After a grueling game against the New Orleans Hornets, David Lee's ankle hurting, Stephen Curry's ankle still gimpy, and Chris Paul's Clippers coming to town, things didn't seem to be on the rise. Especially given their recent struggles—five loss in past eight games—against top-notch competition.
So leave it to Mark Jackson and the resilient Golden State Warriors to not only compete, but to come back from a late deficit to win the game. Win. Not steal, like they did against teams earlier in the season when they hung around until the end. The Dubs stayed in the game, took the lead, lost it, then turned it up a notch and left the Clippers shaking their heads in the rear-view mirror. When Draymond Green and Richard Jefferson are doing things, good basketball things, that's either pure luck or mental toughness. With this team, it's most likely the latter.
The Warriors starting five played just well enough for three-and-a-half quarters while the bench outplayed the vaunted Clippers' bench in the first half. Granted, Chris Paul was limping around at the end of the game but it wasn't like Curry and Lee were playing at 100 percent, either. The resiliency to come back after a Clipper 12-0 flourish to end the third quarter was not only impressive, but perhaps the starting point to another statement run before the All-Star Break and Bogut return.
Is there any doubt?
There could be a case made for Jarrett Jack as it appears he is back from the elbow injury, but Curry's phenomenal play from start to finish with a gimpy ankle was MVP-worthy (if you take Durant and LeBron out the equation). The only blemish was Curry's increasingly annoying habit of reaching in when guards are dribbling aimlessly around the perimeter.
It is easy to point to Curry's threes as the high point of his performance, going 6-8 from the game and 4-4 in the fourth quarter, but his dribble drives towards the bucket was the killer that broke the Clippers back. When Monta Ellis was on the team, there were plenty of drives but they were mostly to score first and pass later. Even though Curry is shooting below his career averages, especially from inside the arc, he is regaining some of his confidence driving into the lane. He looks to still be a little off on his layups, be it his ankle or just bad timing, but his passes off the drive have been on point. Near the end of the game he was able to drive through the lane and dish to a wide-open Landry to put the Dubs up 96-95.
Now if that ankle could just keep holding up...
1. Richard Jefferson, anyone? Who would have thought that? After his otherworldly reverse dunk against New Orleans, he earned more playing time in the first half and proceeded to lead a weird five-man unit in the second quarter that destroyed the Clippers. Not sure when Mark Jackson started to tinker with his bench units or why, but his five of Jefferson, Green, Jack, Landry, and Biedrins/Barnes brought loads of energy that helped stake the Dubs to a lead in the early second quarter.
Jefferson had a block and then a fastbreak and-one. Green also hit a three before that. It was like Bruce Bochy in the postseason; whatever moves he made turned to gold.
2. Keeping along with the theme of excellent coaching, Jackson left Lee and Curry in several times when they had four fouls each and five fouls for Lee. Total trust with the two best players on the team. Neither fouled out and Lee managed to battle through a bad ankle, grabbing 11 boards and dishing out six dimes.
It may seem elementary to trust your two best players to stay back and allow a defender to get by them if they got too close to contact—insert David Lee on defense joke here—but we see again and again coaches who take their players out too early. It often happens in college basketball when a star player draws two quick fouls the first five minutes of a game and sits the remainder of the half. Granted, the college game is different from the NBA, with six fouls and whatnot, but a level of trust has to be granted to players, especially the star player in most circumstances. It doesn't hurt that Lee and Curry are two of the smartest players on the team.
The Mark Jackson Coach of the Year performance goes on.
3. The bread-and-butter of the second unit, or closing unit, has become the eight-figure shaped routes Curry and Klay run, in hopes of getting an open shot and then split into a pick-and-roll if no one is open. Also known as the game-winning play against the Miami Heat.
Jack starts by dribbling up top while waiting for either Klay or Curry to curl off one screen or the next, and if neither is open, he goes into an immediate pick-and-roll with Landry. However, there were several times down the stretch that the Clippers were able to defend the play because they knew it was coming, again and again. Well, except for the fact that Curry cinched the game with a three off that play—thanks Jamal Crawford "defense". The play is nearly unguardable and its slip-screen, pick-and-pop, and backdoor options are lethal, but there can always be a variation given to the play because of its predictability.
Starting with a side pick-and-roll with Jack and Landry while still running the same double screens on the other side could be an option. This isn't to say that the Dubs need to scrap the play from their repertoire, but the more ways they can utilize the many weapons they have in crunch time would expand the already-limitless offensive potential of the Dubs.
4. Speaking of limitless potential, there is Harrison Barnes again, playing only 16 minutes. In comparison, Green and Jefferson each played 12 minutes. While they've played well, I don't think anyone wants Barnes' development stunted by a couple good weeks or a month of good play from Jefferson. Now it isn't up to Jackson to actively seek out Barnes playing time if he isn't playing well but that's the rub, Barnes has played well in the limited minutes he's gotten.
After another game of solid defense, much-improved three-point shooting, and a diversifying post-game, there simply needs to be more burn for the rookie of North Carolina.
Harrison Barnes hit the sweet spot on his usg-eff curve tonight: 15.6% USG, 112% TS.— Evan Zamir (@thecity2) January 22, 2013
That usage percentage is nearly 10 percent less than that of the 38.1 percent shooting of Dion Waiters. Moar Barnes, please.
5. I think that Stephen Curry pass deserved a post in itself. Just the way he curled it around Blake's legs, then Jack's fin—ahh I'm going to let it speak for itself.
Not sure whether Fitz has stopped screaming yet.
That shimmy into a high-five is becoming classic St3ph3n Curry...until he hit the clinching three and hop-stepped his way back to the bench. Undisputedly Warriors' best player and leader.
Center Andrew Bogut (left ankle) ran sprints at full tilt during the Warriors' pregame warm-ups.— Rusty Simmons (@Rusty_SFChron) January 21, 2013
RUNNING. SPRINTS. THINGS TILTING. BOGUT. PRE-GAME. INTACT ANKLES. FEAFGBEABAFODSBVFSIBV.
All-Star Break is between 2/12 and 2/19 and my expert doctoral insider analysis tells me he's targeting that date for his return. Needless to say, he would present a huge boost to their defense. No more gimmicky 1-2-2 zones in the middle of a close game. Yes, Crawford hit a three off that defensive sequence in this one too.
I know I bring it up a lot but a five-some of Curry, Klay, Barnes/Jack, Lee, and Bogut would be very formidable.