If the closed captioning I read on the bar television screen could be believed, in the second quarter of last night’s slugfest between the Golden State Warriors and Indiana Pacers, Mark Jackson said something along the lines of: "We’re the best defense in the league, and we’re not playing like it right now."
So, either Jackson thought he’d wandered into the Pacers’ huddle, or closed captioning was drunk. It did like to call Klay Thompson "Clay," so I’m open to either possibility.
But, yeah: the Pacers are, like, really good. REALLY good. They have the best defense in the NBA, and statistically it’s not close. Their DRtg of 95.0 is more than 5.0 points better than the next team on the list. They’re also tops in both defensive rebounding and opponent’s effective field goal percentage. Listen, the Warriors' defense is nothing to shrug at, and definitely in the mix right under Indiana — they could end as the 2nd best defensive team in the league and I wouldn’t be surprised. I would be very surprised if they surpassed the Pacers in that realm.
And it was on display tonight. Shot contests were excellent; nothing came easy at the rim, and nothing came particularly easy on the perimeter. George Hill lived in Stephen Curry’s jersey for a good part of the night, sticking to him on the perimeter and taking away open looks (until Steph did Steph things in the 3rd quarter). Klay made some shots early, and a couple transition threes late, but for the most part didn’t look terribly comfortable, in a fashion that we’re sometimes accustomed to with Klay. David Lee shot just 8-19 (42%), struggling against the rugged David West and the enormous Roy Hibbert.
Now, if it feels like I’m blaming the starters a lot for this Warriors loss, it’s only to set up a point. And that point is: the bench unit makes me want to stab my eyes with my pen. Unfortunately that would have left me blind and without a writing implement to take notes at the bar, so I managed to fight through the urge.
Immediately upon Thompson being replaced by Harrison Barnes at the 6:15 mark in the first quarter, to be followed shortly thereafter by his brothers in starting arms, the Pacers went on a 14-2 run. Marreese Speights made me uncomfortable, Jordan Crawford and Draymond Green were ineffective, and collectively they were just outclassed by the superior bench of the Pacers.
Now, it should be noted that Jackson, likely tired of GSOM’s endless exasperation on the subject (or maybe tired of watching eye-stabbingly-bad basketball?) switched up the rotation tonight. We’ve learned to expect Andre Iguodala as the first man to sit, with Barnes replacing him, before an eventual cascade into bizarro #fullsquad. Tonight, Thompson was the first to get some rest, followed by Lee, then Iceman*, then Curry and Andrew Bogut. But then, a special treat: a foregoing of the Kent Bazemore Experience, in favor of an earlier return by Thompson to play with the Sunset Scavengers.
Was it successful? Well, no. But you gotta at least acknowledge the attempt. Barnes did a few good things to start the second quarter, even setting up Speights for a baseline dunk. But that’s all I remember positively from that stint.
Of course, the Warriors got back into the game using their tried and true combination of explosive outside shooting and dominant defense by Bogzilla and the Iceman. Their third quarter run stalled a bit when Ice sat for Barnes (this pattern sucks), and then my heart stalled a bit when they showed the trainer working on Bogut’s knee. (Luckily he came back in the game toward the end, wearing no knee brace but definitely wearing a massive grimace.)
In the end they couldn’t get over the hump. The massive first quarter deficit that the bench yielded was just too much to overcome. And that was really the second point I was making earlier: our starters are really great, and better than most starting units they face, and are usually good enough to overcome the big mound of ugly that bench unit provides. The going theory for Jackson using the rotations he does is that he’s willing to lose minutes to that squad if it allows him to get maximum minutes out of his A team. But against the Pacers, who have a starting unit at least as good as GSW, it’s just a lot harder for them to create enough of a buffer to overcome the negative bench production. And when the Scavengers are facing a prime bench unit as well? Just tough.
And that’s what happens when you face a championship contender. The Pacers feel like the hungriest contender at the moment — they were close last year, they got better, and they see their window wide open. The Warriors feel a breeze and think there might be a window in the house.
I guess Stephen Curry gets the WW tonight. This feels like a cop-out, but another high-assist, low-turnover game for Steph (9 to 2, respectively) should be rewarded. And he found a way to shoot them back into this game in the third, as he is wont to do. I’m guessing he’s well on his way to breaking the Warrior Wonder single season record — you can do it, Steph!
* (Have we tried out Iceman as a nickname for Iguodala yet? There’s the igloo connection, and he’s been clutch this season, and some people maybe still do diamond-encrusted dollar sign necklaces… I dunno, maybe it’s a stretch. What do y’all think? Should it be "Iceman" or "THE Iceman"?)