Dunleavy: No f*^&$&% way the Warriors can still be in the playoff hunt!
Response: Talk to the hand cause the ear's not listening!
Last night was monumental.
Not only did Denver lose, badly, bringing our Warriors into a temporary tie for the final playoff spot, Patrick O' Bryant AND Marco Belinelli got off the bench....during prime time! Warriors...where the bench...happens?
By hearing that the team manager actually has to wash those two dudes' jerseys tonight, you're probably assuming it was a blow out. It might as well been. It was close, but not necessarily as close as the score looks.
The Warriors swing harder than kids in playgrounds and Don Nelson is the mom or dad pushing them, allowing them to move through the highs and lows. Up 16 in the first. Up by 1 in the second. Up by 15 in the third, then down 1 just minutes later. Up 11 in the fourth and so on and so forth.
Harrington can't believe that Maggette just told him Denver was down 20 to Utah
It was the best of the Warriors ... but also the worst. You could say you got the complete package. The Warriors were "on" tonight and were raining threes. As usual, some were decent shots with no one in their faces (a la Mickael Pietrus in the corner); a lot of times there was a defender in their face forcing them into a fadeaway three (see Stephen Jackson). But when the Warriors are hot, there's really no point in stopping their rhythm. But luckily and surprisingly, a few players not named Monta Ellis instead looked to attack a defense that quite possibly is worse than the Warriors. During a stretch in the 4th, Baron Davis went straight to the left side of the hoop 3-4 times in a row, getting two 'and-1s' along the way. AL looked like AI, having shook Tim Thomas on multiple occasions. After forcing the Clippers into long jumpers, the Warriors looked to outlet instantly tossing hail marys to Ellis on the break, getting to the opposite end of the court in less than 3 seconds. Biedrins was wheeling and dealing, flashing to soft spots within the Clippers defense for easy buckets. How hilarious is it that Biedrins has also become the Warriors most reliable free-throw shooter. As you can see, it was truly Warriors basketball.
Of course, that's only on the offensive end. "Warriors ball" on defense is difficult to watch. The Warriors made the Clippers look like the Warriors at times, particularly in the second quarter when Cuttino Mobley, doing his best Stephen Jackson impression, would spot up for pull-up threes on the break. The NBA player I despise the most, Tim Thomas, a Warrior killer and -- not to forget -- BUST in most scouting circles -- looked like he was worth every bit of that mid-level exception, draining several threes early on but became a non-factor afterwards. Facing a far inferior team than anyone in the top 8 in their conference, the Warriors looked more intent on working on out-scoring their opponents than necessarily trying to stop them.
Case in point? After conceding that there has been no one to go to on the bench, Nelson throws in Belinelli for a major portion of the 2nd quarter along with Monta Ellis, Pietrus, Austin Croshere, AND Kelenna Azuibuke. Either the Clippers are that bad that he trusts those 5 out to be there together or he was that desperate to get our starters some rest. Probably both. Though struggling on defense, like the rest of the Warriors, Belinelli showed the crowd some reasons why the Warriors drafted him in the mid first round. Belinelli definitely wasn't shy about letting it fly and in his first shot attempt, tried to flush it down, cocking his arm back.
Stephen Jackson in need of a break
Heck, even POB got into the action, albeit briefly, and responded with an alleyoop dunk from Baron Davis, where referee Bill Kennedy is seen mouthing "Nice pass!" in the replays. Azubuike played sparingly and looked only to score and failing somewhat going 1-7 with several flat jumpers and forced drives to the hoop. It was not a pretty site. Oddly, there was no Brandan Wright in this game, but I can't really imagine him doing much, trying to match up with anyone on the Clippers front court...even Tim Thomas.
The only consistency off the bench, but even the Warrior Girls are struggling this year.
But its evident late in the season that the Warriors absolutely need their bench players to step up. But the paradox arises. How do you develop players in the game when every game or rather.. every minute matters? Can you afford to sit Baron Davis for 10 minutes during the game? Or Stephen Jackson? No, but Nelson realizes he'll probably have to in order to keep them as fresh as possible down the stretch. You could blame Nelson for not working these players in earlier, a move he conceded he should have done earlier in the season. But is now necessarily the best time? Aside from Pietrus, the Warriors got spotty minutes from 4 other players, none playing more than 10 minutes. Barnes didn't even get off the bench to sport his playoff-un hair do.
Well, these are things we already know. If we're to dwell on anything, it would have to be the development of Monta Ellis. Ellis had an 'off-night' in terms of scoring, but has begun to develop into a more complete player and a savvier one at that. One of the things that I've dogged Monta for since last year was his surprisingly underdeveloped handles and ability to finish. I was tired of seeing Monta lose the ball driving left. I was infinitely more frustrated by the minimum of 3 charge calls against him as he would drive straight into a defender, unable to finesse his way through defenses. I was beginning to think there was nothing different between him and someone like Daquan Cook of the Miami Heat.
But as we've seen since the all-star break, Monta has not only cut down on the charge calls, looked to distribute, and also greatly improved some parts of his defense (that is, getting within the passing lanes for steals). One of the most exciting things to see was Monta's ability to avoid blocks driving into the lane. On a few sequences, Monta anticipated Elton Brand to block the shot and instead flipped the ball up in mid-stride rather than during an elevation, which Brand probably didn't expected. This was something we wouldn't have seen several months ago. Monta's ability to read defenses has improved as seen by his control within the lane, finding open Warriors within the cracks between defenders. His anticipation on defense has also been tremendous as shown by his 3.2 steal average in the last five games has shown (2.4 steals in the month of April alone). His development in the last few months has been phenomenal and you have to give it up to the Warriors coaches, for once, for actually transforming a player's game.
The Warrior Wonder goes to Baron Davis! Statistics aside, he pretty much took over the game in the 4th and punished whoever was defending him.
Photos courtesy of Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images