It will go completely unreported by the mainstream press, but it was Mark Jackson’s opening defensive game plan that nearly sunk the Warriors against the Blazers in this game.
For the first time all season, Jackson brought Andrew Bogut all the way out of the lane to defend against the high pick and roll. Bogut was hedging out at the three point line! If you didn’t notice this in the flow of the game, it’s worth going back for a second look, because it is a major development in the Warriors’ defensive philosophy. M-A-J-O-R.
Unfortunately, this was absolutely the wrong game in which to employ this strategy. Not because Bogut can’t do it — that was disproven in the second half. But because it hung David Lee out to dry.
Allow me to elaborate: Bogut actually did a fine job showing on the high pick. He stopped Lillard and the other ballhandlers cold, and at the same time prevented them from shooting their favorite shot: the pull-up three. But Bogut was not quite as good at retreating back to the lane in time to pick up the roller, Robin Lopez. Virtually all of Lopez’ 14 points came off the pick and roll.
That’s where David Lee comes in. It was Lee’s assignment to rotate over to help on the rolling Lopez. Was this a fair assignment? Was it an assignment that Lee could reasonably be expected to carry out?
NO, IT WAS NOT.
Why? Because David Lee was being asked to guard the Blazers’ Nellieball power forward Dorell Wright all the way out in the corner, at the three point line. He was caught in no man’s land. There is simply no way in hell that Lee can guard DWright effectively, and still rotate in time to beat Lopez to the basket.
And that’s not Lee’s fault. David Lee is one of the most mobile conventional power forwards in the game. Something that is reflected in the fact that he is the best power forward in the West at defending the pick and roll. There is not a conventional power forward in the entire league that could have carried out Mark Jackson’s assignment. It was impossible.
Mark Jackson’s game plan to start this game was utterly ridiculous. His attempt to match up big against the Blazers’ small ball was utterly ridiculous. Asking Lee to guard a deadly three point shooting small forward in itself was ridiculous, even apart from giving him dual responsibility to help Bogut on pick and roll.
Did you happen to notice that Bogut and Lee finished the first half with 2 rebounds apiece? Two apiece! It’s not hard to understand why: They were both guarding out at the three point line!
And on the offensive side of the ball, the game plan was just as bad. Walking the ball up the court. Trying to run halfcourt offense to get Curry and Thompson open against a much quicker defense that could switch every screen. Trying to create mid-range twos out of ISO offense.
While the Blazers were running everything back and shooting wide-open threes in early offense.
Just mind blowing incompetence.
I know you’ve read me on the subject of Nellieball and the true identity of this Warriors roster ad nauseam, and your eyes are starting to glaze over, if not roll back in your head. So allow me to give you another voice, to let you know that far smarter basketball minds than myself are in agreement with me on this subject.
Here are a few in-game tweets from Haralabos Voulgaris (@haralabob), one of the savviest NBA analysts in history, who risks and makes millions of dollars every year betting on the sport:
Game in and Game out, Mark Jackson does more to hamper the GSW offense than anything the other team does.
Curry has 27 since MJax let him loose in the 2h. This is fun. Please stop over coaching him on offense.
Key to that GSW run – they rarely played with 2 bigs on the floor at the same time.
The Second Half: With the Warriors down 17 early in the third quarter, Jackson finally pulled the plug on his big lineup, and countered the Blazers’ Nellieball with Nellieball of his own.
With the expected result.
Why expected? BECAUSE THE WARRIORS HAVE ONE OF THE BEST NELLIEBALL TEAMS IN THE GAME, IF NOT IN HISTORY. (Just ask the Miami Heat.)
With Lee out, and Draymond Green in his place at power forward, all of a sudden Mark Jackson’s defensive game plan made sense. When Bogut left the lane to hedge the pick and roll, Green could fulfill the assignment to both guard the corner three, and cover Bogut’s ass in the lane.
And with the floor spread on offense, the Splash Brothers suddenly became unguardable, and started to light it up.
The Warriors then played a remarkable 8 minute stretch of pure smallball, without a center, bridging the third and fourth quarters.
Brought Bogut back in to play with Barnes at PF for 4 minutes.
And then finished the game with Lee at center and Barnes at PF.
And once again Mark Jackson’s fat was out of the fire.
I wonder what would have happened if he’d waited until the Warriors were down 19 to match up with the Blazers, instead of merely 17?
The Better Game Plan: It may shock you to read this, but I have no problem bringing David Lee off the bench when the Warriors are facing a Nellieball starting unit. In fact, if you don’t want to start Lee at center, I think it is absolutely mandatory. As has been proved time and time again this season, including in this game. Bogut and Lee together can’t guard Nellieball.
If Jackson had started Barnes alongside Bogut, and brought Lee and Green off the bench together, the Warriors might have won this game in a blowout. Great coaches have this kind of flexibility. Particularly in the playoffs.
Curry: I did my best writing on Curry years ago, when he was a rookie. I’m best writing about things that no one else can see, fighting, needling, trolling, making an argument.
Now that everyone can see it, I think the best thing I can do is simply make like a great baseball announcer calling a walk-off homerun:
Shut up and let the crowd roar.
Thompson: I’ve been doing quite a bit of arguing about Thompson this season, but I sense that’s about to end as well.
You can see it now, can’t you? The basketball genius? The perennial All Star in the making?
Continuing the trend that started after the All Star break, Klay took it to the basket with relentless ferocity. Numerous tough makes in the paint. Plus 6 free throws. (Is that his career high?)
(It’s a quibble, but he should be a better free throw shooter, and I can’t help but feel his quick release has something to do with it. You don’t need a quick release at the free throw line!)
Gary St. Jean rhapsodized about Klay’s newfound aggressiveness, and postulated that he has turned a corner in his game. So I guess it’s safe to pile on my analysis now. This is real, folks.
Klay doesn’t deserve total credit for Lillard’s 8-22 performance — Mark Jackson used Bogut to help take him out of the game. (For once, a blitz on someone other than Curry!). And yet, his defense was extraordinary.
Lillard burned him once in crunchtime on a backdoor cut. But when he tried to beat him off the dribble to end the game… Klay sent him away. Genius in action.
Klay carried the Warriors on both ends of the court in this game. While playing, like Curry, every minute of the second half.
Lee: As bad as Lee looked trying to execute Jackson’s ridiculously flawed opening defensive game plan, he looked absolutely great on defense while playing center in crunchtime.
Why? Because he’s the best power forward in the Western Conference at defending the pick and roll, that’s why. He came all the way out of the lane to guard the pick and roll at the three point line, and prevented the three point shot. He blanketed the ball handlers, in particular Wes Matthews, whenever they drove. And he had no problem recovering to guard the Lopezasaurus.
Lopez had 1 point and 1 rebound in the fourth quarter.
Bogut: Is Jackson preparing Bogut to leave the lane to defend pick and roll in the playoffs? That would be quite a development.
And a positive one, so long as Jackson has learned that he can’t do it against a Nellieball opponent, with Lee at PF.
And so long as it doesn’t kill Bogut’s ankles, as it may have done in this game.
Green: In a season of great performances, this was one of Green’s finest. You want to talk about a Swiss army knife player? In this game Green was often the center, guarding the point guard!
How good has Green been this last month? This good: with a focus primarily on defense, and getting only 23 minutes a game, he has been the 68th ranked fantasy basketball player in the league. He can’t help but fill up a stat sheet.
He’s also been shooting over 40% from three.
And .818 from the line. As I predicted he would. (Feltbot’s Law.)
Barnes: You would think that the second half of this game would be one in which Barnes would shine, wouldn’t you? A wide-open Nellieball contest, lots of minutes at stretch-four (and even stretch-five).
Nope, he was awful. And it’s not even the offense that really bothers me. It’s the defense. Late several times on rotations (he doesn’t have Lee’s excuse). Constant brain-dead fouls.
Basketball doesn’t come easy to the Black Emu.
Mark Jackson: A final word on the Warriors’ coach. You may have noticed that after the game he threw David Lee under the bus rather than cop to a ridiculously bad game plan. And you may have noticed that he benched Lee for most of the second half, opting for Green at center ahead of him. And even after Green fouled out, Jackson brought Bogut back in, leaving Lee on the bench. It was very clear to me at this point that Jackson was preparing to scapegoat Lee for this loss, if that’s what it turned out to be.
Would Jackson have brought Lee back into the game at all, if Green hadn’t fouled out, and Bogut hadn’t gotten injured? We’ll never know the answer to that.
Just as we’ll never know whether the Warriors would have won this game if Bogut had closed it out. Though I have my suspicions, and the fresh and painful memory of the Raptors game to go by.
The playoffs are right around the corner. It’s getting late.
“At the end of the day” is rapidly approaching.
Will Mark Jackson ever figure out how to deploy his extraordinary roster?