Mark Jackson looked almost angry when a well-meaning reporter asked him about how great an achievement winning the first three games of a road trip is, given how the Warriors hadn’t done that in 10 years. Why was Jackson, who handles most questions so well, so annoyed? Because the worst thing a group can do when they’re trying to break through is think about all the past mistakes and dreariness that have held them back for so many years.
It’s early yet, and we probably need to keep saying that until the All-Star Break, but these Warriors are different. And instead of trumpeting the top three starters, the rookie class or the bench, it’s probably time to come to grips with the idea that Jackson might know what he’s doing. The Warriors’ improved defense and rebounding isn’t likely to subside this season, and that’s probably due to the coaching staff focusing on those areas.
In the fourth quarter, the Warriors were the smarter team. Granted, they were playing one of the NBA’s worst teams in the Wizards, but Washington kept this game close throughout and Jordan Crawford — one of the best scorers in the world when he’s feeling it — was shooting without a conscience. But we aren’t wired to expect the Warriors to be the better team in crunch time on the road against any team, due to the same burden of crappy expectations that Jackson is trying to deflect by telling the world that his Warriors history started at the beginning of last season.
Who can blame him? No coach wants to be mentioned with Golden State teams of the past, even in passing. That’s probably why Jackson took the job, because he wanted to create a team, culture and reputation in his image and his alone. He also probably liked the ownership group because they said they’d spend (and they gave him a head coaching offer when other teams passed on doing so), but he certainly didn’t take the job because of the talent already in place.
Except for one player, perhaps. Stephen Curry fell 5 assists short of going 20/10 for the fifth straight game, but Jackson is more effusive in his praise for Curry than any other player, now that he realizes he can’t just let Klay Thompson run wild. Curry gave everyone another scare in D.C. when he was kicked from behind in the foot in some awkward Curry-like way that caused his knee to feel weird/sore/bad/whatever. Curry has tweaked his ankle on several occasions and pushed through the pain this year, leading to some of his best fourth quarter performances (Jackson played in at least 81 games in 12 NBA seasons, BTW).
But when it was said that Curry was testing the stability in his knee on the bench during the fourth quarter tonight, you could almost hear the idea of this Warriors team surging to the playoffs going “POOF!”
Then Curry was back in, and made 4 free throws that helped keep the Wizards at bay.
David Lee and Thompson were more than legit tonight, with Lee following a 30/15 the night before with 24/17, and Thompson having an outstanding final quarter. The second-year shooting guard scored 7 points, but his best offensive play was when he drove to the top of the key and used his pivot to perfection, spinning and dishing to Lee for a wide open 17-footer with a minute left to give the Warriors a 6-point lead.
As long as we’re giving credit to Jackson, it might be time to note that he has done a pretty good developing five rookies in two years.
Harrison Barnes has dropped some masterpiece highlights early in his NBA career, and he made a key 3-pointer at the beginning of the fourth quarter. But as this road trip progresses, one has to wonder if/when Jackson is going to replace him in the starting lineup with his new favorite: Draymond Green.
Jackson publicly dropped a “basketball IQ” mention when talking about Green, and the only thing that kept Green off the floor in the fourth quarter was fouling out on a very questionable blocking call. It’s not about who starts but who finishes and blah-blah-blah, but Green (a shade under 6′ 6″ with his shoes off who averaged 10.6 rpg in his senior year at Michigan St.) is defending and rebounding well enough to allow Andris Biedrins to get some DNP-Coach’s Decisions.
Right now, most of the coach’s decisions look pretty good.