Leave it to Andris Biedrins to provide perspective.
The obvious question after the Warriors 116-111 loss after the game was why did head coach Keith Smart leave the three players who were playing the best – guards Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry, and center Andris Biedrins – on the bench for so long to start the fourth quarter. But Biedrins had already found a bright side to his long stint on the bench with Ellis and Curry.
BIEDRINS: “It was nice to talk to them, see what’s up with them. (laughs) Monta was telling me about Memphis and everything in the city.”
Ellis, Biedrins and Curry three started the fourth quarter on the bench, which was a risky endeavor considering the Warriors entered the quarter down 87-82. Smart started the fourth quarter with an unusual lineup: undrafted rookie guard Jeremy Lin, underafted rookie forward Jeff Adrien, swingman Reggie Williams and forward Vladimir Radmanovic, and small forward Dorell Wright. With Wright having a rough shooting night – 1-for-6 with 7 points through three quarters – this lineup figured to have trouble scoring. And they did.
Radmanovic opened the quarter with a 3-pointer, and moments later Reggie converted a reverse layup. The Grizzlies’ lead was 91-87. But the Warriors missed their next seven shots and went the next 3:20 without scoring. They were playing solid defense though, as Memphis only scored twice in the same span. But it figured to be a prime opportunity for the Warriors, who trailed all evening, to take control of the game.
Smart brought in Biedrins at the 8:59 mark, but he didn’t get a shot though he had 24 points on 11-for-13 shooting when he checked back in, and the only Grizzlies big man in the game was reserve forward Darrell Arthur. Curry and Ellis were summoned to enter the game at the 8:07 mark, but they didn’t check in until the 6:48 mark, when Smart called a timeout following a Greivis Vasquez layup that put Memphis up 95-87.
It seemed like a missed opportunity, but who knows what would’ve happened had he gone to them sooner. Biedrins was visibly tired at the end of three quarters, so who knows if he has anything left in the tank to get 4 and 6 in the fourth quarter if he hadn’t gotten that rest. Curry had four fouls. If he comes back in sooner, maybe he picks up two more and isn’t available to score eight points in the final 1:42.
Smart has said before he wanted to make sure he got Monta a rest because he wanted his best player fresh down the stretch. He said Ellis has shown signs of fatigue when he’s forced to carry the team without a break. Monta had played 32 minutes and taken 14 shots through three quarters.
BIEDRINS: “We’re not feeling bad for that. That was coach’s decision. It was fine. our bench was playing. We needed to rest for a couple of minutes. I think it was all right. We came back. We had a lot of energy. We almost tied up the game.”
ELLIS: “That was coach’s decision. We stuck with it. It was just on us when it was time to get back in to close the game out. We didn’t do it.”
Several said that Biedrins’ 28-point, 21-rebound performance was the best of career. I certainly can’t remember seeing him as active and in tune and aggressive.
Biedrins called the game a must-win, and he played like he wanted it. During stretches in the third quarter, he was visibly sucking wind. And just when you thought he was done, he would go out and grab another rebound or score another basket.
BIEDRINS: “There were some moments I was a little tired. But the game was going for me and I just wanted to stay in the game and help my team.”
Biedrins hadn’t played 40 minutes in a game since Dec. 2008. The 41 minutes, 39 seconds he played Friday night is the most he’s logged since playing 42:16 at Boston on Nov. 26, 2008, two years exactly.
The Warriors coaches talked up the Grizzlies big men before the game. Marc Gasol is usually a problem for the Warriors because of his size and skill. But Biedrins not only outplayed him, he destroyed him. Gasol had 12 points, four rebounds, four assists and three blocks in 29 minutes. He only got up seven shots as Biedrins did his work early, denying Gasol and working to prevent him from nesting in his sweet spots. Plus Biedrins activity on offense seemed to tire Gasol. Perhaps that’s why Memphis coach Lionel Hollins went with the fresher and more athletic Darrell Arthur for most of the fourth quarter. Gasol played just 55 seconds in the final period.
Biedrins came out of the gates well. He had six points and five rebounds while playing all 12 minutes in the first quarter. He said he was trying to set the tone with his energy and activity, his part to get the Warriors out of slow starts.
ELLIS: “It was never lacking from him.”
Biedrins had some key help. Dan Gadzuric started the game, but Adrien got the lion’s share of the minutes (31) at power forward. It went kind of under the radar Friday night, but he outplayed Memphis forward Zach Randolph.
The Grizzlies power forward usually dominates the Warriors. Too big. Too physical. Too skilled on offense. In four games against the Warriors last season, he averaged 21.3 points and 11.5 rebounds. At Memphis, he was especially a beast. In two games against the visiting Warriors, Randolph totaled 53 points 31 rebounds.
But Friday night, he had just 14 points and seven rebounds in 38 minutes. (That’s what he had in the first meeting in Oakland, but history suggested he would go off in Memphis). Save for a couple of big jumpers, he was hardly a factor. Most of the credit to that goes to Adrien. In fact, when Adrien fouled out of the game with 5:37 left in the fourth, check out their lines:
Adrien – 12 points, 8 rebounds, 31 minutes
Zach R – 11 points, 6 rebounds, 35 minutes
ADRIEN: “Not too many people in this league can bang with Z-Bo for 30 minutes. It was good to go out there and bang with him. To go out there and bang with him, compete with him at his level, it feels good.”
The game plan vs. Randolph was to be physical with him, since Randolph is a bully of sorts in the paint. Adrien was especially focused at limited Randolph’s putbacks and second-chance points, which is where Randolph usually does damage. (Zach averages 4.1 offensive rebounds per game. He had zero Friday). Adrien said in the second-half especially he started varying his approach, keeping Randolph off-balance and unsure of how to attack. Adrien said Randolph likes to size up his man and find a hole in his defense.
This most obvious thing Adrien did was keep a body on Randolph, sometimes pushing Randolph out of his comfort zones and keeping him from getting wherever he wanted. Randolph seemed clearly bothered by the strength and peskiness of Adrien. The two were entangled enough to draw a double foul at the 4:07 mark of the second quarter. It was almost like a message to Randolph, that Adrien wasn’t backing down or going away.
BIEDRINS: “Finally, he’s using his muscle other ways instead of beating up people in practice. I told him ‘Why are you always hitting me in practice with elbows and stuff. Finally he got somebody he could battle with on the court. I’m really happy.”
A few of Monta Ellis’ teammates were impressed by the first-class Thanksgiving dinner he and his wife put on. Jeremy Lin’s eyes lit-up when he talked about Ellis’ house, which is more than 12,000 square feet and cost him nearly $2 million.
After practice, Ellis had buses take the team to his house. There, the Warriors traveling party and several of Ellis’ family members – about 40 to 50 people total – were greeted to all the food they could eat. Apparently, the food upstairs was homemade and the food downstairs was catered. Many of his teammates relaxed away the food by watching movies and football in Monta’s theater.
After the game, small forward Dorell Wright had the early onsets of what looked to be a serious shiner in the making. It was puffy below the eye and already turning black. After he finished interviews, I asked him what happened. He said he caught an elbow, but it was news to him that it left a mark.
WRIGHT: “You can see it? I can feel it, but can you see it?”
ELLIS: “Let me see.”
Wright turned toward Ellis so Ellis could see his right eye.
ELLIS: “Oh yeah. You can see it. That’s a good one, there.”