Going into a critical 10-game stretch of the season, where nine out of the 10 teams they will face would make the playoffs if the season ended today, the Golden State Warriors fell flat against a team that has proved to be a terrible matchup for a Warriors team that looked undersized and outmuscled.
Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry did an admirable job of keeping the Dubs in the game, scoring 20 and 24 points respectively. As the game went on, both seemed to have a sense that if Golden State was going to win, they would have to be the ones to lead the charge.
With that in mind, David Lee simply did not have it tonight. Against what Jim Barnett called the best front court in the NBA before tip-off, Lee never got into a rhythm on offense, looking hesitant and obviously flustered by the size of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. While it would’ve been out of character for him to have a tangible impact on the defensive side of the ball, the skills that have garnered Lee considerable attention as an All-Star candidate so far this season were nowhere to be found tonight, and that meant that the Warriors were going to have to make up that difference somewhere.
This is the problem that Mark Jackson will continue to face as the Warriors face playoff-caliber opponents with skilled big men. Where do you turn when the opposition nullifies one of your team’s biggest assets?
You’d hope in games like these that you would get a little more out of Carl Landry, who had a promising 10 points in the first half, but was only able to score three more the rest of the way. Jarrett Jack is another player who can come off the bench and score, but Jackson often likes to use him as a facilitator in his second most-used lineup of Jack, Curry, Thompson, Lee and Landry. Eventually Harrison Barnes may be the player who is called upon to fill that void, but he still has a ways to go in becoming an assertive offensive player that really impacts the game in that sense.
You can be certain that Festus Ezeli and Andris Biedrins won’t be lighting up the stat sheet anytime soon, but it was apparent that Jackson did not want to compromise his team’s chances of winning what was turning into a dogfight by going with a small, offensive-oriented lineup. Thus, Ezeli ends up logging 25 minutes, Biedrins comes in off the bench instead of Draymond Green, and you find yourself wondering what this game would have looked like if Bogut had been on the court.
In tonight’s case, the back court kept the Warriors in the game, but if there is a criticism to make, it’s that Curry needed to go one of two ways: either take over the game from a scoring standpoint, or become the set-up man for Thompson, and to a lesser extent Lee and Landry. Now that’s much more difficult for him to do than it is for me to write considering how good Memphis is at making teams uncomfortable on defense, but if Stephen Curry is being aggressive and looking to score, and he ends up catching fire down the final stretch of the fourth quarter, maybe Golden State pulls this one out.
But hey, let’s not get all gloom-and-doom here. The Warriors really had no business being in this game, yet they fought back in the third quarter to cut Memphis’ lead to one off of a circus shot by Jarrett Jack, and for a minute it had the feeling of one of those “win ugly” games that you know Mark Jackson takes a ton of pride in.
Against a team that ranks first overall in opponent PPG and at or near the top in most advanced defensive metrics, the Warriors hung tough and had a chance to win after allowing Memphis to shoot 54% in the first half, and that’s a testament to the coaching staff and Jackson’s ability to motivate his team to play hard every night.
Overall you have to tip your hat to Golden State’s effort, but they’re going to have to do better than this if they want to come out on the other side of this 10-game gauntlet in a favorable position to make the playoffs.