Game 30 (Warriors 103, Celtics 99), The Wrapup: Choosing a player for their defensive prowess — can Don Nelson and the Warriors sustain this philosophy?
By Geoff Lepper
With a 103-99 victory over Boston on Tuesday, the Warriors have themselves just their second winning streak of the season. The first one was pretty impressive, as you may recall; back in November, just after the Stephen Jackson saga resolved itself, Golden State beat Portland (before the Trail Blazers were wracked by injuries) at home, then spanked Dallas on the road.
Of course, the Warriors quickly lost twice (including once to tonight’s opponent, the Lakers, in Oracle), beat a hapless Indiana squad, dropped four straight, beat an even more inept New Jersey team, then skidded through seven in a row. That makes for a nice 2-13 run, a stretch that tore a great big, jagged, gaping hole in the side of whatever secret playoff hopes that the Warriors might have been holding, deep down in their heart of hearts.
So, why should observers of the Warriors get any more excited by this little micro-burst of success? There’s a few obvious reasons, many of which were touched upon at length in other places on the intrawebs — the return of Ronny Turiaf and now Andris Biedrins, the favorable schedule in January, the continued incandescent efforts of Monta Ellis — but to me, it comes to one word:
Sustainability is a big deal in farming these days. It’s not enough to eat healthy foods, organically grown in local-area farms. You also have to be able to repeat the cycle, so that you’re not simply chewing your way through the Earth’s natural resources, leaving the planet with a giant SELL BY date stamped on the equator.
That’s why, to me, the Warriors’ win Saturday against Phoenix was an entertaining diversion, but not much more. It was a victory was fueled by an offensive performance that was almost singular among the Warriors’ 30 games this season: 57.1 percent shooting from the floor (tied for Golden State’s second-highest mark this season), 37 trips to the foul line (third-best total) for 132 points (second-highest). Outside of the win against Minnesota on Nov. 9, when they had almost carbon-copy numbers of 57.1 percent and 38 FTAs, it was the Warriors’ best night of the year on O.
Those are numbers you’ll see probably a half-dozen times per season. And you can’t build a team around that.
Against the Celtics, however, the Warriors had much more modest totals, depressed both by the stinginess of the opponent and the wretchedly slow start (7-for-25 FG in the first quarter). To win while shooting just 46.0 percent from the floor and 30.8 percent (4-13) on 3-pointers . . . well, to win that kind of game means you can win on any evening.
What also gave hope was Don Nelson’s decision-making process at the 2 guard spot. For the past couple weeks, Stephen Curry has been the Warriors’ best hope for a third option, offensively, behind Ellis and Corey Maggette.
Starting with Dec. 12 in Detroit, when he set a then-career high with three 3-pointers, Curry came into Tuesday averaging 16.0 points in his last seven games, while shooting 50.0 percent from deep (17-34) and 94.4 percent from the line (17-18). (He was also shooting 43.8 percent from the floor — 39-89 — but we’ll just ignore that for now.)
When Curry was pulled with 1:19 left in the first quarter, it was for a multitude of reasons, beginning with the fact that he had just committed his third foul. He had already airballed an ugly one-legged push shot (the same kind of thing he made for a critical hoop in the win at Dallas), had already gotten bailed out running the wrong way around a screen when Andris Biedrins closed down Rajon Rondo’s path to the paint and had already forced an awful inbounds pass that was picked off and converted to an easy Celtics layup.
But the worst thing of all was how Rondo was whipping Curry off the dribble. Even though Curry wasn’t picking up Rondo until the free-throw line, daring the non-shooter to shoot from distance, Rondo still:
** Drew a foul on a 3-on-1 break where Curry, rather than forcing Rondo to make the correct pass, kept retreating, affording Rondo a good chance of getting the and-one (his layup was just a tad too strong). [2, 2:31].
** Bulled past Curry, who despite the cushion and lack of a screen was unable to move his feet quickly enough to keep from getting turned at a 60-degree angle to the hoop. Rondo popped into the air, leaving a backpedaling Curry behind, and banked one home from 13 feet. [2, 2:05].
**Dribbled the length of the court before creating contact with Curry, who was trying (poorly) to draw a charge 10 feet out but instead got used as a pylon by Rondo, who hit the bucket and the ensuing free throw. [2, 1:19].
In came C.J. Watson, who put together a second quarter that was his best 12 minutes as an NBA player: 3-3 FG, eight points and an absurd six steals.
At the half, Nelson could have easily brought back Curry, whose defensive progress he has lauded time and again of late. Given that the Warriors were still struggling in the half-court game, outside of Ellis’ virtuoso performance, it would have been both predictable and easy to defend.
It would have been standard operating procedure.
Instead, of course, Nelson went with Watson, the guy who had thoroughly disrupted Boston’s attempts to feed hot-shooting Ray Allen and turned the Celtics into a one-man gang (Rondo) — something Golden State and Ellis know all about.
Let me reiterate: he made a personnel decision based on defense, rather than offense. Given Nelson’s history of disdain for that facet of the game, that’s a huge move. Huge.
Now, betting on Nelson to do the same thing from game to game is the height of folly; each contest unfolds with its own context. But if the underlying philosophy — that of placing equal weight on defense as opposed to O — can be carried over from game to game, despite the last 20 years of Nelson’s coaching history . . . if that choice is somehow sustainable . . . well, that would be a whole new ballgame right there.
One Response to “Game 30 (Warriors 103, Celtics 99), The Wrapup: Choosing a player for their defensive prowess — can Don Nelson and the Warriors sustain this philosophy?”
“if the underlying philosophy — that of placing equal weight on defense as opposed to O — can be carried over from game to game, despite the last 20 years of Nelson’s coaching history . . . if that choice is somehow sustainable”
… and if my aunt had balls she’d be my uncle.
You make some good points otherwise. To bet Nelson has suddenly “found” defense like some religious epiphany, you’re dreaming.
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TagsAcie Law Al Harrington Allen Iverson Andris Biedrins Anthony Morrow Anthony Randolph Baron Davis Brandan Wright C.J. Watson Chris Cohan Chris Hunter Chris Mullin Corey Maggette Dan Dickau DeMarcus Nelson Devean George Don Nelson Gilbert Arenas Jamal Crawford Jason Richardson Jeff Fried Jermareo Davidson Keith Smart Kelenna Azubuike Kevin Durant Kevin Garnett Kobe Bryant Larry Riley Marco Belinelli Marcus Williams Matt Barnes Mickael Pietrus Mikki Moore Monta Ellis Patrick O'Bryant Richard Hendrix Robert Rowell Rob Kurz Ronny Turiaf Stephen Curry Stephen Jackson Stephon Marbury Steve Nash Troy Murphy Vladimir Radmanovic
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