It was fun, or at least different, while it lasted. The Warriors’ 3-game winning streak ended, to a Portland Trail Blazers team that lost the night before to the lowly Washington Wizards and was playing on the road without their best player, LaMarcus Aldridge. Golden State should’ve won this game by a dozen, except teams that need to play their best week of basketball since 2007 just to reach .500 by the All-Star Break can’t consider any game a sure thing.
The Warriors put the game in Nate Robinson’s hands on Wednesday night, and what they got in return was a representation of Robinson’s career. Exciting, uplifting, tough, chaotic … and a performance that came up short in the end (no pun intended).
The Warriors have three players who lead the team in minutes, points and name recognition: Monta Ellis, David Lee and Stephen Curry. With Robinson convincing Mark Jackson to let him try to beat Portland by himself, the “big three” were all left feeling unfulfilled.
Monta Ellis: Ellis was under the weather, and Mark Jackson only played him for 27 minutes, sitting him for the game’s final 13 minutes. Here’s what Jackson said about Monta’s condition and why he didn’t see any time in the fourth quarter.
Jackson said all the right things after the game about the Warriors’ main All-Star candidate (more on that later), but this is professional basketball. If you’re in the lineup and you can play, you’re going to be judged. Monta’s now had two bad games in a row (going 8-for-29 from the floor in the process), and on a team where so much is unsettled (new owners, new coaches, four general managers and counting) everyone’s role is subject to change on a nightly basis. If Ellis is no longer the alpha dog, will he remain committed to what Jackson’s trying to accomplish?
David Lee: Lee had a very similar game to the night before, both statistically (28/12 on Monday night against Phoenix; 29/11 Wednesday vs. Portland) and in how he was used. As in: heavily until the last couple minutes. After the loss, Lee expressed the need to crash the offensive glass to get his offense in the later stages of games.
Lee has to be wondering why this team always caters to the guards, especially since for the most part it hasn’t worked.
Also, since neither Ellis nor Lee are known for defense, why is Monta considered the guy who got “snubbed” when it came to All-Star consideration? Ellis averages 22 ppg (43% FG), 6 apg and 3.4 rpg. Lee’s averaging 19 ppg (52% FG), 10.1 rpg and 2.6 apg. At the very least Ellis vs. Lee is a toss-up, and I’d give the edge to Lee this season due to consistency if you had to choose one (and in the NBA, you don’t).
Lee’s very aggressive throughout the entire game, and then it’s almost as if the Warriors freeze him out at the end. Don’t be surprised if Jackson alters that strategy as the season progresses.
Stephen Curry: He’s a total professional when it comes to answering questions after games, and he isn’t a complainer. However, one has to wonder how much he’s enjoying himself here — especially when he’s relegated to SG/decoy status at the end so Nate freaking Robinson can dribble more than Tyreke Evans on Evans’ greediest day. “I’m a point guard, I want to have the ball in my hands,” Curry said.
For the second straight season, Curry’s left to watch at the end of games. Usually Curry’s watching Ellis go iso, and on Wednesday Curry got to watch Robinson fly through the lane time after time, almost completely out of control. After going off for 36/7/7 in Denver, Curry’s had three mediocre games at home and still has a hard time making layups for whatever reason.
The former Knicks and not much else
The Warriors had an opportunity to keep their goal of heading to the Break at .500 a longshot — instead of an impossibility — with a win over Portland. The Warriors are 11-15 with four games left (@OKC, @MEM, vs. LAC, @PHX), and now there’s a good chance they’ll head to the break at a backbreaking 11-19. Good news for those hoping against hope that the Warriors can somehow finish in the bottom seven in the standings and keep their lottery pick, bad news for a team that had a nice little run going and seemed to be growing more confident.
The Blazers were shorthanded and looked lethargic early on, but the Warriors only received good performances from Robinson and Lee. Klay Thompson, Ekpe Udoh and Brandon Rush all performed well on defense, but none did much of anything offensively. Thompson’s shot was a little off for the first time in a while, Udoh seemed lost after perhaps the best all-around game in his short career on Monday, and Rush never seemed to get anything going … although a lot of that could’ve been due to Robinson dominating the ball.
Jackson often says he’s a “flow coach,” which mostly means he’ll ride the hot hand. The desire to be flexible and make the players compete every game for touches and minutes makes sense, but it also adds more uncertainty to a franchise that needs a plan and a future to look forward to. At this point, it looks like the Warriors are probably going to struggle to find any sort of continuity in this hurried season.