One game after Canis Hoopus, the SB Nation Wolves blogger, disgustedly began his recap in the third quarter, I was tempted to begin mine in the first. Because this game was over the moment Private Stephen Jackson set foot on the court. Gone was the player who got 15 assists in the Wolves game looking to get his teammates involved. In his place was the Stephen Jackson that drives Warriors fans batty, the Jackson who pounds the ball interminably before hoisting long jumpers, and who takes the ball to trouble.
Even more disturbing was Jack's defense. When I saw him give a matador Ole to TJ Ford on a drive to the basket, I sensed something was up. Nellie gave him a quick hook after 6 minutes, and left him on the bench the rest of the half. And that finished the Warriors. They were already being forced to double-team Roy Hibbert in the paint, leaving open threes for the Pacers' perimeter players. When Danny Granger became unguardable as well, this game was hopeless.
Jack did return in the second half, and did play better, looking to set up his teammates, but by that point the damage had been done. When the Pacers relaxed in the fourth quarter and let the Warriors' second unit close the gap to single digits, Nellie brought Monta back but left Jack planted on the pine. Granger went for 31 points and 16 rebounds in a game that was never really close.
I have been one of Jack's more vocal defenders over the years. Less so this year, of course, but even this year I felt he was still making positive contributions on the court. Until this game. This is the first game I've seen where Jack simply didn't show up. Don Nelson actually stood up for him after the game, stating that he had a back injury, and that he wasn't able to move well as a result. Hmm... would that be a Harringtoniliac strain or a slipped Harringtonisc, Don? I have a feeling the Bay Area sportswriters are going to be probing Jack's sore back with sharp pens.
There are of course a few more things to blame for this loss:
No Biedrins, no Turiaf: Obviously, the Warriors got killed on the boards tonight, 57-42. But their problems at center went deeper than that. The biggest benefit to the Warriors of their front-line centers is their ability to match up man-to-man with their opponents on defense. Anthony Randolph had a terrific game overall, but both he and Mikki Moore needed help from double-teams to contain Roy Hibbert. That left Pacers' shooters Brandon Rush, Earl Watson and Granger wide open for threes.
Monta Ellis at point guard: Ellis shares responsibililty with Jackson for the Warriors' terrible ball movement in the first quarter. One game after the Warriors had great success sharing the ball, he came out looking for his own shot, to the exclusion of his teammates. Two very telling points: Anthony Morrow, who started alongside Ellis in the backcourt, got a total of 2 shots in the first half. And when Anthony Randolph came into the game, Don Nelson ran a pick and roll for him to get him started. But Monta elected to shoot, rather than pass. I thought that was a terrible decision, and emblematic of Monta's play at the point so far this season. Monta needs to look to get his teammates involved each and every game. All the more so, because...
Monta Ellis is not Monta Ellis anymore: Not in my opinion. He has been body-snatched by a very slow pod-person. The Monta Ellis we are seeing now appears unable to beat his man off the dribble. The evidence of this was everywhere tonight. He attempted very few drives out of half court sets, and I'm pretty sure he didn't complete any. The Warriors ran end of the quarter isolations for him twice, and he couldn't beat his man either time. He got picked clean at least once at the start of his move. He also picked up an offensive foul... on his first step. Does that happen to guards with quick first steps? He got to the line only once, and had his shot blocked twice. After one of those blocks, Jim Barnett said, "That was a play that Monta thought he could finish, and the Warriors' bench expected him to finish." Is that Barnett-speak for Monta isn't Monta anymore? Monta did give a strong effort this game. He played good defense, and rebounded well. And his jumper dropped a few times, which is a positive step. But it's not enough. For the Warriors to be a winning team, Monta Ellis needs to be a star. So far this season, he doesn't appear to be one. Not anymore.
Anthony Morrow and Kelenna Azubuike couldn't hit a shot. Combined they shot 4-17, and 1-6 from three. A lot of this has to do with the fact that Ellis and Jackson weren't looking for them. Some of it has to do with the Pacers' defense, which was quite good. But they missed a lot of open looks as well.
Stephen Curry is struggling. I expected Curry to play well this game. I thought coming off the bench would give him more opportunities to create both for himself and his teammates, as we saw in the preseason. But for whatever reason, Curry is playing poorly and seems to have lost his confidence.
The Pacers' defense. OK, after finding six reasons why the Warriors lost this game, I'm now willing to give the Pacers some credit. By virtue of a complete accident, namely the injuries to Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy, as well as the freak back injury to TJ Ford (on a shot fake) in this game, the Pacers are actually a very good defensive team. Nothing came easy for the Warriors tonight. The Pacers' frontline of Hibbert, Granger and defensive-stopper Dahntay Jones played great defense, blocking 8 shots, and destroyed the Warriors on the boards. And their backcourt of Watson and Rush did a great job keeping our guards out of the lane. The Pacers have now won three straight, and their defensive chemistry has played a large part in that. In their two previous games, they held the Knicks to 89 in New York, and then held the Wizards to 86 at home.
Anything positive to take away from this game? I find two things: the play of Corey Maggette and Anthony Randolph.
Corey Maggette: After a sour start to the season, during which he too often settled for his jumper, Maggette has really grown into his role. In this game, he immediately drove the lane and got Hibbert out of the game with his second foul. He kept at it, getting three quick fouls on Tyler Hansbrough. His jumper is also starting to fall, largely because Nellie is getting him shots closer to the basket by running him around screens. And he's really competing at power forward at the defensive end. He won the physical battle with the bigger Hansbrough, and finished with 6 rebounds in 22 minutes. Maggette is not very popular with the fans, but in my mind he is a winning basketball player in the role Don Nelson has designed for him. He is the least of the Warriors' problems.
Anthony Randolph: Defensively, Randolph was overpowered by Roy Hibbert, and required help guarding him. But he managed to give Hibbert some problems as well, and severely outplayed Hibbert's backup Solomon Jones, which is what Nellie is looking for him to do off the bench. Randolph was active on defense and on the boards, picking up 13 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocked shots in 31 minutes. On offense, the Warriors went away from the pick and roll plays that were successful for Randolph in the last game. Instead, they set up simple isolation plays for him, where he could face up and use the triple-threat position against his opponent. He perhaps settled too often for the jump shot, but he hit a decent percentage of them, which was nice to see. Nellie indicated after the game that he has confidence in Randolph's 16 foot jumper, and expects him to use it against opposing centers. It is nice to see Randolph getting his confidence back and expanding his offensive repertoire after his slow start to the season. But what I really love about Randolph is his heart. His fearlessness, his will to compete, his ferocious edge. We saw it frequently at the end of last season, and it was on display again tonight. Particularly in his fourth quarter confrontation with Danny Granger. While fighting for a rebound, Randolph delivered a friendly elbow to Granger's face. Granger came at him, and Randolph met him chest to chest. The end result was a Granger shove and a double technical. Watching all of this with delight, I was moved to invent a new defensive statistic for Anthony Randolph: The Melted Brain. Randolph picked up two Melted Brains as a 19 year old last year, one each from Lamar Odom and Tyrus Thomas, both of whom he forced off the floor after technical fouls. He picked up his first MB of the season tonight. I don't think it will be his last.
This kind of heart is one of the things that has made Stephen Jackson so invaluable to the Warriors in the past. It is inspiring. But now that Private Jackson has a foot and three toes out the door, the Warriors are desperately lacking for it. Its good to know that they have at least one player on the roster who is willing to step into that void.
This FanPost is a submission from a member of the mighty Golden State of Mind community. While we're all here to throw up that W, these words do not necessarily reflect the views of the GSoM Crew. Still, chances are the preceding post is Unstoppable Baby!