Someone tweeted last night that the Warriors-Suns game would be the JV game compared to the LeBron homecoming. I was really, really hoping the Dubs would prove him wrong ahead of the next national broadcast (Xmas!), but in the end, he was right.
Youthful mistakes and Jason Richardson's usual home-away-from-home performance with 25 points (24.3 ppg at the Oracle!) including the clinching baseline fadeaway swish, as the shotclock buzzer sounded, gave the Warriors another spanking. Not the best way to leave home on a roadtrip that will include visits to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Dallas Mavericks, the San Antonio Spurs, then back home for the Miami Heat, followed by one more away at the Utah Jazz. *Gulp*
The final six-point deficit masked the myriad of youthful and frustrating-to-watch inconsistency of the Warriors. Things got off to an auspicious start as J-Rich and Grant Hill combined to go 6-for-8 from the field for 13 points while Monta Ellis and Dorell Wright had just 3 points on 1-for-6. In the first 9-10 minutes, Steve Nash had 8 assists and Phoenix had 10 assists on their 12 made buckets. Phoenix was also shooting a hot 70.6% from the floor.
Then, Stephen Curry went down, scratched in both eyes by Earl Barron (who was a starting roster replacement for the left-knee-injured Robin Lopez last week). With saline streamed into the eyes, Steph would later return.
At the end of the first quarter, the Warriors were down 31-20. The Suns scored 11 off the Warriors' 5 turnovers. David Lee had 8 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and Monta had 5 points. But the Warriors were shooting 9-for-23 compared to Phoenix at 13-for-21. J-Rich and Hill combined for 22 points on 10-for-13.
In the 2nd, the Warriors cut the deficit to 38-34 with 5:39 remaining in the first half, as Monta started to heat up with 11 points. Steph tallied 6 assists. But then the Suns started taking advantage of the height mismatches, and Josh Childress got a backdoor lob for an alley oop dunk from Nash.
At the half, the Warriors found themselves down by 5, 54-49, outrebounded 23 to 18, outshot 56.1% to 43.8%, and getting beat 14-5 on fastbreak points.
In the 3rd, Monta continued his assault, starting the period 4-for-4. With 4:25 to go in the quarter, he drove hard baseline right and dished to Biedrins for an easy two to tie the game. After the timeout, the Suns focused on hitting J-Rich in the post on the smaller Monta. The first was a difficult fade that J-Rich converted, the next was an assist to Hedo Turkoglu for an open three-pointer.
At the end of three, it was Suns 75, Warriors 72. Monta keyed a 9-0 run and ended the quarter with a total of 29 points on 13-for-23. Wright was playing decently with 7 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists. Lee tallied 18 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, but Curry only had 5 points on 2-for-8 from the field, to go along with 7 assists. Nash had 9 points, 4 rebounds, 15 assists (!), J-Rich 23 points, and Hill 18 points.
In the last frame, the Warriors went into small ball mode. So did the Suns. It started with Goran Dragic taking Jeremy Lin with 5 points and 2 assists, but Lin finally got Dragic with a strip while defending Dragic's left-side attack.
While Nash was on the bench, the Suns increased their lead to 11, but Reggie Williams came off the Warrior bench and contributed 8 points, with a trey that cut the Suns lead to 93-86 with 5:35 remaining in the game. At this point, Monta had collected 38 points, and Lee 20 points and 6 rebounds.
Down the stretch, every door the Warriors opened was slammed shut by the Suns. And sometimes by the Warriors. A trey by Rodney Carney that cut the Suns lead to 4 was met with a smooth jumper, preceded by a fake pass, by Hill. Then Hedo missed a wide open trey that would've been a nail in the coffin and Dorell hit a trey corner pocket. With the Warriors down only 3, on defense Monta made a big-time sell (read: exaggerated flop) on a post-up by Channing Frye.
But down 5 and approaching 2 minutes to go, on a high pick-and-roll with Lee, Monta turned it over on a pass to himself that was meant to be a little dink to Lee then handoff back to Monta, except Lee wasn't expecting it.
It was only fitting that J-Rich would then hit a fadeaway baseline for a swish with the shotclock buzzer sounding. That put the Suns up 101-96 with 1:03 to go, and the Warriors couldn't break the two-possession barrier and late fouls only resulted in more Suns points.
Monta ended with 38 points, but was overshadowed by J-Rich's 25, Hill's 24, and Nash's 16 assists.
Near the end, TNT revealed that the Warriors were 1-7 in their last 8 meetings against the Suns, to which Fratello added that it's actually not a surprise given the similar styles of play, in that the Suns are capable of scoring a lot of points to keep up with the Warriors.
I also think that the absence of Lopez helped the Suns. Sometimes the Warriors can turn a big post-up man into a slow plodding ball-and-chain. No such extra weight for the Suns on this night.
The Warriors rarely make it on national TV, so I was curious to see what the TNT team would say about the Warriors. Here were some tidbits:
- Mike Fratello (paraphrased): "If you haven't seen Monta Ellis much, he's small but can score 40."
- Fratello (paraphrased): "Monta Ellis with springs on a 7-footer coming to help", when Monta made a beautiful drive-and-extension for scoop layup and-one.
- Fratello: "Nash says, 'You have to stay in front of me, not behind me,'" in regards to a move Nash did on Lin where he used his body to shield Lin away to the side on a drive into the lane.
- Kevin Harlan on Monta: "Ooooh hoho... This kid gives you one jaw-dropping move after the other!"
All in all, the Warriors didn't do much tonight to improve their respect level on the national scene. Monta reinforced his, though.
Coming off the bench
It's not that as a bench player, you can't make mistakes. It's that you're making the mistakes right after coming off that bench.
- Lin getting bodied out on a drive by Nash. You can't be taken to school and shown up like that. Son, foul him. On the flipside, great move by Nash.
- Charlie Bell coming in, fumbling a pass after a nice Curry steal, finding himself left open from ten feet baseline on the play and barely drawing front rim on the jumper.
I'd say Adrien had a pretty okay game. He had a nice boxout and I really like the fact he leveled a Suns player using his buttocks on a nice Lee drive for two. Adrien even had an almost-and-one. It just wasn't in the cards for him tonight when the Warriors were down and Biedrins went out. The Dubs needed points to catch up.
And Reggie was, well, Reggie. You can't really tell how he's feeling since he doesn't really wear any emotions, not getting too high or low.
But as far as the saying "that spark off the bench" goes, the Warriors are still looking for one.
Young team making youthful mistakes
There are so many examples:
- Curry with a nice right-handed move on Nash for the banker, then the next possession Steph airballs a straightaway trey with a hand in his face.
- Dorell trying to "be like Wade" with that pump-fake-draw-contact and hope for a call to get to the line. Note to Dorell: you have neither the pedigree with the refs nor the hang time to pull that Dwyane Wade stunt off. I wouldn't be upset about it, except I keep seeing it being attempted by Wright without success.
- Monta gets a super crossover for a bucket, then next sequence for the Suns, gambles badly on an entry pass to J-Rich, who dunks it reverse.
- Hill hits a jumper in Dorell's eye. Dorell comes down, feels that he must answer the challenge, and misses.
- A simple pass up top from Monta to Steph sails out of bounds. That just should not be happening by now.
- After Curry picks Nash up top for a Dorell breakaway layup, Curry travels after calling a high pick with Lee, who didn't roll and kind of left Curry on his own.
- Childress gets a backdoor uncontested layup after Monta gets caught on the screen at the curl. Monta comes back with a bucket, but Dragic hits a trey with Lin going under the pick.
- Lee gets a nice right-handed scoop from a pick-and-roll, but Dragic responds with his own strong layup. Then Curry makes a bad pass and Jared Dudley gets a runout layup and-one, fouled by Curry.
- Reggie and Dorell getting creamed on a back-to-back series of picks that ends up with Dudley fouled in the paint.
- Carney hits a trey, but Hill responds with his veteran swish. But then Lee sets a bad screen on Hill and it's an offensive foul for a turnover.
- Monta's aforementioned botched pick-and-roll for handoff with Lee.
- With the shotclock winding down late in the game after J-Rich's nail-in-the-coffin swish baseline, Dorell makes a great deflection on a pass, which Hill corrals, but then Dorell inexplicably hacks Hill on a shot he was basically just about to throw up amongst a crowd of people to beat the shotclock.
The Warriors were also chided on-air by Harlan and Fratello for their inexperience in dealing with adversity after a late foul by Monta. Monta had reached in and missed on a steal attempt from up top to down low to Frye, with Nash pursuing the loose ball. Nash fell and sold a call on Monta, and Monta, who did foul him, was visibly upset, to put it mildly. I don't know, I would like to see more composure. I mean, that was a pretty heroic play just getting Frye to lose the handle. You hustled your butt off, but that was a foul. Good play, keep it up. Focus your energy toward the next play and you'll earn the respect of the refs in the long run.
The good news is, the Warriors are talented and athletic enough that they're able to make it respectable. Oh, and having Monta's a good thing too. And maybe Lee is just finding his groove again. Plus, Lou Amundson's return is around the corner.
So, it's quite simple. With all of these mistakes, it's hard to put a string of good offensive and defensive possessions together.
By the way... (Twitter!)
If you're wondering how I did this recap, especially pointing out all the mistakes above, it was via Twitter. I was basically taking notes on my @nbalivetweet account, and I got a lot of help from the tweets from Marcus Thompson @gswscribe and Geoff Lepper @geofflepper. I'll do that every now and then for various games I happen to be watching. You can also catch my hoop rants and referrals to good basketball articles or discussion on my non-NBA-game-stream account, @poormanscommish.