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    Thoughts on Game 31 (Warriors 99, Celtics 89): Return of the Jack

    By Geoff Lepper

    OAKLAND — Warriors coach Don Nelson knew what other teams thought when they came into Oracle Arena.

    “Not being able to win and not being able to do what we want in the fourth quarter . . . good teams figure they can beat us,” Nelson said.

    With Stephen Jackson back, that no longer can be considered a safe assumption for Warriors opponents. Just ask the Boston Celtics after Jackson dropped 15 of his game-high 28 points on them in the fourth quarter of Golden State’s 99-89 win on Friday.

    As mentioned in the live thread, this was the perfect setup for an underdog to knock off the Celtics: Not only was it the second half of an all-road back-to-back for Boston, but the Warriors also had 72 hours between games.

    What tipped the scales, however, was Jackson’s return from a four-game absence to allow his sprained left hand — an injury that coincided with a brutal 26.9 percent shooting stretch (21-for-78) — to finally heal.

    More specifically, it was Jackson’s fourth-quarter presence that made the difference. After a first-quarter individual showdown with Paul Pierce that ended in pretty much a draw (Jackson had 11 points, Pierce 13), Jackson disappeared in the second and third periods, shooting a combined 1-for-5 and committing five turnovers.

    But there were signs of a recovery in the third. Jackson didn’t cough the ball up once in the final 17:45 of the second half. His one make came with the shot clock in single digits and against some tight defense from Pierce [3, 3:19]. And his specialty, the touch pass, led to an open 3-pointer for Marco Belinelli [3, 0:55.7].

    When Jackson launched an ill-conceived drive down the lane, was blocked by Leon Powe and unleashed a frustration foul on Brian Scalabrine in the scramble for the rebound [4, 9:15], it seemed like Friday’s top storyline would be how the captain was still not fit for duty.

    A layup off a crisp entry pass from Anthony Morrow got Jackson rolling [4, 8:42], and he didn’t stop the rest of the way.

    The Warriors trailed by five before that bucket; they led by nine a little less than 4 1/2 minutes later, with Jackson scoring 13 of Golden State’s 18 points and assisting on three more — a trey from Kelenna Azubuike [4, 7:46].

    Jackson drained a pair of 3-pointers of his own in that stretch, one with Pierce’s hand in his face on the left wing [4, 7:03], the other after getting sprung from a nice back pick by Belinelli [4, 5:32]. He undoubtedly got lucky when he rolled in a 10-foot fadeaway over Kevin Garnett to give the Warriors their first lead since less than 3 minutes into the game [4, 6:03], but Jackson is a guy who, frankly, makes his own luck sometimes.

    I’d be fascinated to see what Jackson’s shooting percentage is on attempts where the Warriors are within five points of the opposition (either ahead or behind) in the second half. Anecdotally, I think it would be far higher than the 38.5 percent he’s put up as a whole this season.

    The Lineup Project
    Catching up after the Christmas holiday, we have three games’ worth of data and some new year-to-date numbers:

    12/22/08: Magic 113, Warriors 81

    Lineup data from Golden State game No. 29: Magic 113, Warriors 81

    12/23/08: Heat 96, Warriors 88

    Lineup data from Golden State game No. 30: Heat 96, Warriors 88

    12/26/08: Warriors 99, Celtics 89

    Lineup data from Golden State game No. 31: Warriors 99, Celtics 89

    Year-to-date through 31 games (per 48 minutes)

    Lineup data from Golden State Warriors' 2008-09 season, through 31 games

    Let’s give credit where it’s due: Without the performance of the Small group against Boston on Friday, the Warriors don’t even come close to mounting that comeback. Golden State was helped by Doc Rivers’ insistence on sticking with his own small group, despite the obvious fact that they were dog-tired and thus unable to hang with the hosts’ unit, but that shouldn’t detract from the quality of Warriors’ smallball-driven comeback.

    With the blowout in Orlando and two other subpar performances, the Medium lineup (two bigs, not including any Turiaf-Biedrins pairings, plus three wings) has come back to Earth and the Smalls have gotten somewhat closer to the team totals (Golden State is averaging 103.7 ppg while giving up 109.5 for a delta of minus-5.8).

    Monta’s return a month off?
    Don Nelson said Friday that he didn’t expect injured guard Monta Ellis to play — or possibly even practice — for at least a month. I’ve heard Jan. 15 knocked around by members of the organization as a potential return time, but that’s been a very fluid date from the get-go.

    Whenever Ellis does come back, it will be interesting to see how the Warriors’ standing in the standings factors into the decision.

    As of today, it looks like a nine-team race for eight playoff spots in the West, with the Warriors already 9 games behind two teams tied for seventh: Dallas (17-12) and Utah (18-13).

    On the other hand, Golden State is already 5 1/2 games behind Oklahoma City in the race for the other extreme — the worst record and corresponding highest concentration of pingpong balls in the 2009 draft lottery.

    Twenty years ago, back when fantasy sports involved buying USA Today every Tuesday and crunching your own stats on a Mac SE (with a 30-meg hard drive!), one of the originators of the field — Dan Okrent, who would go on to become the New York Times’ first ombudsman, among other accomplishments in journalism — described a place he dubbed “The Fenokee Triangle,” where you’re never quite good enough to compete for the top spot, yet never bad enough to want to tear things down entirely.

    It feels like the Warriors are at risk of once again taking up residence in the NBA’s version of that spot, winning too many games to grab an impact player, but not enough to be anything more than first-round fodder for the Lakers, Spurs or Hornets.

    Contact: geofflepper@48minutes.net

7 Responses to “Thoughts on Game 31 (Warriors 99, Celtics 89): Return of the Jack”

  1. Great breakdown of the game as usual. Your last comment about “The Fenokee Triangle” was right on. They are in danger of repeating history by settling for mediocrity. They need to embrace the tank so they could turn this thing around faster with a pick like Harden, Griffin, or Rubio. 1 year of suck will allow them to add one more young impact player to run with Randolph, Wright, Ellis, Biedrins, Belinelli, and Jackson.

    Win the big home games to keep morale afloat, but rest the vets on every other game so we compete for the most possible combinations on lottery night. It’ll be painful, but it will pay dividends down the road.

  2. They just effing suck.

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