Ron Adams just ended the Rockets with a killer mid-series defensive adjustment. Just as he did to the Grizzlies.
Adams decided to take James Harden completely off the board. First by switching the defensive assignments, taking Klay Thompson off of him, and putting the longer Harrison Barnes on him. And second by double teaming his dribble, to protect the hapless Barnes from another immortal internet splits meme. The result was this: With the threat of the full-on double imminent, Barnes was able to press up on Harden fearlessly, and challenge his outside shot. It was clear to me that Harden was bothered by Barnes’ length on several of his shots.
On the drive… well, there was no drive. The Warriors, who were essentially zoning behind Barnes, as Doug Collins noted, immediately trapped Harden as soon as he put the ball on the floor. Forcing him to rotate the ball before he wanted to. Completely taking away his play-making ability.
Genius. The Rockets had no answer. They couldn’t punish the double-team with outside shooting: Terry and Ariza, wide open all night, were a brick laying factory. And they couldn’t run offense. Who on the Rockets but Harden can initiate the offense? Without Harden’s brilliant playmaking, the Rockets collapsed like a house of cards.
The Stephen Curry Problem: I wrote before the series about some possible adjustments the Rockets could make to defend Curry, HAD to make to defend Curry, but unlike the brilliant Warriors coaching staff, Kevin McHale is completely unable to make an adjustment. He seems to view them as a violation of his old-school warrior code.
Kevin McHale is riding Jason Terry into the sunset. Of both their careers. I can’t see McHale surviving this debacle.
And instead of blitzing Curry to get the ball out of his hands, McHale is playing him straight up, and simply handing him off on screens. To Josh Smith and Dwight Howard.
If you listen for it, you can hear the disbelief in Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson’s voices as they describe this mess. It is completely against their code to criticize another coach on the air, but the strain of keeping their mouths shut is coming through.
I love Stephen Curry as much as any fan. Have loved his game, celebrated his game, since the first day he set foot on the floor in an NBA uniform. And I got as much pleasure from watching his performance last night as anyone, anywhere. Stephen Curry is the greatest shotmaker in NBA history. And if he ever gets the chance to play with a scoring center in a pick and roll offense, he’ll become one of the greatest playmakers in NBA history as well. Of that, I have no doubt.
But let’s face it, Curry has never had an easier playoff matchup. He’s being guarded by Jason Terry, a 37 year old munchkin who couldn’t play defense in his prime. Now? It’s borderline pathetic. Cringeworthy. There is no worse defender in the 2015 NBA playoffs than Jason Terry.
Curry is getting single-covered. He’s not getting trapped. Not getting bumped. Getting handed off to power-forwards and centers in single coverage.
Steve Kerr pointed to the fact that the Warriors had no turnovers in the first half other than an offensive foul, as a key to their ability to blow the game open. Quite rightly. When they don’t turn the ball over, not only are the Warriors getting a shot off on every possession, but they are completely stifling the Rockets fast break.
But why aren’t the Warriors turning the ball over? Is it because they’ve become more tough minded, turned themselves into playoff hardened beasts? Or is it because there is zero ball pressure on Stephen Curry? Zero. Jason Terry can’t turn Curry over. Jason Terry couldn’t turn me over on a drive to the fridge for a Fat Tire.
Right now Curry is shooting ducks in a barrel.
On the other hand, that offensive rebound against Dwight? Iconic. Everything you need to know about Stephen Curry’s hoops IQ and competitive drive — the intangibles of a true MVP — in a three second clip.
Draymond: If there ever was a question as to who would dominate the power forward matchup in this series, it has now been answered. Josh Smith played lights out in the Clippers series against DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. But Draymond Green is eating him alive.
Draymond is dominating this series. Not just his own man, but Dwight Howard. And everyone else who ventures into his space. Like James Harden.
I’ve always liked watching defensive players. But Draymond is selling it to the world, not unlike Dennis Rodman. His defensive charisma rivals Curry’s offensive charisma. Just as his defensive impact rivals Curry’s offensive impact.
And Draymond is more than just a defensive player. He’s a two-way player extraordinaire. The Warriors offense hummed like a well-oiled machine last night, and that had a lot to do with Green’s ability to spread the floor and make plays for his teammates.
The King awaits.
Klay Thompson: Klay’s had a rough series, but I think he’s getting an unfair rap from the commentators. Klay is drawing the best defender in every series, Tony Allen last series, and Trevor Ariza in this one. And he’s the second option in a motion offense starring a completely unguarded Stephen Curry, which means he’s not getting a lot of opportunity. Why force the ball to Klay, who is being denied by a ferocious defender, when the offense is designed to find the open man? And when you’re being guarded by a great defender, and not getting a lot of touches, it’s easy to lose your rhythm.
If given the opportunity, Klay could put up patented, utterly inefficient, Kobe-Bryant- in-the-teeth-of-the-defense 30 point playoff performances. That’s simply not his role on this Warriors team. Nor is it, I don’t think, whom he wants to be.
Last night, Steve Kerr made an adjustment regarding Klay. After freeing Klay from the burden of guarding James Harden, Kerr gave him a much bigger role in the offense, by putting the ball in his hands and letting him initiate. Klay still struggled with his shot, but at least he got his shots. 18 in this game. And he demonstrated his very underrated playmaking ability: 5 assists against 1 TO.
Playoff Barnes, Playoff Bogut and Playoff Livingston: The Barnes fan-boys are having a tough series. Barnes has been largely shut down. 9-29 shooting, less than 4 rebounds a game. If you’ve been reading me for the last several years, you already know the reason why.
He’s being guarded. It’s really that simple. He’s being guarded, and not by the 6-3″ Courtney Lee, whom the Grizzlies tried to hide on him last series. Nor by the laughable Game 6 experiment of Zach Randolph. He’s being guarded by James Harden, a 6-6″ player who can move his feet if he wants to. And that’s enough. In this series, Playoff Barnes has lost his glass slipper. He’s been transformed back into Regular Season Barnes, the 142nd ranked player in the NBA.
Both Andrew Bogut and Dwight Howard have benefited from being left unguarded and found for uncontested dunks in this series. But Bogut in particular. The Warriors are penetrating virtually at will against Jason Terry and Josh Smith, and as a result the entire Rockets defense has collapsed. Howard is being forced to leave the lane to stop the penetration, Bogut is wide open under the basket. Boom. In this series, Bogut is the open man. Playoff Bogut is stepping up in Playoff Barnes’ place.
With the exception of last night’s game, Shaun Livingston has been having a fine series. Following on the heels of a fine series against the Grizzlies. You don’t have to look much further than Beno Udrih and Pablo Prigioni for the reason, but there are other things going on as well that have led to the emergence of Playoff Livingston.
Jeff Van Gundy commented in an earlier game that he would think about guarding Shaun Livingston with Dwight Howard. A brilliant comment, which should tell you everything you need to know about how Shaun Livingston is being used in Steve Kerr’s offense. He’s not the point guard, quite obviously. He is in many ways the second unit’s Playoff Bogut. He’s the guy who hangs around under the basket in the small unit, waiting for wide open dunks. Which have occurred with regularity when his man gives help and loses contact with him.
I didn’t watch Livingston much last night, but when I did it looked to be Corey Brewer who was guarding him. And staying with him. (Who said Kevin McHale can’t make an adjustment?) You saw the difference.
Something tells me that Playoff Livingston is going to be much needed in the next series, and could get a real test.
Festus Ezeli: Ezeli played great last night on both sides of the floor. It’s great to see him returning to his old self on defense, and his offensive improvement is remarkable.
Jeff Van Gundy spent a lot of time during the game promoting Festus as a starting center. And it crossed my mind that this may have been inspired in part by the obvious grudge that Van Gundy and his buddy Mark Jackson carry against Bogut. The very sly Van Gundy has been subtly killing Bogut for leaking to the media that he was under the weather for game 1. And he recently labeled Bogut as “just another guy” in an interview, and said that the Warriors could win without him.
I happen to agree with Van Gundy. About everything.
Festus Ezeli made my jaw drop when I first layed eyes on him in the Vegas summer league. But his rookie performance, starting in place of the injured Bogut, was even more jaw-dropping. In many ways, he carried the Warriors into the playoffs on his back. While nearly blowing up his career in the process, by playing on a badly damaged knee throughout the second half of the season.
He never said one word about it.
The Chopping Block: The media will try to sell us on the idea that the Rockets will come out breathing fire for Game 4. I don’t think that will happen, even if Kevin McHale suddenly wakes up and makes the adjustments he should have made to start the series: bench Terry, insert Corey Brewer, blitz Curry, and try to win a defensive struggle. It’s too late for that now, his demoralized team has given up.
I’ve noticed that when teams in the playoffs realize that they (or their coach) have no answer, they pack their bags. Particularly if a meaningless home win means one more humiliating nationally televised spanking on the road. That’s what we saw from the Grizzlies in Game 6. And it’s probable that’s what we’ll get from the Rockets in Game 4.
Bring on The King.