A chess match broke out at Oracle last night, and lo and behold, for once it was the Warriors coach who won it.
I have been arguing all season long for Mark Jackson to match up small against opponent’s smallball. I believe his stubborn refusal to do so has cost the Warriors several games this season, including the recent Raptors game. And also, quite possibly, the Warriors two previous losses to the Suns. You saw why I’ve been so vociferous on the subject last night.
The Warriors smallball frontline of David Lee at center and Draymond Green simply dominated. Mark Jackson went to it in the second quarter — something I don’t think he’s done before this season — resulting in the Warriors going on an 11-4 run to get back into the game.
And Jackson returned to it early in the second half, pulling Bogut for good with only 4 minutes gone in the 3rd quarter. Resulting in the Warriors blowing the game wide open. The Lee and Green frontline was +18 for the third quarter, +24 for the second and third combined, and the game was all but over.
Things got a little complicated in the fourth quarter, as Mark Jackson started trying to milk the clock with a big lead. Playing smallball and at the same time trying to slow the pace is a tricky proposition. I remember Nellie, after the Warriors nearly blew his record tying win against the Raptors in the same way, calling it a difficult problem for coaches. It’s like prevent defense and selling naked options. It works until it doesn’t.
Jackson stated post-game that he didn’t regret slowing the pace. He felt the Warriors were still getting good looks in the offense, but that they just stopped falling. There’s some truth to that.
Hey, all’s well that ends well. I was delighted by Jackson’s game plan in this game.
Although the cynical side of me is more than a little inclined to believe it came about as a result of Bogut and O’Neal being less than 100%.
David Lee: 26 points on 11-18. Lee is completely unguardable when playing center alongside a stretch-four. And when he’s unguardable, so is Curry and the rest of the Warriors. As I’ve been saying, since… forever.
Ho hum. Warriors fans don’t care about that. Let’s talk about defense.
Mark Jackson post-game on Lee’s defense: “Rebounded… Great multiple effort plays defending the pick and roll to contain Dragic and get back to cover Channing Frye on the perimeter… He was all over the court.”
Another thing I’ve been saying forever, and Warriors fans have been laughing at forever, is that in certain smallball matchups David Lee is actually a more effective defensive center than Andrew Bogut. Ridiculous? Heresy? Well this game was a case in point. Mark Jackson used Lee’s mobility to trap Dragic on the pick and roll, and then when Dragic was stopped, recover to his own man. That is something that Bogut is completely incapable of doing, and something that has cost the Warriors severely earlier this season against the Suns, and the Nuggets, and in crunchtime against the Raptors last week, and in last year’s playoffs against Tony Parker and the Spurs, and…
Still laughing? Well laugh at this: The Warriors went to Lee at center at 7:41 of the 3rd quarter, with the score 73-71 in favor of the Suns. And ended the quarter with the score 94-78 in favor of the Warriors. With Lee at center, the Suns were held to 5 points in that 7:41. While getting the ball crammed down their throats.
Size isn’t everything. Speed and mobility are effective defensive weapons as well. More effective weapons, in point of fact, in certain matchups. Even without a shotblocker on the floor, the Warriors were able to deny the Suns penetration by trapping Dragic’s pick and roll, switching everything, and making great rotations.
Here’s something else to laugh at: With Lee at center and Green at PF this season, opponents are shooting 41.6%. The Warriors as a whole are giving up 47.5%. The league leading Pacers are giving up 45.5%.
Curry: There’s a reason the somewhat hobbled Curry came alive and took over in the third quarter. It coincided with the Warriors subbing Green for Bogut, and going with Lee at center.
With Lee setting the picks, the Suns couldn’t double Curry. Kaboom.
Break the blitz, and the Warriors explode. Simple as that.
Bogut: One rebound, zero blocks in 14 minutes. Is he dinged up (as he hinted post-game), did he simply not show up, or is this simply a matchup he’s not suited for?
Klay: It’s a little bit tougher to gauge Klay’s aggression in games like this one where his shot is falling, because in these games he doesn’t need to drive to help his team. Nevertheless, Klay did seem to me to retain his recently found aggression in this game. He made quite a few nice drives, some in service of setting up his teammates. And he performed well in the low-post against Dragic as well.
I like what I’m seeing, and what I’m seeing is Klay turning the corner into stardom.
Iggy: We saw the yin and yang of Iggy in one crunchtime sequence: The monster offensive rebound that seemed to pull the Warriors’ fat out of the fire, and then the two missed free throws that resulted.
Iggy recovered to sink his next two clutch free throws, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Iggy’s yips — and his Biedrinsesque/Bogutesque fear of going to the line at all — will cost the Warriors dearly in at least one fourth quarter in the playoffs.
Like Draymond Green earlier in the season, Iggy persistently misses his free throws long. Someone should acquaint him with Feltbot’s First Law.
O’Neal: I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear he came up lame in this game.
Blake: Like Kurt Hinrich, who’s having a great throwback season for the Bulls, it’s never going to be a whole lot of fun watching Blake play. Like Hinrich, he’s just a tough as nails, emotionless competitor who gets the job done.
I’d enjoy watching him more if I didn’t have to listen to Fitz screeching about what he means to the Warriors on every single play.
Crawford: Amid all the spin from Warriors’ mouthpieces that the Warriors’ acquisition of Steve Blake has allowed Crawford to move back to his “true” position, Crawford has all but fallen out of the rotation. He’s getting a few 2nd quarter minutes, and that’s it.
Why? Can’t shoot and can’t guard is not a winning combination in two-guards. If Crawford’s not a point, he’s not a player.
Meanwhile, the guy the Warriors should have been playing at backup two-guard all season long, Kent Bazemore, continues to impress for the Lakers. (Albeit off the bench now. Stretch-four Ryan Kelly has returned from injury, allowing the Lakers to play a bigger starting lineup.) If you didn’t see Bazemore in the 4th quarter against the Thunder yesterday, you really missed something. He literally took over the game in crunchtime, scoring three crucial buckets, a spot-up three, a foul line pull-up, and a spectacular drive and finish over Kevin Durant to seal the win.
But that wasn’t even the main reason he was in the game. D’Antoni plays him for his defense, which is fantastic.
It’s incredible to me that Mark Jackson missed so badly on Bazemore. He’s a player who could not only be winning games for the Warriors right now, but could potentially win games in the finals for a world champion. World class defensive two guards with real two-way ability don’t grow on trees. After seeing what Bazemore can do playing for a competent coach for a few weeks, I think it’s very possible he will wind up a better all-around player than Tony Allen.
Playoff seeding: As I look at the remaining schedule, I handicap as follows: The Clippers are 100% to overtake the Rockets. The Warriors are 100% to overtake the Blazers. Neither the Mavs nor the streaking Grizzlies will catch the Warriors. So the fifth seed, and a first round matchup against the Rockets looks like the Warriors most likely scenario.
But the Thunder are currently in free fall, and their remaining schedule is a bear. So things could get complicated. This is the most entertaining and wide open Western Conference since…
Nellie sent the Little General home with a spanking.