Almost a game winner.
Everything about this game was almost, but not quite. Coming off a four game slide, and looking ahead to home games against the Heat and Magic before playing four road games in five nights, this was as close to a must win as it gets this early in the season. Unfortunately, in tonight's game for every critical defensive stop there was a blown layup, and for every clutch three there was a turnover. When it was all said and done the lack of execution left the Warriors one point shy of the win. Hit the jump to take a closer look.
All Eyes on Monta
You could see from the start of the game that nothing was going to come easy for Monta. The Jazz were playing him very aggressively, forcing him baseline and trapping on the pick and roll, and collapsing hard on his drives. Raja Bell was playing him very physically, and things got chippy between the two by the second quarter. This made for a long night for Monta. He ended up shooting 8 of 22, and turning the ball over six times. But Monta stayed aggressive in his own right, and was able to find his way to the free throw line 17 times.
I can understand the pressure Monta is under offensively with Curry being out, but he took the ball into trouble and left his feet without a plan far too many times for my taste. His 32 points and 6 assists were fools gold. The Warriors need to find a way to keep the ball moving and get everyone involved when Monta is in there. Sometimes the line between being persistent/aggressive, and being stubborn/hardheaded is a fine one. Tonight that line just might have been one bucket, because if the Warriors win this game I might have a different outlook on Monta's performance.
The Point Guard Spot
I'm not going to argue that Nate Robinson is a great, or even a good player, but with Curry out he is welcome sight on this roster. This team was in desperate need of another willing and capable scorer in the backcourt, and he has answered the call in that department. You know you're going to get double digit scoring off the bench from him, but tonight he did well to create for others with five assists, and he also made an impact with two key offensive rebounds. It's going to be a very long season if we have to consistently rely on Nate, but for the time being his energy and attitude have had a positive effect.
On the other end of the spectrum you have Charles Jenkins. He did nothing to impress me tonight. He was entirely passive from the PG position and spent all his minutes completely deferring to Monta. He just doesn't run the show when he's on the floor, and he doesn't find other ways to contribute. He basically disappeared on the court for his stretches in the 1st and 3rd. I may be wrong, but I think he has more talent than he's shown us so far. Having said that, if he doesn't show signs of life soon he needs to be planted firmly on the bench next to Ish Smith while Riley goes PG shopping.
An Effective Zone
The Jazz were doing a pretty good job getting the ball inside to Jefferson and Millsap early on, but in the second quarter the Warriors made a move on defense that completely changed the tone of the game. They went into a 2-3 zone, and they did a great job of overloading the strong side to deny any post entry passes or penetration. The two high guards would split the duty of guarding the ball at the top, but as soon as the ball would swing to one side of the floor the whole zone would shift hard, bringing at least three defenders (the guard on that side at the elbow extended, the forward on that side from the baseline, and the center from in the paint) into play on any attempt at getting the ball inside.
The 2-3 is typically a good tool for shutting down an inside game, but can leave you exposed on the perimeter, especially if you can get the ball from side to side with a drive and kick (from one wing penetrating to the FT line and kicking out to the other wing for instance) or quick, crisp ball rotation. Tonight, however, the Jazz weren't able to make the Warriors pay from outside, shooting only 25% on their 16 3pt attempts. It was the right tool to use at the right time. It was a shame to see them go away from it in the third for so long, but it seems to be conventional wisdom in the NBA that zones are for use in end of half, or end of quarter situations. The defense was still strong in the third, so I shouldn't complain too much, but I'd like to make them come up with a solution before abandoning something that was working so effectively. The important part is that they went back to it multiple times, and it got the job done.
All in all, it was another good defensive effort, as they held the Jazz to 39.5% shooting on the night. It would have been nice to see them create a few more turnovers, but the Jazz stayed true to form as they took very good care of the ball tonight.
Which Miss Hurts Most?
It's far too easy after a game like this one to focus entirely on the last possession. I've had to fight the impulse to bring it up until now. Everyone who reads my recaps regularly knows how I feel about how every team in the NBA seems to think that isolation is the only play in the playbook when there is less than 24 seconds on the game clock. So, to avoid any possible eye rolling or claims of dead horse abuse, I'll limit my critique to the simple fact that if Monta is going to "do Monta" on that play, he has to go two or three seconds earlier, that way David Lee's game winning tip-in would have actually won the game.
Now that we have that out of the way, I can't believe how many easy plays the Dubs blew tonight. There were more flubbed fast breaks, and point blank misses than I care to detail, but any one of those many missed opportunities could have changed the outcome of this game. The defense gave this team every chance to win tonight, and they literally let it slip through their hands, again and again.
There has been a lot of talk about how much effect Lee's rebounding has on the success of the team. He's been called and empty rebounder, and some have gone so far as to say that he only grabs the easy ones and none of the hard ones (I'm looking at you Gov). I'm not going to make a grand judgment on Lee and his rebounding, but I'll say that tonight he fought hard on the defensive glass, and he wrestled 15 boards away from the likes of Jefferson, Millsap, Favors, and Kanter. If those aren't hard rebounds, then I don't know what are, and tonight they definitely made an impact. So for putting the done stamp on 14 effective defensive possessions, and chipping in 13 points on 50% shooting Lee gets to take home this prestigious award. I'm sure he can sleep well knowing that he's tonight's Warriors Wonder.