Inspiring wins have been hard to come by the Warriors in 2013. Given how a lot of these games have looked and felt, February and March haven't given fans that here-we-come playoffs feeling. Instead, the team has often felt like it was in free-fall. Rather than looking forward to giving the business to tough opponents, fans have been relegated to watching the Utah and Laker scoreboards while wondering how many games the team can lose and still make the playoffs.
Even the exciting wins have somehow been less than they should have been. Beat playoff-bound New York? Why did it feel like the Knickerbockers could barely be bothered to care?
So in a game like this, nobody got really excited about the Warriors jumping out to a quick lead. We've been there before. Everybody knew Detroit would make a run, and of course they did, pulling the game even at the midpoint.
A lot went into that mini-collapse. (And it was only a mini-collapse. It doesn't rank as a top-10 or even top-20 collapse for the Warriors this season). Klay Thompson stopped taking stupid shots and making stupid turnovers, but suddenly found it impossible to get the ball in the basket. Good look, space, feet square ... klank.
And then there was Mark Jackson's frustrating habit of wholescale substitutions. The guy seems obsessed with running "units" out there. Overall this was not a game where his in-game decisions made a whole bunch of sense. The starting unit was playing great together, and Barnes was showing a real awareness off the ball, getting him easy looks ... so Jackson sits the whole unit. And when he brings them back, he goes small ... so Barnes sits until the third quarter.
And then it seemed like Jackson was so scarred by the experience of the second unit struggling that he refused to go back to his bench in even a more reasonable way Curry and Klay both played over 42 minutes, and Lee played 37. Bogut was clearly gassed playing 32.
But it doesn't have to be that difficult! He could have run Ezeli for a few more minutes with the starters to give Bogut a little more air. And what about Landry? Why on earth did he only get 11 minutes? (In a postgame interview a few games back, Landry was saying all the right things, but he sure didn't sound like a guy who was happy with his minutes to me). Landry is the one consistent low-post, pound-it-in-there scorer we have, just the sort of guy you want when protecting a lead, so why play him so little?
Make no mistake: over the course of a season, those extra minutes add up. It's tough to sit a player when you have a chance to win a game, but the solution is not to run your starters into the ground night after night.
I'm trying to remain optimistic about Jackson as a coach. After all, Doc Rivers often has his name thrown around now as one of the guys who "gets it" but it took him four or five season to figure out how to manage his rotations and call timeouts at the right time. There's a learning curve for being a coach - balancing when to pull a player who's struggling vs when to let him play through it - that he's still figuring out. But the simple truth is that this game demonstrated that he's not there yet.
And while I generally find many GSOMer's anti-Draymond and anti-Klay attitudes too simplistic (the game is more complicated than "if he shoots a good percentage he's playing well") with the team doing a good job finding Barnes on back cuts, and Detroit clearly struggling to defend them, why not run plays to set that up a dozen times? If something works, run it again.
Warrior wonder? I know some will be clamoring for Barnes here, but his dunks were the result of smart team play. He moved without the ball, but Lee and Curry and Klay (on a particularly nice pass out of a double-team in the post) found him. But there was one guy on the team who was doing it all, and doing it without a lot of help. It's the guy who scored 31 points on 17 shots, and threw in 8 assists for good measure.
Curry didn't play perfectly. We got to see him try two end-of-quarter plays which may have been Mark Jackson's answer to our repeated questions about why Jack handles the ball in those situations. (It's okay. He'll learn to play through them). We saw a return to the lazy-one-handed-pass-TO that has been out of sight most of this season. But in addition to the scoring and the assists, Curry came through big when we needed the shots. He showed an improved ability to split double-teams, and made sure to punish the Pistons when they tried to get the ball out of his hands, consistently finding an open man in space. And for that he's our Warrior wonder.