As I wrote in my preview of the Golden State Warriors' exhibition home opener against the Utah Jazz last night, one of the things I've become most interested in at this point in preseason is who will get the minutes at center behind center Andrew Bogut and what lineup combinations deserve the most minutes.
Unfortunately, that made me hyper focused on forward David Lee's defense: despite his impressive double-double and a great plus/minus, in the second quarter he had a few lapses and then his man (Jazz forward Paul Millsap) opened the second half by scoring on the first 3 of 7 Jazz possessions. It wasn't a great showing defensively for Lee, though he clearly thrives on the offensive end where the Warriors look as fluid as they have in years (this isn't saying much, but they're getting there).
On the other hand, rookie center Festus Ezeli was even more outstanding defensively than his four blocks might suggest, despite struggling against Enes Kanter late.
And it was nice seeing Curry back, despite an ankle scare.
Anyway, without further ado, the notes.
First quarter (3 minutes left)
- Unfortunately, I got to Oracle Arena a bit late meaning that I missed out on Harrison Barnes' big driving dunk last night. But as I settled in, I was treated to more of Barnes' post game; hat was most impressive as he was going up against the shorter - but rock solid - Randy Foye. In summer league, Barnes might have taken one or two hits in the back from a player like Foye and settled for a twisting turnaround jumper. Last night, Barnes really dug in: he fought for and established his position on the wing about 10-15 feet from the basket, received the ball, and then went by Foye rather than settling for an off-balance or contested jumper. He did it on three consecutive possessions to the point where things got a bit chippy between the two. But it was nice to see the rookie already showing signs of improvement even since July.
- Nevertheless, on the third possession help rotated over a bit more quickly as he tried to beat Foye baseline and he tried to jump and pass in traffic and just turned the ball over. Still, we're already seeing growth in Barnes - it will be exciting to see where he is by the end of this season and further down the road.
Second quarter: Jazz lead 21-19
- With about 10:20 left in the second quarter, Klay Thompson threw the ball away out of a pick and roll in which the defense denied the roll man and left Jarrett Jack open in the corner. It was actually a nice read of the defense and it's great that Klay Thompson is looking to create a bit more in the preseason, but the execution just wasn't there on that play.
- Andris Biedrins was active on defense! He would've had a rebound had he not landed out of bounds when he got one.
- The Warriors started the quarter with a Jack - Thompson - Richard Jefferson - Lee - Landry and it was not the best defensive lineup coach Mark Jackson could put on the court. There's a reason why the game was essentially tied for the first four minutes of the quarter: there was someone open on every Jazz possession, usually wide open. Thompson's man DeMarre Carroll was left open, Lee couldn't seem to keep Kanter off the boards, and that unit just generally seemed to be scrambling on defense.
- Offensively, this unit ran their "horns" set and didn't seem to have their spacing quite right - there ended up being four guys right at the top of the painted area sort of standing around. It resulted in a Landry turnaround jumper, not necessarily what the play is designed for.
- Curry came in at 7:35 and was a breath of fresh air: the offense ran much more smoothly, he had a beautiful turnaround jumper on the wing, and in the four and a half minutes he was in the score went from tied to the Warriors being up 7.
- The scary thing was that he really did look like he was walking gingerly when he left the game. I just tried to ignore what people were saying around me and stopped thinking about his ankle.
- STEPH'S ANKLE IS FINE. STEPH'S ANKLE IS FINE. STEPH'S ANKLE IS FINE. (Keep repeating it and it will come true.)
- Rush came back in the game for Jefferson at the 8:46 mark and seemed to help on both ends of the court - he's not just a good shooter, but he has a great sense of spacing and how to quietly find open spots in the defense.
- Still, his big drive and dunk from the left wing at 2:54 - just after Curry left the game - might have drawn the biggest reaction of the night from the crowd.
- Jack is definitely more of a shoot-first point guard than I imagined, but he was at least hustling on defense - after he hit a fadeaway jumper, the Warriors put on a man press on the ensuing inbounds play and Jack anticipated a long pass from Jazz guard Jamaal Tinsley nicely to intercept a pass. That was definitely his highlight of the night.
- Lee seems to spend a lot of time trying to recover after finding himself out of position defensively.
- Jack missed a long 2-point jumper that he forced with 40 seconds left. He was 1-for-4 in the first half and finished the game that way.
Third quarter: Warriors lead 42-33
- Festus Ezeli started the third quarter and though his first act was to pick up a foul, his defensive presence was felt: Millsap got away from Lee and Ezeli fouled him at the rim. 1 of 2 free throws is better than a dunk.
- Jack did look to pass a bit in the third quarter: he set up Lee for a three from the top of the arc. Lee airballed. So much for that.
- What really stands out about Ezeli is he's coming into the league with what some would call a "NBA body": going up against Jazz post Al Jefferson on both ends of the court, Ezeli was dishing out more contact than he took. Offensively, he's just looking a bit tentative, which is perhaps expected - he doesn't project to be a major scorer this season.
- Meanwhile, Lee's defensive struggles continued: after getting beat badly by Millsap for position on a rebound, Lee fouled him. On the ensuing play, Landry scored a layup after completely losing Lee.
- Ezeli just continued to handle his assignment defensively: no matter what Jefferson gave him, he held his position and forced bad shots or bail out passes. What was most impressive given his reputation as a shot blocker is that he's extremely disciplined - he moves his feet extremely well to establish position even before his man receives the ball, he isn't easily knocked off his position, and he just does not bite on fakes or counter moves at all.
- So I'll excuse the defensive 3 seconds call that Ezeli drew.
- After a Mo Williams miss with 5:07 left, Lee missed the box out on Millsap and Millsap flew in from the top of the key for a tip dunk.
- Lee again fouled Millsap in the post with 3:50 left, which resulted in a pair of free throws.
- Landry came in shortly thereafter at the 3:20 mark and though they did a better job defending the post, but Jefferson came in for Thompson and couldn't stop Marvin Williams at all - Williams earned 6 free throw attempts in the final 3:20 of the quarter.
- At this point, the Warriors lineup in the game was Jack-Jefferson-Barnes-Landry-Ezeli. Landry might not be the best defender, but neither Al Jefferson nor Millsap did anything significant offensively during that time - Ezeli just doesn't give up anything on the block and Millsap wasn't losing Landry.
- The one thing that might hurt Ezeli defensively is that he might "over-commit" to helping occasionally and find himself neither in position to make a play on the ball or stay in front of his man. That's something I saw a bit of in summer league and caught it once last night as well.
- Ezeli came up with 2 of his game-high 4 blocks last night in the final two minutes of the third quarter, but I was actually equally impressed by what he did on the play immediately after the Jazz inbounded after he swatted the ball into the first row with 28 seconds left. Alec Burks drove hard baseline from the right wing and Ezeli slid over to cut off the baseline; with nowhere to go, Burks tried to jump and pass and Richard Jefferson came up with a steal. Ezeli helped erase a number of defensive mistakes late in the quarter.
- Jeremy Tyler entered the game with four seconds left and was credited with a block on Mo Williams, but it was a really weird play - he was sort of backpedaling with both hands up, tried to weirdly contest the shot while moving backwards, and Williams missed the shot. I didn't exactly see a block, but my friend next to me claimed it happened.
Fourth quarter: Warriors lead 69-58
- With Tyler in for Ezeli, you immediately see the difference defensively - in jumping at everything and struggling to hold his ground on the block, the lead quickly went from 13 (after a nice Tyler putback) to five by the 8:13 mark after an 8-2 Jazz run.
- Barnes had another drive and dunk in the fourth on a nice sweep through from the left wing. Again, his ability to attack the basket is something quite promising. On the next possession, he had a nice drive and kick to Landry, who missed an 18-foot jumper.
- With 6:39 left in the game, Lee and Thompson entered the game. My first reaction was, "Why?" Then I looked up at the score - which I was honestly not paying much attention to at this point - and noticed that the Warriors' lead had dwindled to five.
- By 5:57, the Warriors almost had a full rotation squad in the game: Jenkins - Thompson - Rush - Lee - Ezeli. Now I'm just hoping nobody gets hurt. And Ezeli was looking rather tired after a few times up and down the floor.
- The problem was that this group, up 7 when they entered the game, didn't actually defend much better. Part of that was blown assignments, but part of that was the duel between Ezeli and Kanter on the left block. To put it simply, despite picking up two more blocks, Ezeli looked exhausted when trying to guard Kanter at this point - Kanter would just back Ezeli down for a second or two and then drop step or spin for the score. To Ezeli's credit, he did force Kanter into a bad angle on one possession, but suffice it to say that he lost that defensive battle overall.
- The Warriors' offense sputtered over the last two minutes of the game, but they came up with enough stops to hold on and win.
- Also, more Bazemore please next time.
Final score: Warriors 83, Jazz 80
For more on the game, check out our full storystream.