never approach their proficiency.
Inefficient because: It stops all player movement. Is turnover prone. And even when all goes well, usually results in a difficult, fading, mid-range two.
Mark Jackson has previously stated that he won’t “break” his offense in order to get one of the best shooters in the league, Klay Thompson, a shot. Really? So what is this?
I’m pretty sure that what Jackson is doing is trying to give the rest of the team a breather, particularly his starters, while Barnes goes to work in isolation. That, and trying to get Barnes involved in the offense to the satisfaction of the management that drafted him, and is heavily involved in marketing him.
But is it worth it? Last night Barnes received 6 or 7 postups in the first half, and converted roughly half of them. Meanwhile, his man, Jeremy Lamb, was taking far more efficient shots — three pointers over, natch, Harrison Barnes — and hitting three of them. Resulting in Barnes being -1 for the half.
Barnes proved more effective in the second half, and succeeded I believe in picking up the fourth and fifth fouls on Kevin Durant, which was big.
But I’m looking forward to the time when he’s used in the role he was made for: stretch-four. Spreading the floor for threes, slashing to the rim for dunks.
JON: Fantastic on the defensive end last night.
Until the Thunder went small.
Green: Great performance. The strip of Durant was huge. What a gamer.
He needs to be on the floor. Where are his minutes going to come from?
Toney Douglas: Think the Warriors missed him in this game?
I’m pretty sure Reggie Jackson didn’t.