It is obvious that something positive is going on in Warriors land. And the turning point, though it sounds too simple, was the departure of swingman Stephen Jackson.
Since they traded him to Charlotte last Monday, the Warriors nearly upset the Cavaliers in Cleveland, played the Celtics tough in Boston, handled Portland in Oakland, and beat the Mavericks in Dallas. They’ve done it while short on players. They’ve done it against heavy odds. They’ve done it against some of the league’s best teams.
Sure, Cleveland wasn’t playing great. Boston played around until stepping on the gas again. The Blazers have struggled in Oakland for a while now. And Dallas is banged up.
But even with those qualifiers, it’s hard to argue against the strides the Warriors have made lately.
MONTA ELLIS: “We’ve been playing great ball these last five games. Some of them we didn’t win, but we took a lot from them. We play together and anybody can get beaten. We usually have (Dallas’) number and they don’t have any shot blockers so our game plan was to really attack the basket, and that’s what we did.”
Ellis has been a major reason for the turnaround. With Jackson gone, he is the undisputed top option. And his style of making plays fits much better into the Warriors style. He’s quick and decisive with his decisions, even when he goes 1-on-3, and that promotes the quick style the Warriors play. Also, he gets in the lane a lot, which breaks down defenses. (Jackson did most of his damage from the outside. He was good when he drove the lane successfully, but he wasn’t successful as often as Ellis)
Ellis has learned to find guys once he gets by his man and the help comes, something he’s gotten markedly better at over the years at that, though often it’s after he’s in the air, which is poor fundamentals. Jackson’s strength was his ability to pass off penetration and in traffic. If Ellis continues to grow in that area, it makes up for the passing they lost with Jackson.
ELLIS: “We’re having fun again. That’s what we’re doing, we’re having fun, playing together as a team. There’s a whole different vibe we have right now.”
Plus, Ellis is simply harder to defend. He’s quick, he can jump and he has a knack for scoring. Jackson, though he could get you 20, didn’t cause as much headaches and adjustments for defenses. The key for Ellis is going to be getting to the line. That is what’s going to take him to another level.
He was 7-for-9 from the line each of the last two games. It’s the first time he’s made at least 7 free throws in back-to-back games since January 2008. He was 10-for-11 from the line against Minnesota on Jan. 21 and was 13-for-14 against New Jersey on Jan. 24.
Ellis has also assumed leadership of this team, though he repeatedly said he wouldn’t take on a larger role now that Jackson is gone. With 7:18 left, a JJ Barea layup put the Mavericks up 96-87. The crowd was in a frenzy as the Mavericks took control of the game. Ellis answered with a layup to end the Mavs’ run. A timeout followed shortly, and in the huddle Monta asserted himself as a leader.
KEITH SMART: “I’ll tell you what happened. Monta Ellis stepped up in the huddle. ‘We’re OK. We’re OK.’ And it just moved down the line. The beauty of watching him now evolve into an in-game leader, telling everyone we’re ok, we’re ok.”
ELLIS: “I said we’re still here. … We get two 3s and we’re back in it. Just continue to play ball. It’s not over with. We’ve got a lot of time, we’ve got a lot of great players, a lo of shooters, and we’ve been playing great the whole game but we just make the little mistakes. But we’ve been playing through them ad just continue to play through them and have fun.”
Ellis was battling cramps in his calves in the fourth quarter, the product of playing 48 minutes for the second straight game (he also played 40 in Boston and 46 in Cleveland). He got them massaged by the bench during timeouts and never had to leave the game. Rookie guard Stephen Curry compared Ellis’ performance Tuesday to Raja Bell’s performance in Boston.
CURRY: “See a guy giving it his all, leading us where we’re trying to go. He’s fighting through pain. It’s a mission for us to get stops for him and try to finish the game and make that effort worth while.”
Speaking of Curry, he salvaged what was a poor performance with a huge fourth quarter. He had four turnovers through the first three quarters, several other passes were deflected but the Warriors tracked them down and was 3-for-8. Then, suddenly, he flipped a switch.
MORROW: “Steph, I told him to keep plugging away. He started kinda rough. He wasn’t settled down. So I just totaled to relax and play your game. That’s what he did. He played great. Showed a lot of character. I knew he was going to come out of that trance. It was just he came out and was just a little bit jittery. I told him to just relax. Make the simple play. You don’t have to do too much. All you’ve got to do is come down, make the simply play, make shots. You a great player. You’ve got good instincts already. Just go and play the game.”
With 7:30 left, he checked in for Mikki Moore. That was just before JJ Barea’s aforementioned layup. First he made the extra pass to get Morrow a good look at a 3-pointer. Morrow naile dit. Then Curry threw what looked like bad pass — a slow, knuckle ball of a lob — until suddenly a wide-open Anthony Randolph came into view. Randolph’s dunk cut the Warriors’ lead to 2.
At the 3:51 mark, Curry nailed a 19-footer off the pick-and-roll. Arguably the most comfortable he looked on a shot all night. He got himself to te line moments later, then nailed a 3-pointer in transition to give the Warriors the lead for good. He answered a Jason Terry 3-pointer by banking in a running, one-handed floater off one foot over Dirk Nowitzki.
My immediate thought: Did he just do a trick shot with the game on the line?
CURRY: “I work on that every day. I turned right to my coaches, coach Silas and Rico, because we work on that every day. I’m pretty confident in that shot.”
You’re confident in a running banker over a 7-footer?
CURRY: “Rico puts his hand up, so he’s like 7 feet.”
Assistant coach Stephen Silas confirmed that Curry does work on that shot every day and he is money with it. That shot made the score 107-103. Ellis followed with a lay-up, then two free throws from Curry sealed it.
The rookie had 11 points in the final 3:51. He finished with 18 points, 6 assists, 5 fouls, 4 rebounds, 4 turnovers and 3 steals.
ELLIS: “Maaaan. You saw it. He made shots. Got steals, rebounds, defended. Everything we needed in that fourth quarter out of him. He did that. Him being a rookie, I know a lot of rookies who would’ve just laid down. But he continued to play. He continued to take his shots. He did everything.”
Yes, that was Monta Ellis saying that about Steph Curry.
Morrow knocked down shots, of course. He was 9-for-16 from the field for 27 points, which was a season high. He also had 9 rebounds and 5 assists, which were also season-highs. That was the best passing game I’ve ever seen from Morrow. He had a few nifty passes after pumping faking the jumper and driving in. He even made a good pass on a fast break, which is usually his downfall.
When the Warriors went to China for the preseason last year, they got a chance to see the Stone Soldiers, properly known as the Chinese Terra-Cotta soldiers. Back in 1974, farmers digging a well discovered a tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi. In this giant tomb was a collection of stone statues, 8,000 soldiers and horses, which represented the Terra-Cotta Army. They were created and put in the Emperor’s tomb to protect him in he afterlife.
So, the Warriors saw these “Stone Soldiers” and decided to use them as motivation.
SMART: “We call ourselves Stone Soldiers. We got a chance to go over to China and experience that and some of the history there. Stone soldiers. You play. You break. But you keep playing. That’s our motto now. Stone soldiers.”
Not sure how the Warriors and Terra-Cotta Army relate. I just thought you might be interested in the history lesson.
Warriors last played three players for 48 minutes on Nov. 25, 1964 (funny, Lwood) at Boston Garden. Wilt Chamberlain, Guy Rogers and Nate Thurmond each played the entire game.
As far as I can find, the last team to win using just six players were the Houston Rockets. In Game 4 of the 1981 NBA Finals, they beat the Boston Celtics in Houston. Del Harris, coaching the Rockets, benched Calvin Murphy, among others, and ran with a sixlet of Billy Paultz, Robert Reid, Tom Henderson, Mike Dunleavy, Bill Willoughby and Moses Malone. Dunleavy had 28. Malone finished with 24 points and 22 rebounds in 48 minutes.