When Monta Ellis steps on a basketball court, you know he’s going to play to the final whistle. Whether or not he or the Warriors are playing well, he’s likely to give you his best 40 minutes. He could be struggling with a nagging injury or playing through pain, but he’s been there for his teammates and the fans every game. Multiple times this season, he’s suffered a significant injury only to come back and play well in the teams’ next game. He’s been playing through knee and ankle pain all season long and has been the very definition of a warrior:
“A person who shows or has shown great vigor, courage, or aggressiveness, as in politics or athletics.”
There’s no doubt that some of the things he does on the basketball court are truly amazing. He has the ability to make plays that few or no others in the NBA can make. He’s exciting, and he’s been the heart and soul of this Golden State team. He’s been so good this year, that he’s actually begun to earn MVP chants from the home crowd on a nightly basis. Ellis will finish the regular season as the NBA’s leader in minutes per game, but due to his most recent injury, LaMarcus Aldridge is likely to pass him in total minutes played before the season ends.
Monta will miss the Warrior’s final two games due to a concussion suffered from a fall in the final minutes of the Sacramento game Sunday night. He was already struggling with a leg injury in that game which had limited him to a season low 26 minutes before crashing to the floor in the 4th quarter. So while we didn’t see Monta in the game at Denver, and we won’t see him in the team’s final game at home against Portland, there’s something to be said about the season he’s already had.
It’s without a doubt been the best season of his career. It’s been a year where he’s showcased an improved outside shot and smarter decision making both as a scorer and a passer. All of this is highlighted by his higher shooting percentages and assists, which are complimented by less turnovers.
Where he’s grown the most, though, is as a leader. Going into last season, he voiced displeasure with the selection of Stephen Curry in the draft, saying he didn’t think they could play together in the back court. It initially lead to tension in the locker room between the two players, which made growing as a team tough. However, the two guards started to click at the end of last season, and this past off-season, Monta invited Steph to his wedding. Since then, the two have bonded, and Monta has expressed his intention to be the leader of the Warriors leader for years to come.
He’s shown the ability to be a good leader with his toughness, his on-court presence, and much improved maturity. Of any player in the NBA, he may have made the biggest off-season changes, regardless of whether or not it shows up in his own stats.
Even with that improvement, there has been a continued criticism of his play in regards to the type and amount of shots he takes, as well as his ability to be a good defender. While there’s something that can always be improved, it seems bit much to ask one player to improve in so many ways in just one year. The two biggest issues he’s had this season are also a product of who he’s been on the court with. The Warriors are still not a very good team and have very few players with the ability to create their own shot. Their offensive game plan also isn’t quite where it needs to be for the team to be effective. The same things goes for defense, as the Warriors are still one of the worst in the league.
Without looking ahead into the future, I’m not sure how anybody could be unhappy with the way that Monta Ellis has played this season. He has been the Warriors best player, regardless of what some would try to make you believe with a few select statistics. Monta more than passes the eye test as the Warriors best player, and if you can’t argue something without stats, there really is no point. Stats will help you back up your point, but they mean nothing without actually seeing the issue on the court.
But honestly, the greatest thing about Monta isn’t the way he plays, or the way he’s grown. It’s his die hard loyalty to Golden State and us fans. He’s dedicated to leading this team to a winning record and the playoffs, and possibly beyond that. It’s that attitude that makes this my favorite Monta quote:
“I’m a Warrior. I’m going to always be a Warrior.”
It’s not the statement itself so much, as the fact that he actually has me believing he wants to stay with this team, even after seeing Baron, J-Rich, Stack Jack, Harrington, Barnes, and Pietrus all get out and do better for themselves elsewhere (Baron did better for himself off the court). He personifies what it means to be a Warrior, of both the battle-tested and Golden State variety.
Well, the Warriors went into Portland last night and demolished the Trailblazers with a 21-point win. By all accounts, it was one of the Warriors most impressive wins of the season. Golden State has now beaten back-to-back playoff bound Western Conference opponents (having beaten Dallas 99-92 on Saturday), only the second time that’s happened all season long. The Warriors now have an opportunity for a first tonight against the Los Angeles Lakers.
They have only recorded a 3-game win streak three times in the last two seasons, but the last time the Warriors won 3 straight games against playoff bound opponents was the 2007-2008 season, when they defeated Washington, Philadelphia, and Phoenix in that order. Remember, they won 48 games that season, missing the playoffs by just 2 games. A win tonight would definitely provide some hope for the future for this team, who have struggled to maintain consistency on the basketball court.
The Warrior faithful in Oracle Arena tonight should have a good chance to see a win. Golden State has won back to back games in impressive fashion while the Lakers have lost two close games due to some inexplicable turnovers and lazy play. Most Warrior fans will remember how well the team played at home against the Los Angeles in January. Should they be able to put forth an effort like that one or similar to their previous two games, a win could be possible. The Lakers tend to play poorly in stretches as evidenced by their 3 separate 3-game losing streaks this season.
But one of the biggest things that needs to change in order for the Warriors to come away with the win is the play of David Lee. The 3 times the Warriors have faced the Lakers this season, Lee has been bullied by the Lakers big front line, averaging just 7 points and 5 rebounds per game. The scoring average is his lowest against any team this season (the only team he doesn’t average double digits against), and his rebounding has only been worse against the Chicago Bulls (who he played just 1 game against). These averages are in direct contrast to how he played the NBA Champions last season, when he averaged 22 points and 12 rebounds against them in 2 games.
A deeper look, however, shows an even more drastic change. As someone who’s made his way around NBA blogs and forums and spoken to a number of different of different fans, I’ve gained somewhat of a knowledge on how Knicks fans viewed David Lee the past two seasons in New York. One fan, in particular stick out to me because of how great he thought David really was. He was always talking about him, and though I never took him too serious, there was one thing I always found interesting.
This fan always told me of the instances where Lee outperformed some of the best players at his position. An example I remember better than others are is a game against the Spurs where he finished the game 11-13 for 28 points and 10 rebounds. His opposition, Tim Duncan and DeJuan Blair, finished a respective 6-11 and 4-11 for a combined 21 points. The Knicks did still lose that game. He also had some very good games against Boston, who may have had the best defensive front court in the NBA last year. He also had a 31 and 17 game against the Lakers, in which he outperformed Pau Gasol/Andrew Bynum by a considerable amount.
So basically this fan was suggesting that he plays best against great competition. He even went as far as too suggest his defense was much better in these types of games. However, this year its been hard to pinpoint instances of Lee taking it to some of the best players at his position. Last night was one of those instances. He out-played Aldridge, putting up his first 20 rebound game all season to go along with his 29 points.
His ineptitude against the Lakers this season has definitely made me reconsider whether or not he actually is a big-game player. But not fully reject it. When David Lee is on the court, he’s a fiery player. He argues with the referees, he talks trash, and he’ll stick up for himself and his teammates. He’s obviously a very emotional player that can have a fire lit under him. When I take that into account, I find it entirely possible that he was a very good big-game player up until the season. Not having watched him a lot as a Knick, I wouldn’t be able to know for sure.
But if this Warriors team is going to be successful, that’s the David Lee we’re going to need to see a lot more often. He’s had his good games this season, but often times, especially against the Lakers, he’s disappeared when he’s needed most. The Warriors haven’t had another guy to go and consistently grab rebounds this season. We also haven’t had very good post-scorers or defenders. Our guys have counted on David to be that guy, and a lot of times, he isn’t able to live up to the billing, whether it’s because he’s not that player or is just underachieving.
This being his last chance to put up a good game against the Lakers in 2010-11, I’m hoping to see a strong effort from him, even with how he played last night. Because, even if this isn’t an important game for the Lakers (it never really has been), it’s been important to our players and our fans for a while. The Lakers are a team Warrior fans despise for a variety of reasons, but also seem to be the team that consistently dominates us year-in and year-out. So, as Warrior games go, this is a big game. Just like last night’s match-up against a top NBA big man was a big game for Lee.
Hopefully we see some more production from him tonight, especially with Gasol and Bynum a bit banged up with injuries. We have upcoming games against Portland (Aldridge), Denver (Nene), and possibly our last game ever against our Northern California rival Sacramento Kings. All of those games could be considered big games considering Portland and Denver’s standing as playoff teams. What I see from him in these last 4 games is going to directly influence what I expect from him next season. I want to know who the real David Lee is.
The Warriors are coming off one of their better wins of the season as they go in to Portland tonight. The 99-92 win over Dallas on Saturday was one of the Warriors better defensive showings, even if it seems that Dallas missed every open shot they had in the second half. What was impressive in that game, even as the Warriors let Dallas shoot from 3-point range, was how well they prevented the Mavericks from getting easy points inside. Not only was Dallas forced to miss a lot of contested shots at the rim, but they also struggled to get to the free-throw line. It’s not often that the Warriors out-shoot their opponent from the charity stripe, as they are both worst in the league in free throws attempted and in free throw differential (only the Jazz allow more free throws).
So that the Warriors played good interior defense and didn’t foul a lot is unusual, but definitely something to strive for. So, even if we fans shouldn’t expect a win, I think we can at least hope that our guys are trying to repeat the type of defense they played against the Mavericks. Especially considering Portland isn’t a good 3-point shooting team, it would make sense to try to force them into jumpers rather than relinquishing the paint. It’s without question that defending the rim is the first step towards becoming a better defensive team. The Warriors have long been the type of defensive team that relied on disruption on the perimeter, forcing turnovers and steals because our interior and penetration defense were sub-par. But with Udoh now starting every game, and with the way that Thornton and Amundson played defense of the bench last game, I don’t think it’s out of the question that our post defense should see a serious improvement.
So the goal for this game is to prevent easy points inside and to keep Portland off the free-throw line. Portland is good at neither, so it’s a relatively possible task to complete. Considering our offense is pretty much hit-or-miss, especially on the road (Monta, I’m looking at you), so I’m not really sure what we can expect from them. The best way to ensure a shot at winning is to maintain the type of defense we showed we’re capable of on Saturday night. Even if we allow some long open jumpers, it’s much better for us if we prevent scoring in the paint.
Prediction: Blazers win by 3. They’re the better team and our offense struggles for most of the game as Portland dictates the game with their slow pace. Our defense performs fine, but Warriors shoot too many difficult jumpers.
Golden State fans who didn’t see yesterday’s game against the Mavericks really missed a good show. Monta Ellis put up 32 points, including an amazing 18-point 3rd quarter in which he outscored Dallas’ entire team. Dirk Nowitzki shot a dismal 1-9 in the second half, and the Warrior faithful witnessed the team’s first win over the Mavs this season. But none of that was really the highlight of the game. Somehow the Warriors were able to hold off the Mavericks in the 4th quarter despite the fact that Monta Ellis didn’t score in the games’ final period. Instead, a different player stepped up his game, and his name wasn’t Stephen Curry, David Lee, or Dorell Wright.
It was Al Thornton. He took advantage of playing the entire 4th quarter by scoring 12 points, pulling down 5 boards, recording 2 huge blocks, and just wreaking general havoc all over the Mavericks. In addition to his 2 rejections, he pestered Dirk Nowitzki into some poor shots and turnovers, as well as changed a number of other shots on the defensive end of the court. He even made a soaring play coming across the court to block a Jason Terry layup, but it was negated because it hit the backboard before he got to it.
Basically, he lived up to the nickname some Warrior fans have given him. He was TCG. He was Tough Crazy Guy. In those final 12 minutes, Thornton brought to the Warriors something that they’d lacked for most of the season before his arrival. He played tough, physical basketball on both ends of the floor. He fought his way inside for an offensive rebound and a put-back dunk. He posted up to get his own shot in the paint. His physical toughness down the stretch is the biggest reason for the Warriors coming away with the win last night.
In a year where Golden State fans have been critical of front office decisions, Thornton has shown why his signing shouldn’t be one of them. Since joining the Warriors on March 4th, he’s averaged 6.8 points and 3 rebounds per game while playing 15 minutes off the bench. He’s played well in all of his extended opportunities, and he averages 10.1 points and 4.7 rebounds when he plays at least his average of 15 minutes. According to the his and the teams’ +/- numbers so far, the team has been better when he’s on the court than when he’s off. What can’t actually be quantified, and is possibly most important of all, is what his physical toughness is doing for this team.
You could Warriors’ mentality change in the 4th quarter once he got going. It certainly wasn’t a typical Golden State finish. For most of the season, the Warriors have been a team of runs, usually gaining and blowing leads in quick fashion. However, after taking a 5 point lead into the 4th quarter, they lead never dropped below 3 and wavered between 7 and 9 for most of the quarter. Instead of surprising the Mavericks with a quick streak of points, the Thornton helped the team continually push Dallas back every time they made a push to reclaim the lead. He consistently made important plays at both ends of the court, steadying the Warriors to one of their best wins of the season. I for one hope to see more of him off the bench in the final 6 games. He definitely brings a lot of good things to this team.
Last night, the Milwaukee Bucks recovered from an early 12 point deficit to beat the Philadelphia 76ers by 6 in overtime. After going 4-6 in their previous 10 games, the Bucks had fallen out of the East’s 8th seed by 4 games, and their playoff hopes coming into tonight were looking dreary. While a win tonight does keep them in the race, there’s probably not enough time left in the season for them to catch the Indiana Pacers. They’ve blown too many close games and lost to too many bad teams to be in a position to reach the playoffs this season.
But what happened to this Bucks team? They won 46 games last season, good for the East’s 6th best record, and many were even picking Milwaukee to win the Central Division in 2010-2011. They’ve utterly failed to meet expectations of winning 50 games despite adding Corey Maggette and Drew Gooden in the off-season. Injuries have hampered a lot of their regular rotation players, and their opening night starters have missed a combined 125 games. But with improved depth and an expected improvement from sophomore point guard Brandon Jennings, this team was supposed to be a sure-fire playoff competitor.
That hasn’t happened. The Bucks are 31-45 with 6 games left to play, and it has everything to do with their offense. It’s been the least efficient offense in the league this season, scoring just 101.6 points per 100 possessions. Couple that with the fact they play a slow pace and they average just 91.6 points per game. Both their pace and efficiency are significant drop-offs from last season, when they averaged 97.7 ppg and a 104.9 scoring efficiency.
When watching the Bucks, you can get the sense the offense just isn’t working, as it’s primarily based off of isolation plays. Isolations are something that many people have criticized in an NBA offense precisely because they’re not very effective. What’s interesting is that the Bucks’ coach, Scott Skiles, once recorded 30 assists in an NBA game. You would think that he would understand the importance of good ball movement more than most. However, the Bucks’ offense has remained as it was last year, and other teams’ have figured it out.
Another problem Milwaukee faces is playing at a slow pace. Even when their offense gets going (and that doesn’t happen with any regularity), it’s hard for them to build a substantial lead because they don’t take advantage of hot shooting or scoring by speeding up the pace. Instead they’re stuck with their two leading shot-takers both shooting 40% or worse from the field. The Bucks have good players and solid team defense, but they’re utterly misused in the their current offense. Essentially, it’s time to change the offense, and that means Skiles has to go, because this team won’t get better until they really let Brandan Jennings take advantage of his speed up and down the court.
Scores from last night:
Los Angeles Clippers 98, Oklahoma City 92 – A dominant second half gives the Thunder their second road loss in as many nights. Clippers add another impressive win to their resume.
Golden State 99, Dallas 92 – Mavericks drop to 3 games back of Lakers for West’s 2nd seed. Warriors remind fans of “We Believe” playoff series.
Milwaukee 93, Philadelphia 87 (OT) – Bucks remain alive in the East playoff race. Sixers lead over New York for 6th cut to 2 games.
Memphis 106, Minnesota 89 – Grizzlies move to 7th place in the West. Timberwolves losing streak now in double digits.
Chicago 113, Toronto 106 – Bulls win again as Rose puts up MVP stats. Toronto loses their 6th in a row.
Game of the Night:
Dallas @ Portland – Two playoff teams who could eventually meet in the 1st round of the playoffs. Portland is very good at home and Dallas should be desperate for a win after losing their past 2 games. Expect a dog-fight with Portland coming out on top.
The Warriors and the Mavericks are facing off again for the 3rd time in 18 days. If this were 2007, it’d be something to celebrate. Golden State won 5 times against Dallas in a similar 17-day stretch, culminating in one of the biggest upsets in NBA playoff history. The Warriors finished the season with a 7-2 record against Dirk and the Mavericks, and with the franchise’s only playoff series win since 1991. But things have drastically changed since then. They’ve lost 10 of their last 13 to Dallas, including an 0-3 mark this year. Hopes of reaching the playoffs went out the window weeks ago and the Warriors have nothing left to look forward to but the lottery. So why should Warrior fans care about this game?
The answer should be obvious: We Believe. We believe that no matter how bad this team has been this season, they’ve fought as hard as any team has all season long. Even when hustle and heart and team play wasn’t getting them anywhere, they kept on going. Whether you think the reason the Warriors aren’t any good is Keith Smart’s coaching, Monta Ellis’ questionable jumpers, or David Lee’s inability to play in the post, this team certainly didn’t suck because they quit. Even if you don’t agree with the decisions the front office is making, our players are still laying it all out there for us fans. For that, they still deserve our attention. They certainly put on a great show in the loss at Oklahoma City on Tuesday. They battled hard until energy failed them in Memphis. The blowout win against Toronto may have been the most exciting game all year. Bottom line is our guys are still bringing it, even if that’s not good enough for the win.
So before you decide not to watch the game because the Mavs have outscored us by 52 since the 1st quarter March 17th, think about why you’re doing that. Is it really fair to give up on the players on this team? They aren’t the ones who’ve failed us. Oracle is going to be loud tonight; it’s been that way against Dallas since WE BELIEVE gave it reason to be. I for one, think the Warriors have a shot to win this one. The Mavs could have a horrible let down game after the debacle they had in Staples the other night. If they don’t flop, the game should at least be intense. Dirk and Terry have been reminded how soft their team has appeared since the Warriors beat them in 2007 (thanks Matt: http://twitter.com/#!/Matt_Barnes22/status/53944458080817153). So here’s to hoping for a fun game. GO WARRIORS!