It is time to confront our fears.
A year ago the Warriors opened at home against the Rockets, losing a close game where they faded down the stretch. All who have been more than a fair-weather fan had to be nervous that their psychotic visions of success fade once real games begin in late October. We fear the regular season because the regular season tends to bring about a reality of losing, of failure, of hopelessness.
Tonight the new look Warriors closed out a close game, an exciting high scoring affair where opportunities to fold presented themselves and were summarily rebuked.
Warriors 132-126. It is time to conquer our fears.
The fear: Once again, the Warriors would get pushed around, inside, finding themselves over-matched in the frontcourt.
Any fear that Lee and Biedrins would regress into Mikki Moore on the boards, stealing rebounds away from each other rather than complementing each other should be put to rest. Their performance on the glass resulted in a 45-39 advantage over a competent Houston team that held a 9 rebound advantage over the Lakers the night before. While Houston rested Yao Ming against the Warriors, a year ago Houston managed to hold their own on the boards without him. This is a different Warriors team. This team will not get beat by losing out on missed shots night in and night out.
Let's hope that the revelation in the paint is not a phantom performance. No, neither are good individual defenders in the post -- Luis Scola should not score 36 points against competent defenders -- but both are quick and tenacious and their ability to secure possessions goes a long way to make up for that. Eliminating second looks makes it more difficult on an opponent.
Lee has shown offensive skills in his NBA tenure. He will get his points this year and provides a true threat in the paint. He can shoot, he can rebound and he can pass. He will have an athletic advantage over his opposite numbers most nights and out hustle his man even more often. It was what we paid for, what we needed and what we've been rewarded with. More surprising was Biedrins. An injury filled year where, when available, Andris was too timid to have a positive effect made us forget that for several years before, the Warriors were a significantly better team when he played than when he sat. At least for a night, this was once again true.
The new hope: At least for a night, Monta can be the man. He certainly can if he plays like this more often.
Yes, Monta shot the ball 24 times (including a half-court heave at the end of the first half that came rather close to finding the mark), but it was a dramatically different performance from a year ago. All but a few were good shots. He took the ball into the lane when he beat his man, rather than charging blindly at a stacked wall of defenders. Consequently, when he took it to the paint, he did not miss. Neither did he miss often from mid-range. What is characteristically a high risk, low reward investment paid off; more often than not the shots were clean looks coming off solid screens or when teammates identified that his defender had failed to keep up with the lightning quick guard. Kevin Martin cannot handle him and Shane Battier could not close in fast enough when Lee or Biedrins or Dorell Wright are in the way. His two assists were not a problem; most of the time the ball found his hands, he had a look worth taking.
And it appears that this does not silence Curry either. How often is 25 points on 16 shots to go with
12 11 assists overshadowed? Rarely. Those are numbers that get you invited to All-Star games.
Is this a new reality?
No, it's not a championship team, but it felt different. It felt encouraging. That characteristic knowledge that leads would evaporate, that losing was a foregone conclusion regardless of what the scoreboard said after a half, after 3 quarters, after 40+ minutes of player, that feeling just was not there. The team competed. It is not a top defensive squad, but they adjusted at the half and began to take away the easy baskets. (Houston stayed close only by getting to the FT line [by my count] 48,973 times; I expect a few thousand from Martin, but when Scola and Courtney Lee buy property at the stripe, something is amiss.) This team can actually put up a fight and make scoring points against them a challenge. Some of this is better personnel. Dorell Wright and Rodney Carney are improvements over anyone Nellie's squad tossed out at opposing wings last year.
If there was anything to fear, it was the bizarre span in the 1st and 2nd quarter when Lee and Biedrins both sat and Radmanovic did a poor impersonation of a real big man. His 5 minutes on the court were 6 too many. That experiment with "small ball" was awkward and unimpressive and brought back the terror of last year's underwhelming returns. Similarly, with Lee and Biedrins going to the bench shortly after the 11 minute mark in the 4th, Smart experimented with the lineup of Brandan Wright alone in the post with Curry, Bell, Carney and Williams on the wings. It was similarly uninspiring. But it was short lived, short enough to keep things close. Houston pulled within a possession until Lee and Andris returned and Bell sat for a rested Ellis.
Stay healthy guys. At least until someone steps up, Curry hobbling along the sideline is scary. Biedrins picking up his 6th foul any sooner will try nerves. The second squad looks like it could cause bouts of anxiety.
But not fear. We conquer the fear.