I hate that I have to lead with Donald Sterling’s idiocy after a game like this one. Hate that it’s the major storyline describing the Clipper’s failure to win this game.
But it deserves to be. This is a major moment in American history, a uniquely American moment. But also a teaching moment, one that I believe will ultimately contribute to the positive changes already occurring in our society. This is not a step back, but a step forward.
Anything else I could say on this topic, Marcus Thompson and Scott Ostler have already said better. It’s on the owners, and their commissioner, not the players, to clean up this mess. To set an example. To lead.
And there is zero chance that you’ll ever see Sterling’s face at a Clippers game again. He’s finished.
On to basketball. And the glory that was this game.
6-8, 6-6, 6-6 across the front line.
Fastbreak basketball. Transition threes.
Spreading the floor, with five shooters. Pick and roll. Alternating the point of attack, with gifted point forwards.
Unleashing the gifts of your superstars.
On defense, utilizing long and gritty wings to defend the big men. Switching every pick. Disrupting, swarming, stealing. Running the other way.
Seamless basketball. Positionless basketball. Transcendant basketball.
What’s it called?
Joe Lacob calls it “the sins of the past.”
Me, I call it Nellieball.
And the truest expression of this fabulous Warriors roster, with its Stephen Curry and David Lee core.
Mark Jackson: He started the adjustments in Game 3. In this game he perfected them.
1) Smallball: Replaced Jermaine O’Neal in the starting lineup with Draymond Green. Everything that follows flowed from that major decision.
2) Tempo – We heard him in the huddle urging his team to push it, and we saw just that on the court. The Warriors ran after almost every rebound, and wasn’t that a welcome site? And the quicker Warriors shut down the Clippers fastbreak in turn. 27 fastbreak points, to 8.
Did you happen to notice how many opportunities Curry got in the open court?
Happen to notice how Iggy’s game blossomed?
Did you see the best running center in the NBA, David Lee get out on that break and finish?
Glory, glory, hallelujah. Where in the world has this bee… Oh stop it, feltbot. It’s here now. Rejoice!
3) Point-Iggy and Point-Klay: There was less static high post in this game. Iggy and Klay attacked the rim out of pick and roll. With glorious results.
4) Double-Teaming Blake Griffin: I have been saying for some time that Draymond Green isn’t big enough to start against frontline power forwards, right? That he has gotten flattened, and will continue to get flattened, by Blake Griffin in the post? So did this game prove me wrong?
Not really. Because I made those comments in the context of what I knew about Mark Jackson’s system. All season long, Jackson has REFUSED to double team. Not anyone. Not ever. All part of “remaining true to our principles” or “true to the process” or somesuchamabob.
And what we have seen all season long, due to Jackson’s rigid adherence to these defensive principals, is very large men relentlessly backing down David Lee and Draymond Green, banging them back for an interminable 5 seconds or more, with multiple dribbles, while no other Warrior made a move to give help.
If Mark Jackson had continued with this defensive scheme, then yes, Draymond Green would have gotten flattened like a pancake by Blake Griffin. Murdered. It was the instant double-teaming, as soon as Griffin put the ball on the floor, that allowed this matchup to work so well, and for so long.
This is exactly the same way that Don Nelson made it work at power forward with Chris Mullin, and Vincent Askew, and Eduardo Najera, and Adrien Griffin, and Al Harrington, and Matt Barnes, and Corey Maggette, and Kelenna Azubuike, etc. Remember? If you’re willing to rapidly double team the low post, you can successfully use a wide variety of small forwards and tweeners at power forward.
Back then it was called “gimmick defense” by Tim Kawakami and Adam Lauridsen. Because back then Nellie was ahead of his time. A madman, loathed and hounded by the ignorati.
Nellieball is no longer a gimmick. It’s the rage of the league.
Because it wins.
5) Switching the Pick and Roll: Playing with smaller, quicker players allowed the Warriors to switch everything on defense, which was very tough on the Clippers offense.
It’s particularly annoying to Chris Paul, when he runs the pick and roll and comes face to face with…
Timing: Note that Mark Jackson made these adjustments in Game 4. I’ve seen a lot of commenters (and bloggers) wondering why it took him so long in this series to get to these seemingly obvious adjustments. Here are several possible reasons:
1) Because it took time for Jermaine O’Neal to prove ineffective. (I think he’d be better in a cross-match against Griffin).
2) Because Jermaine O’Neal came to Mark Jackson and suggested this move! (I don’t find this flattering to Mark Jackson, if true.)
3) Because Jermaine O’Neal has worn down. (This seems quite likely given his history, and the fact that he suggested the move to smallball.)
4) Because Draymond Green proved over the course of the series, in short minutes, to be effective against Griffin.
5) Because David Lee has been unable to keep Griffin out of the lane with single coverage. (I think his hamstring injury might have something to do with this.)
6) Because now, Draymond Green and David Lee are as fresh as possible with the series half over, and the Warriors can take the series in only two more games of smallball. Thus maximizing their chances of surviving the series uninjured.
7) Because now, Doc Rivers has only ONE GAME to adjust to this surprising shift in Warriors tactics. One game, game 5.
Because if the Clippers lose Game 5, and the Warriors get back to Oracle up 3-2, then ooh baby.
Do you think I’m giving Mark Jackson too much credit with these last two reasons? Perhaps I am, especially given what I viewed as his utter obtuseness during the regular season. And the fact that this move apparently occurred to Jermaine O’Neal before it occurred to him.
But regardless of whether Mark Jackson’s timing of this move to Nellieball was calculated, or inadvertent and dictated by desperate circumstance — or suggested by his players — it just so happens that he has gotten every single thing in this series exactly right, at exactly the right moment.
Mark Jackson is killing Doc Rivers.
Curry: Was his offensive explosion a result of him simply deciding he needed to score more, and asserting his will? Or was it a result of Mark Jackson changing his offense to get him open looks? I’m going to quibble with the mainstream narrative here.
In game 4, as in game 1, Stephen Curry simply made the best basketball play, according to his superstar talents. He took what the defense — and Mark Jackson’s offense — allowed him to take.
In Game 1, it was the pass. In game 4, by virtue of Mark Jackson’s myriad adjustments, it was the shot.
Nellieball got him open looks. The transition three. The transition three-fake, and layup. Curry’s impossible to guard in the open court.
Point-Iggy and Point-Klay got him open looks. It’s impossible to double team Curry when he’s off the ball, and the floor is spread, and Iggy and Klay run pick and roll and get into the lane.
Iggy: Mark Jackson’s adjustments had a similarly transformative effect on Iggy. He’s a great player in the open court.
And a much better player with the ball in his hands, than off the ball. 9 assists in this game! (I stick by my Iggy-meter: if Iggy gets 6 assists or more, the Warriors win.)
His offensive aggression in this game was wonderful to see. Particularly getting to the line, which he has shied away from all season long.
A note on his defense: I don’t believe any of the Clippers shooters, Redick, Crawford or Paul, actually made a jumper over Iggy in this game. His closeouts are phenomenal.
Green: One of the things that makes Green such an effective defender of Griffin — and so fascinating to watch — is the way he attacks Griffin’s dribble. Griffin can’t even turn to face up, without Green getting a hand on the ball.
And when Blake turns his back, and starts to back down… that’s when the double-team strikes. Curry from the blindside, stealing the ball and looking upcourt….
It didn’t look at all from the boxscore like Draymond had a good game offensively. But his genius and his unselfishness were everywhere on display. Great screens, as we all know. But also a fabulous ability to see the open man, and get him the ball in an instant. A master of the hockey assist.
Klay: But for the fouls, another great floor game. 5 assists, several off the dribble, in pick and roll.
5 rebounds. Did you happen to catch that fabulous Rodmanesque rebound over Matt Barnes? Reached over, palm up, tipped it back to himself.
I know you saw that vicious, two-handed, FACIAL over Big Baby. Could Reggie Miller do that? No, nor many of the other things Klay does: defend, rebound, create for others. Something to think about.
About those fouls. Mark Jackson trusted him to play through foul trouble, and Klay let him down. I disagree with those who think he didn’t deserve them. Yes, Jamal Crawford cleverly hooked his arm on that drive. But Klay was beat on the play, and in position to get snookered. And on those offensive fouls, Klay clearly extended his arm to ward off.
I think Klay needs to make an adjustment when he expects contact on his drives. His current mentality is to dodge the brunt of the contact, and get the shot off, a la Curry and Monta. I think that’s wrong. Klay should take it straight into the contact, make sure of the foul, and THEN try to get the shot up. He needs to man up, and take that hit. He’s big enough to play that way.
Like James Harden, another guy who gets to the hoop on craft and guile, not blazing speed. Klay could learn a lot from watching tape of Harden, a guy who induces fouls at the basket at a league-leading rate.
Lee: Was relatively quiet offensively. Not featured as much in the pick and roll. But like Draymond Green, simply a fabulous facilitator.
Gets to feature his running ability at center. Got a fastbreak dunk, a regular feature of his time on the Knicks.
And did you see what he did to DeAndre Jordan on defense? Unlike Bogut, he’s very good at walling Jordan off from his favored alley-oops. In some matchups, quickness is better than size.
You’ll note that Lee’s defensive rebounds have gone down when he’s playing center. That’s not just a testament to Jordan’s rebounding prowess, and the size disparity. Lee’s role changes when he’s guarding Jordan instead of Griffin. Now he’s the guy who boxes out, not the guy who chases the rebound.
Barnes: He’s having a really tough time staying with the smaller Clipper guards he’s being asked to guard. Redick and Crawford are lighting him up.
He’s never seen a screen that he couldn’t get hung up on. I mean, it’s borderline ridiculous.
In this game, at least, he gave better than he got. It got a little dicey when Klay got into foul trouble, but Barnes stepped up nicely into the breach. Confident and decisive.
Nellieball favors his talents.
Jermaine O’Neal: -15 in 10 minutes, in a 20 point win?
He’s giving what he’s got.
The Series: Lost in the prevailing narratives of the Sterling effect, and the Nellieball effect, is the fact that the Clippers simply didn’t need this game. Yes, there’s a valid comparison between this Clippers’ game 4, and the Warriors’ game 2. There was definitely an element of give up in the Clippers’ performance, that would have been there regardless of the external drama.
On paper, the Clippers remain in control of this series. All they need to do is hold serve at home.
Against one of the most talented Nellieball teams in league history.
Finally playing Nellieball.