This year’s Golden State Warriors are no longer be the spectral vision of chaos that once troubled the sleep of the NBA’s elite. The days of Baron Davis, Captain Jack, 6’7″ centers, wantonly careless defense and constant, brazen shooting may be over. But this team, with their skinny, pale duo of Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry can still cause deep panic in a defense, particularly one as inexperienced and undisciplined as our Wolves.
Ellis may be an inveterate gunner, using bravado and sparkle to slightly overstate his own value as a player. But when gunners score as dynamically and vibrantly as he does I can’t help but be enthralled. The Wolves certainly seemed enthralled; they found Ellis’ kinetic quickness and attacking handle almost impossible to defend. Over and over, Ellis (and, to a lesser extent, Curry) broke down the Wolves’ perimeter defense, sending the team into a death spiral of frantic help and confused rotations. He slashed into the paint with impunity; he leaned back into that 45 degree fadeaway; he dished out ten crisp assists; he dropped that crossover on just about everybody; it was pretty awesome.
Unluckily for the Wolves, the Warriors’ Dorell Wright was often the beneficiary of the ball movement engendered by Ellis’ playmaking, and was cosmically unable to miss a three pointer. Wright hit nine of the twelve he attempted. The Wolves’ never did quite figure it all out. Kurt Rambis expanded after the game:
They’re supposed to be in a position where they should be able to help a little bit, stunt and then be able to get back out to a shooter. Once a guy proves to me that he’s made two three pointers in a row, he don’t get the next one open, right? You run him off the spot, make him do something other than hit a stationary shot, and we didn’t do that. I kept trying to find a combination of players that would eventually get that done, but we couldn’t get it done with anybody.
Michael Beasley was the player most responsible for Wright’s endless open looks and it’s not really hard to figure out why. When asked, after the game, what he could have done differently, this is what he said: “Um…I can’t say. I can say tomorrow after I watch film tonight but I really don’t know. We were rotating but in the second half they had us playing scramble basketball and they was just knocking down shots.”
That’s a problem. My guess is that when Beasley does check out that film, he’ll notice that he was repeatedly slow to anticipate the kick to Wright and repeatedly tentative in his closeouts, that he never could quite do enough to deter Wright from putting up a shot. One thing he and Rambis did agree on, though: it was the inability of the Wolves’ perimeter defenders to keep Ellis and Curry out of the paint that sent the whole dark comedy into motion.
The second destroyer of this game was an old familiar one. Golden State is by no means a good defensive team, but they do bring more energy and activity to the task than any Warriors crew in recent memory (they are 27th in the league in defensive efficiency, at 107.7, up two ticks from last year’s miserable showing). On Saturday, they pressured the ball, energetically denied passing lanes and generally disrupted the Wolves’ offensive flow.
Nonetheless, a patient and aware offensive team would have been able to move the all from side to side, finding the open spaces on the floor created by the Warriors’ strong side pressure. Needless to say, the Wolves are not that team. Particularly in the second half, they appeared harried and un-poised, making careless passes, dribbling into pressure and awkwardly holding the ball. Rambis expanded on the spectacle:
It’s a big problem for us. I though it was an area that we had corrected, but then a lot of our players went back to doing the things that in passing the ball in a way that we’re working with them on not doing. They went back to that sort of passing, “passing out of motion” is what we call it, where you’re sort of telegraphing the pass and players that are active, you know, get their hands on passes. So that’s something that we have to stop doing, clearly.
Clearly. The Wolves currently sit in a tie for 28th in the league in turnover ratio at 26.5. This is one of many stats for which the Wolves idle near the NBA’s cellar, but it is among the most damaging–just damaging enough, actually, to negate the advantages they glean from their terrific rebounding. Saturday’s game was no exception. The Wolves seized 23 new possessions with offensive rebounds–Kevin Love was again transcendent on the boards–and then promptly handed them right back with 22 turnovers (constantly blowing layups and putbacks certainly didn’t help either). That’s a great way to lose a basketball game.