With the game hanging in the balance, who got the big buckets? Monta Ellis scored 9 points in the 4th quarter and dished out a critical assist -- one of six for the game -- to Vladimir Radmanovic for a three-pointer that put the score at 109-106, sparking a 10-run with 3:43 remaining that got capped off by Monta's finger roll with 1:57 to go, putting the Warriors up 118-108.
Folks, we have our all-star, whether or not he gets the invite to Los Angeles next month. Let's put any and all trade scenarios to bed. You don't give up a guy like this, and he's only getting better. Hit the jump to see why.
This was also my maiden voyage to the press box and what way to start it off. To make a long story short, the really cool thing about having an "All-Access" pass is that you can see the underworkings of a grand event such as an NBA game unfold.
After I made my way through the North Gate entrance of Oracle Arena and to the table where I picked up my credential, one of the guys who was behind the table walked me to the Media Room, showed me around, and walked me all the way up to Press Row. In the words of Keith Smart regarding Ekpe Udoh, I was too "wide eyed and bushy-tailed" ;-) and I never got a chance to get his name, but thank you sir. It only occurs to me now: how did he know I needed someone to show me around? Well, thank you Raymond Ridder and Dan Martinez if it was you letting them know it was my first time.
Ridder had asked me to show up at 5:45pm (for my own good) and with the traffic, I'd gotten to Oracle Arena by a few minutes past 6:00pm. As the gentleman led me up to the media section, the Los Angeles Clippers had already made their way out to shoot-around. A teenager I passed by yelled, "Hey Blake, I just tweeted you!"
Walking courtside in tow of my guide, I passed by Jim Barnett, the game operations table, and, in the middle of the table, a taped name plate for Brett Yamaguchi. Kristi's brother is a friend of a friend of mine and has been the Warriors' game operations director for eons. Surely he was away somewhere making sure that some nuance of the game was ready to be operated in perfect working order. Hats off to one of the key people behind every Warriors game!
The area where the media sits is located just in front of the luxury suites at Section 102. There's a row of cushioned foldaway seats with a press member's name taped on the table at each seat location, with instructions on how to connect to the wireless Internet. Every three seats or so, there's an LCD monitor that shows the boxscore and the actual video of the game in the lower righthand corner of it. And there's a bunch of power outlets.
No one else was around so I decided to head back to the Media Room. There, I went ahead and bought a meal ticket for seven bucks. I put my laptop bag in the far room where they have a bunch of booths so writers can sit down and write. There were only a few people in there whom I didn't recognize. The food was not bad, although the hot clam chowder was making the paper bowl kind of melt. There was Jaymee Sire having dinner with her crew, and some other various media and game ops personnel. With the Bobcats-Celtics game on the TV screen and Gerald Wallace at the line, one of the CSN guys correctly remarked, "Look at him. He's got shoulders and muscles on those shoulders. Why can't the Warriors get guys like that?"
I had the fortunate circumstance to bump into Ara Vartanian, a Bay Area native whose claim-to-fame is being Paul Millsap's agent. Every big press guy who came through the room, be it Marcus Thompson of the Contra Costa Times or Mark Spears of Yahoo came by and said hello to him. Kinda cool to see the close-knit NBA community in action like that.
We had a nice talk ranging from Blake Griffin, to Elijah Millsap (Paul's brother in the NBDL), to Jeremy Lin, to Daniel Orton, to the impending Lockout next season, to Paul Millsap's gym at his house in Utah (potential workout location during the Lockout). A gentleman with a padfolio embossed with the Spurs logo sat down next to us, but Ara's stories were so engaging that I never got a chance to find out who he was.
Someday I hope to get the full story from Ara on how he became an agent and share that with you, but before heading out to track down some NBA scouts, he briefly told me that it all started as an intern for the Warriors and he sort of just fell into becoming an agent. Man, I can't wait to hear that story! How do you "fall into" becoming an agent?!
On my way back up to Press Row, as I picked up my laptop bag, I noticed Tim Kawakami was busy tapping away at this story.
It was really pretty cool to show the badge to the security personnel and them motioning you to come in. There were a bunch of kids lined up ready to give high fives to the players. Only that they wanted to get a high five from me and anybody else that passed by, too. Just think about that for a sec. These kids, they really revere that tunnel. Think about when you were a kid in this humongous arena. As I gave each of them a pound, it made me really cherish the access I had been given.
Up in Section 102, it turned out I was sitting next to Daniel Turman of FearTheBeard.org. I had met him at the Warriors' Media Day extravaganza. On his laptop he showed me he had just posted a pre-game interview with Baron Davis. Turman also suggested that we tag-team on Twitter with our handles and sort of have a back-and-forth a la Fitz/Barnett (as long as I get to be Barnett and you get to be Fitz, Daniel! Haha!). Such banter could be automatically posted on FearTheBeard.
Alas, with the potential limitations of the wireless, Twitter going down every now and then, and my buggy cellphone app -- I had only brought my clunky laptop to charge my phone because I stupidly forgot my cellphone charger at home -- it would be kind of choppy to get the dialogue on Twitter that we needed. Plus, Daniel had to copy and paste some of it to the website. In other words, a bit too linear and non-free-flowing. It'll be better next time, though.
The game was about to start and Blake had drawn some decent cheers during introductions, while Baron was obviously booed. Stephen Curry busted out with three triples but on the other end, it seemed like the Clippers were just getting dunk after dunk.
The Game Thread Preview I had posted had a poll for predicting how many dunks Blake would have, and I jokingly listed the maximum at 7 -- which 35% of you voted for! By now, Blake had already gotten two slams, and I wondered if the prophecy would come true (unfortunately it wouldn't).
Steph got a beautiful teardrop over a swat attempt by DeAndre Jordan and that was good to see. As we all know, Curry hasn't exactly been lighting it up lately.
The return of... Ike!
Then with about 5 minutes to go in the first quarter and the Warriors up 22-20, Ike Diogu came in. The Oracle crowd gave him the requisite boos for former Warriors not named Jason Richardson or Antawn Jamison, and Daniel wondered, "What has Diogu ever done to deserve that?"
Ike would answer that question in the next five minutes. He beasted the Warriors. 9 points to close out the quarter. It tallied 11 to start out the 2nd quarter. It got so bad that when Udoh posted up and drew a rather obvious foul on him, Diogu had gained enough swag by then to turn to the ref with an "are you serious?" look, more commonly displayed by superstars, all-stars, and, well, starters.
Remember this? Yeah, me neither. But the beast-on-your-former-team theory holds up.
Second quarter push, foretelling the future
At the end of the 1st, Al-Farouq Aminu had gotten a rebound and gone coast-to-coast for a layup, prompting me to appreciate just how athletic this Clippers lineup is. The Clippers took a 39-35 lead into the 2nd quarter.
Early in the 2nd, Randy Foye took Reggie Williams off the dribble, right-handed, then after Foye had already gotten the step ahead, Reggie reached in with his long arm and got called for the hack. Reggie then acted towards the ref as if he had gotten all ball. That's what I can't stand: when you make a fundamental mistake, then cover it up with something relatively irrelevant. Reggie, it doesn't matter if you got all ball. What matters is, the guy got past you in the first place. And it would happen again.
Monta took his first break a few minutes into the 2nd and by then he had tallied 21 points in 17 minutes of play. As Daniel noted, a very quiet 21. I love it when players just play and all of a sudden you look at the statsheet and go, "Dang, he's got that much?" The same goes for Blake Griffin. It's a sign of a special player.
Speaking of Blake, he proceeded to get a massively strong and-one on a swooping move to the hoop from the baseline, fouled by Udoh. It was one of those plays where you say, "Foul him harder and make sure he can't get the and-one," but then you realize it's the wiry Udoh and the beast Blake. I'm not sure it's realistic to think that Udoh can foul him any harder. You get a pass on that one, Ekpe.
Dorell Wright was up to his old tricks and got a trey with an assist by Curry. I noticed that Curry had expertly waited while dribbling for Wright to get his feet squared up, and for Aminu to retreat way too far to ever hope to close out. Then again, it appeared the rookie Aminu didn't get the scouting report on Wright.
At the other end, Reggie was getting pounded off the dribble by Baron, using his long arms effectively, but the feet were not in sync. Baron was beating him to the spot way deep inside the paint.
As the quarter came to a close, Baron overthrew an alley oop pass to Blake and the Oracle crowd responded with jeers at BD. But deep down inside, you know everybody wanted to see another dunk by the beast.
The Warriors would go into halftime up 69-62, but outscored in the paint, 38-24.
The Clips decided they would take no more of such defensive matchup shenanigans and Baron started posting up Steph on the regular. In a signature play, Baron warded off Steph with a forearm and just took it strong righthanded, bullied him up for a layup. That's a playground play. Oh yeah, Steph's the son of an NBA star. They don't grow up on the playground, they grow up shooting around in 15,000-capacity arenas (hmm, I wonder if that can be rudely generalized on other NBA sons? John Lucas III?).
As the Clips made a run, Baron found himself in a 2-on-1 fastbreak vs Steph. Steph smartly hedged on Blake so that the alley oop would not ensue, and Baron went up for an easy layin. The crowd booed, but again... fans, you know you secretly wanted a Blake alley oop!
Then Dorell Wright made a Dorell Wright mistake. He threw a bad swing pass that went straight into Eric Gordon's hands, who then raced out for a run-out dunk, but it wasn't the bad pass that I'm perturbed with Dorell about. It was when Monta started the sequence with a great penetration into the paint, then found Dorell all the way outside perched at the three-point line. In doing so, Jordan's help on Monta left him guarding Monta in the corner after Monta's pass to Dorell. Instead of that regretful swing pass turnover to the opposite side, Dorell should've noticed the mismatch and fed the ball right back to Monta.
These are the sort of plays you're stuck with, with a young team. You can only hope Coach Smart can catch a nuance like that on video because there's just so much on the plate. When I talked to Smart the day before, we naturally hit on the topic of Dorell not settling for threes and driving the ball every now and then. But sometimes basketball is about footwork. Sometimes it's about off-the-ball. The first thing that Dorell ought to know to correct said mistake is that he doesn't need to be perched outside the three-point line all the time. Next time you see Monta attack like that, how about crashing or putting yourself in a position to receive the ball at the short elbow where Monta ended up?
The 3rd quarter came to an auspicous close. Monta picked up his 4th personal, and motioned to Smart as if to say, "I got this, calm down, no need to take me out." But when he saw Reggie take off his warmups and rush to the scorer's table, Monta knew he would be coming out, and clapped his hands in disgust.
I actually think this might be a good thing. It's time for Monta to act like he is to the Warriors what Kobe Bryant is to the Lakers. Granted, there may be some tension with Smart on such things, but it shows that the guys are invested. And, to a degree, it keeps Smart in check.
The Warriors held onto 94-86 lead heading into the 4th.
I'll let this non-play speak for itself. Double-you-oh-double-you.
Blake Griffin, THE man THE amazing
Remember when Kenny Smith dubbed Vince Carter "half-man-half-amazing"? Where would you put Blake Griffin relative to that? [ASIDE: When I tweeted to Kenny and Shaquille O`Neal to find out who came up with VC's nickname, Shaq, of course, claimed it -- both tweets are listed as Favorites on my Twitter account, check it out!]
In the fourth, Blake Griffin recorded his amazing 14th consecutive 20-and-10 game. It is a feat that has been listed in the media Game Notes from the Warriors that only dates back to 1996 (I wonder why). Since then only one player has gotten more than 20 points and 10 rebounds in as many consecutive games: Shaq with 18 in a row in the 2001 season.
As Blake tried to "angrily" (as Daniel pointed out) jam another Spalding over Biedrins, I pictured Griffin as a Terminator, seeing the world in red with various computer commands displayed in his field of vision. Biedrins was undoubtedly shaped like a trampoline.
Ironically, during the next timeout, the Flying W's came out and did their routine (honestly! Ask Daniel).
Down the stretch, Monta shows why he's an All-Star
Oh, if only the young Warriors could grow up sooner rather than later. After another Baron deep drive on Reggie where Reggie couldn't move his feet fast enough in retreat, Dorell decided he wanted to do a crossover stop-and-pop. Call me old school, but you don't bust out those moves in a two-possession game in the 4th quarter. Heck, you don't bust that unpolished thing out at all until you've mastered it in practice and have actually used it to win, at the very least, a pickup game.
With 9 minutes to go, Gordon got a beautiful left-handed driving layup high off the glass to bring the Clips to a 92-96 deficit to the Warriors. Smart called timeout. 9:03 remaining.
If this were the Miami Heat, Erik Spoelstra would be getting LeBron James off the bench. Seriously. I've taken special note of that whenever I watch the Heat in close games. Spo has no problem getting his main man into the game with 3/4ths of the final frame remaining and the momentum of the game hanging in the balance.
It should come as no surprise that the Dubs' main man continued to sit after that timeout. Worse, out of the timeout, Dorell drove hard to the right baseline and took a running airball jumper. I am just flummoxed as to how that can happen out of a timeout.
Alas, the Warriors were saved by Monta, who checked in the sequence after that.
Monta hit a clutch trey via an outstanding Biedrins offensive rebound, then not too long after, with Baron guarding him one-on-one and Gordon for some reason guarding Steph, Monta got a hesitation dribble drive past Baron. Baron had no choice but to try a late swat at the ball, and Monta got hacked, with an ensuing late whistle.
That's when it occurred to me. Warriors don't normally get those calls. Monta's heroics heretofore had set up that foul call. He was finally getting respect from the officials. It would only be fitting if he got commensurate respect from the Western Conference coaches as the All-Star Game approaches in the next thirty days.
As Reggie hit a clutch trey that has been once-in-awhile this season, I wondered when Dorell would come back off the bench for him. Daniel started hinting at some strange substitution patterns by Smart, which we are all starting to get wind of, while the mainstream media has been curiously a bit slow to make a big issue.
My question was answered after Steph flew by a Gordon fake-catch-n-shoot trey on a rotation swing pass, to which Gordon then stepped back and calmly hit the triple. Dorell came in for Steph. A sigh of relief. Reggie had earned the right to close out the game. More importantly, it forced Gordon to stay on Reggie.
Then came the play that, in my opinion, should put Monta over the top in terms of an All-Star nod. First, he used the pick-and-roll up top and with that explosive step, once more blew by Baron. He got deep under the hoop as Jordan came to help and, hanging in mid-air, lasered a pass back out to the far left elbow to a wide-open Vlad Rad for a swish trey. How many NBA players can do all of that in crunch time? I'm sure there are athletes who can execute the hang-and-swing-bullet-pass, but how about following that up with this...
Baron then tried to jab a steal from Monta, but Monta easily got past that, and rose to challenge Blake Griffin at the rim. While using his body just enough as a shield, and granted Blake was a split-second late, Monta laid it in for a finger roll. I'm sure there are NBA players who aren't afraid to challenge Blake Griffin at the rim, but how about following that up with some of this...
After a clutch Blake open jumper on collapsed defense which made you say, "When he masters that, he is by definition better than Karl Malone", Monta received a pass on the left baseline with Eric Gordon closing out fast. Instead of taking the three, Monta gave him a fake, took one dribble in for the midrange shot, and calmly swished it. That's a Jordanesque (second era) play right there, folks. Throw Baron at him. Throw Blake at him. Throw Gordon at him. Doesn't matter. He's not greedy. And he's making the game look easy.
Post-Game in the locker room
One thing about the locker room: it's a surprisingly small area. And you aren't allowed to take pictures, but you are allowed to take video. This is because players are walking in and out of the shower and getting dressed. There's also a board that shows all of the NBA uniform guidelines. Adjacent to that is a small room with backup jerseys hanging and just stacks and stacks of orange-Nike-boxed shoes that reach up toward the ceiling.
On the wall where the showers are located behind was the familiar blue backdrop with many Warriors logos, for TV interviews. Daniel and I probably missed the post-game with Keith Smart. The mainstream media guys, of course, had no problem going right up to players as they were dressing to ask all these questions and take notes. Since I'm not really an interview guy, I just tried to listen in on what was being said. I couldn't hear a thing.
Suddenly, I saw everyone gathered around Monta. Daniel had said that he usually comes out, says a few words, and bolts right on out. He was wearing jeans, a red hoodie, and with all the camera lights on him, his gigantic diamond earring was glimmering.
As I remarked way back on Media Day, I couldn't help but notice that Monta was maybe only a half-inch taller than me. In other words, he's like a lot of people you might pass at the mall. It's not like Baron Davis, who although at 6-feet-even, is pretty thick and someone you would make a mental note of not bumping into if you saw him walking towards you on the street, for your own safety. I've stood in the presence of Jeremy Lin and, although you would never guess it from being on TV, his frame makes you feel kind of small (which is one of the reasons I thought he had a shot way, way, way back in the beginning, well before my infamous article).
It just amazes me how Monta, with that frame, can do what he does. Somehow, I wish that could count towards him being selected as an All-Star.
After that, I helped Daniel record a video interview with Dorell talking a bit about Dorell and Baron's new nonprofit down in LA. I'm sure that will be up on FearTheBeard pretty soon.
Also, with the locker room deep in the annals of Oracle, I couldn't get a wireless or cellphone data connection to work. So I couldn't post anything on the Game Thread to see what questions you might want me to ask. I'll try to prepare better for that, too, next time.
The inter-workings of a game
With the press pass, you got to see how everything was really an event. How all the name tags had to be setup. How all the monitors and scoreboards had to be made sure they were plugged in. The receiving of a sheet of stats after every period. How all these people moving here and there had to get to some other place. The Media Room where I saw Thompson texting or tweeting away after the security guard said that the locker room wasn't ready to be open yet, and with tons of players' families waiting around. Kawakami's pre-game post. So, so, so many people. And Ridder and Martinez responsible for anyone coming in contact with the Warriors players and staff.
It was like Ridder and Martinez had invited us media guys as part of the family. Even as we departed, you could see that their night was far from over. To spend all those hours in a suit, greeting countless people, all the while ensuring safety, that was a privilege to see first-hand.
One of Martinez's assistants came by and confirmed he had delivered a stack of paper stats to the other team. Daniel then broached the subject of doing something viral to get Monta selected to the All-Star team, and Martinez was happy to help, although the Warriors policy as a team is not to get ahead of itself -- if someone deserves to be an All-Star, that someone will get picked.
As we finally left the locker room, Baron Davis, with his fashionable glasses on, passed by. He shook hands with Daniel (who had done that pre-game interview) and I did too, saying something dumb like, "Nice game." But it was just another example of someone needing to get from point A to B in the Oracle, all kind of backstage. Definitely an eye-opening perspective other than in front of the TV or even in a seat at the arena.
Looking ahead: 365 days away from "Judgment Day"?
You know what made this game special? It was like looking into a crystal ball. Blake Griffin in his rookie year (28 points like it was nothing!). Monta Ellis on the cusp of being regarded as an elite player (30 points on 31 minutes!). Eric Gordon repeatedly showing that he can stop any run that you put together against his team.
But let's face it, the Clips are just prone to late-game errors and have no chemistry. This was a great game to enjoy and win as far as the standings are concerned, but the Warriors are still stuck in the bottom-third of said standings. Are Warriors fans ready for games that Boston Celtics, Orlando Magic, and San Antonio Spurs fans see every day? The games that determine homecourt advantage in the playoffs? The building of regular season chemistry to match that of the playoff Lakers?
The Oracle crowd comes out and thoroughly enjoys a good time, as displayed by the crowd's boos of Baron-to-Blake plays, but you wonder if Warrior fans are ready to give up all this good fun for serious title-contending basketball?
Not to spoil last night's party, but in about twelve months, after this quick February trade deadline in which no major moves will happen for the Dubs, and after the Lockout, all the petty drama about Smart's substitutions, about Steph's defensive liabilities, the water-cooler talk about how so many Warriors players don't have any meat on their bones, will all be just dust under the rug. It will be up to Lacob to bring the needed roster replacements, to turn stars into superstars, to work salary cap magic, to get veterans who already know what it takes to win, to pull off more amazing nights of entertainment while playing this game the right way.
It was just an incredible experience to have the perspective of local media that night, but quite frankly the oncourt event at Oracle is still stuck in the Great-Time-Out era. I can't wait to see what it might be like in the Defense-Wins-Championships era. But we'll have to wait probably another year.
Friendly reminder: Catch me on Twitter at @poormanscommish for further NBA banter and retweets of such, as I follow about 900 other NBA tweeters. Incidentally, much of the game recap above was taken from my in-game tweets. Come and join the fun!