You could not script a season-ender more fitting than the one the Warriors experienced Wednesday night in Portland. The ridiculous injury bug, the rise of their rookie point guard, the importance of the D-Leaguers, the freakishness of Monta Ellis — it all was encapsulated in this one game.
On the surface, it was a meaningless 122-116 win over the Portland Trail Blazers. Portland knew its postseason slot (No. 6) before tip-off and played without its key players (injured guard Brandon Roy, ill forward LaMarcus Aldridge, center Marcus Camby). And the Warriors had nothing to play for since their postseason hopes had long since been dashed.
Still, this game will be memorable.
DEVEAN GEORGE: “I’m getting this game on DVD.”
Quick Aside: The Warriors finished tied with Washington for the 4th-worst record in the NBA. So they will split the combinations in the draft lottery. Here is how it works (based on memory from researching this last year):
14 balls, labeled 1 through 14, are placed into the sphere thingy. There are 1,000 possible four-ball combinations. All 1,000 will be assigned to the 14 lottery teams. The teams with the worst record get the most combinations, and so forth. New Jersey, having the worst record, gets 250 combinations. Minnesota, with the second-worst record, would get 199 combinations. Sacramento, alone with the third-worst record thanks to the Warriors’ victory, gets 156 combinations. Since the Warriors and Wizards are tied, they would split the combinations given to the fourth-worst (119) and fifth-worst (88) teams. Since the Warriors lost twice to Washington, I think the Warriors get 104 and the Wizards get 103.
So Wednesday’s victory cost the Warriors, at most, 34 combinations. If they had lost, they would’ve been tied for third with Sac, which means the Warriors and Sac would have had to split 275 combinations (138 for one team, 137 for the other).
So the drum will shoot four balls to the top. Whoever has that combination gets the top pick. They’ll do the same thing two more times to determine the second and third pick. Then the remaining 11 picks are slotted based on worst record. Golden State can pick no lower than seventh (if I am right about the tie break, if not, eighth), but that’s only if none of the worst three teams land in the top three.
Enough of that. I feel like I am doing more confusing than clarifying.
So Stephen Curry had a historic performance: career-high 42 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists.
The last rookie to post at least those numbers was Oscar Robertson back in February of ’61. He had 43 points, 20 assists and nine rebounds.
CURRY: “That Oscar Robertson guy was pretty good. (laughs) It seems like every time I hear about a record, he’s one of the last to do it.”
Probably the most impressive thing about Curry’s performance is that he was dog tired. He labored up the court some times. He was all too relieved when Monta or Reggie Williams brought it up. He played all 48, and as his stat line suggests, he wasn’t just standing around.
NELLIE: “Tell you one thing: If Stephen Curry isn’t Rookie of the Year there’s something wrong. What a performance, Co-Rookie of the Year would be beautiful, but that guy is pretty special and his performance tonight…what a ball game when I really only had five guys, 48 minutes and all of those guys had great stamina to get through a game like that and found a way to hang in there and win it. I’m very proud of them; it was a pretty special game for us.”
CURRY: “It’s the last game of the year of my Rookie season. Considering everything that’s happened this year, for us to finish it out the way we did, and for it to be such a crazy game, definitely going to be one I remember, I’ll get the game tape, clip, or a video or DVD, and make sure I keep this one on file…I just tried to take what the defense was giving me early in the game and didn’t want to force anything…The whole confusion (with the fouls) gave me and my teammates a little time to rest and get that going.”
What confusion with the fouls, you ask? Flashback to Jan. 13 against Milwaukee. Remember when Curry fouled out but the Warriors had no reserves left? Morrow had hurt his knee early in the game. Chris Hunter and Andris Biedrins had already fouled out. So the Warriors had to keep Curry in the game and get a technical foul, because you can’t play with four guys and you can’t force an injured guy to play.
It happened again Wednesday. The Warriors had eight guys. Two, Anthony Morrow and Ronny Turiaf, were ruled out after pre-game warm-ups. They tried to go and couldn’t, according to the Warriors officials. Then Hunter re-aggravated his right knee injury early in the game and had to sit out (with 4:25 left in the first). So the Warriors were down to five guys.
So when Devean George fouled out with 4:47 left, Nelson told the refs he didn’t have any healthy players, so he would just take the technical foul. Nelson said he had already told the refs that Morrow and Turiaf were out, and that Hunter couldn’t come back, so he was down to five players. But when George fouled out, the refs made Nelson bring in another guy. Nellie huffed and puffed, even told Hunter to go sit down and had just four players on the court for a while. The refs said no.
Eventually, Hunter came back on and seemed to hurt himself again trying to take a charge. Nellie went bananas. He argued with the refs some more. Apparently, because Morrow and Turiaf were listed as active, the officials wouldn’t allow Nellie to deem them injured without them logging any game time.
So Nelson subbed in Turiaf, who immediately committed an intentional foul. Then Morrow came in, and 11 seconds later, after Ellis was called for a foul, Morrow came out of the game. He, Turiaf and Hunter were immediately sent to the locker room. George then was allowed to come back in and the Warriors were assessed with a technical foul. Golden State finished the game with five players, one who had already fouled out. Again.
NELLIE: “It was predetermined in warm-ups that two of my players couldn’t play. To force those guys on the court is a legal issue, I think. That’s not right. I’ve got another player injured in the game, he was not going to return, that was clear and I told the referees he couldn’t return. I said ‘I only have five left.’ The rule reads if you only have five players and a player fouls [out], it’s a technical foul and the two free throws. And I understood that. That was’t a problem for me. That wasn’t what I was arguing. They made me put an injured player back in the game. That’s not right. I begged them: read the rules, call the league, do something. That’s not the rule. You can’t be forced to put an injured player in the game. They told me to just work with them and get through this and they told me what I had to do. Put a guy in for a few seconds and then say he was injured. He was injured before. I said, ‘He was already injured. What do I have to do that for? Why don’t I just tell you he’s injured. That’s what I’m doing.’ Anyway, I did it their way. It wasn’t the right way. There’s already rules for that. I know the rules because I’ve been playing injured all year.”
After the game, everybody was talking about how they had never seen anything like that. Forward Anthony Tolliver, who finished with 19 and 15, said he was literally laughing because he couldn’t believe what was happening. He called it “the greatest game I have ever been a part of.” Curry said he is going to get the DVD so he can keep this game, his last rookie game, as a keepsake.
Of course, what made it so special was that they won. Four guys – Curry, Ellis, Tolliver and Reggie Williams – played all 48 minutes. Devean George played 42 and some change.
NELLIE: “The guys said they want the video tape of the game, they just think it was the greatest game they ever played in, to do something like that. And you know what? They might be right.”