OAKLAND CA - DECEMBER 20: Monta Ellis #8 of the Golden State Warriors reacts as anyone would when his brilliant night went to waste.
Monta Ellis's 1st shot of the night connected for long 2 (more or less the the same shot that would have meant victory vs. Portland). It was not a fluke. In the season opener, he torched the Rockets for 46. His 44 this time was every bit as impressive. If the Warriors hosted Houston 82 times a year, there would be no doubt that Monta Ellis would find his way into the All-Star game. Before the game, Barnett claimed Monta had become a "legitimate 3 point shooter". And while the 35.5% (almost exactly the league average from a year ago) is still rather pedestrian, this time the comment served as more of a premonition of what would happen than an accurate representation of what had happened. It was one of those nights where he would not miss.
If only his teammates could duplicate their performance from a month and a half ago.
But alas, this was not the norm. Far fewer Warriors showed up tonight.
Certainly David Lee's 19 points on 8 of 11 shooting was far closer to the player we thought we were acquiring in the off season than the player who has been underwhelming so far. Lee's first couple of 'jumpers' looked flat. Not Andris Biedrins FT flat, but the sort of flat line drive that misses more often than not. His first pair of launches did not have Barnett-like prescience. He settled down, taking and making the high percentage shots. But this was not enough. It's a 5 on 5 game.
In fairness, this is not the same team we saw on opening night. Where on opening night the Warriors secured the lion's share of available rebounds, tonight, this was far from the case. Where on opening night the epic game by Monta made a superb performance by Stephen Curry, tonight the Warriors' back court was a one man show. Fitz once commented that the team should "get it to Monta Ellis every time down" while others continued to shoot and miss. Barnett disputed what is usually a flawed strategy, one designed to allow the defense to ignore 4 players. But on a night like this, it hardly seemed like there was much to be gained by allowing Williams, Dorell Wright, Lin, Carney and Law to lay more bricks. This team isn't filled with defensive stoppers. It's a five on five game, and most of the time, at least 3 Warriors were simply not playing well enough to win.
Andris Biedrins' rebounding skills were missed. The Rockets owned the boards, making most Warrior misses turn into lost possessions while seeming to secure almost every miss of their own for a second look at the basket. Ekpe Udoh and Louis Amundson, both unavailable in the opener, have since returned and made up for Andris' absence on the glass. But almost falls short. The Warriors front court rotation of Lee, Amundson, Udoh and Radmanovic managed 25 rebounds in 85 minutes was four shy of the 29 that the Rockets bigs managed in more or less equal minutes, while the Warriors wings fell 6 short of their counterparts. The shared culpability for missing loose balls made it an uphill battle for a team that, as has been noted many times before, is not filled with defensive stoppers.
Perhaps some of that will change. If there was a bright side other than Monta and Lee, Udoh showed some of the defensive skills he was reported to have when drafted. His three blocks were the result of the superior timing that indicates that it should be a strength of his game. Especially encouraging was the first of the trio, a 'weak hand' rejection that was only possible due to solid balance and control of his body to make contact after the shot was released without being called for contact.
But one player off the bench is not going to turn this around. Until Curry and Biedrins return, this team will need unbelievable nights by Monta to stay in it. And even then it may not be enough.