Sporting the Dwyane Wade left-arm sleeve, Stephen Curry carried the Golden State Warriors over the Portland Trail Blazers the way Wade did when he was a high-flying acrobatic all-world finisher in his heyday as a Miami Heat. The comparisons, however, end there. Curry, through a series of whirlwind threes (including one from 28 feet over LaMarcus Aldridge) and pull-up jumpers, torched the Damian Lillard, Mo Williams, whoever guarded him combo to the tune of 38 points (5-8 threes), 8 assists and 7 rebounds. After a fourth quarter offensive malaise that saw slow offensive sets and essentially a "prevent offense" to run the clock out, Curry took it upon himself to drain an 18-foot jumper off a pick and another three in the corner to effectively ice the game. Exhorting the crowd between timeouts and high-fiving fans during the game was part of the Curry package tonight.
After losing four of their last five games, and allowing three teams to score over 120 points and the Indiana Pacers over 100, the Warriors were looking to bust out of their defensive slump as a "defensive-oriented team". Regardless of whether this win came with caveats - it did, Portland was on a back-to-back after their win in Minnesota last night - the swarming small-ball defense brought to mind some of the glimpses that flashed through the postseason run and through the first 20 or so games of this season.
After another lackluster first half off the bench from Harrison Barnes, Jackson opted to go with Draymond Green as the first substitute off the bench. And, oh boy, did it change the whole complexion of the game. Portland's coach Terry Stotts opted to sub Thomas Robinson for LaMarcus Aldridge and go extremely small forcing the Warriors to do the same. The biggest player on the floor, for a five-minute or so stretch, was either Green or Lee. When Green was forced to play the five, the defense shifted into a Miami Heat-esque motion. The frantic perimeter movement from Klay, Iguodala and Barnes forced the Blazers to play fast (which they do well) but perhaps a little out of their comfort zone. It certainly helps when Iguodala (two massive dunks) is healthy enough to shut down the combo of Wesley Matthews and Damian Lillard to a combined 10-30 shooting output. Blitzing the roll man got the Warriors some turnovers and transition opportunities, where Iguodala can find open shooters like Thompson and can exploit an unset defense.
Green came into the game with a 64-61 lead. The third quarter ended with the Warriors up 76-67. That kind of stuff, albeit only a 6 point difference, doesn't happen often, or ever, when the bench comes in for this team.
After the game, Jackson emphatically claimed Barnes is healthy and reiterated that Barnes would remain the sixth man and substitutions would remain a flow and game-by-game situation. However, it's getting harder and harder - we're already beyond this point for fans - for Jackson to continue leaving Barnes in for heavy minutes if he continues playing at this level.
The defense was good but the offensive troubles still surface whenever Curry walks off the court. Jordan Crawford has been serviceable but the continued absence of Barnes on offense coupled with a, SHOCKING, apparent need for actual Jermaine O'Neal post-ups have decimated the current bench situation.
1. Mark Jackson on David Lee's defense against LMA:
"I thought he was spectacular. He was playing against a big time player in LaMarcus Aldridge. A player that is in the discussion for MVP. I thought David battled him, fought him defensively, made him work and kept him off the boards. One of his better games. Great to watch."
Perhaps a little coaching hyperbole, but with another pregame injection for his shoulder, Lee essentially shut down the MVP candidate with some feisty positioning battles and excellent contests on Aldridge's trademark fadeaway. Holding a player like Aldridge, a player I enjoyed writing about, to 10 points on 2-14 shooting is no joke. A beast of a defensive game for Lee.
2. Sloooowly but surely, Iguodala is rounding back into form. It wasn't just the 11 shots, of which he made five, but the relentless defensive effort when the Warriors needed it most. With Thompson playing so many minutes and a huge part of the offense, Jackson needs Iguodala to excel at what he does best. And tonight, Iguodala did just that.
3. Jackson is beginning to stagger his rotations, starting a couple games ago, but it hasn't shown much promise until tonight. With Iguodala playing the role of backup PG with Jordan Crawford, the Warriors have cut down the turnovers (just nine tonight) and actually run set plays without fumbling the ball around for the first 15 seconds of the shot clock. There's still way too many isolations but baby steps.
4. For humor's sake, here's Jackson on Barnes in two separate quotes:
Media: Is Harrison Barnes healthy?
Media: How did the bench perform?
Jackson: Harrison battled and competed.
And so the struggle continues.