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Was Keith Smart Lucky or a Genius For His Late-Game Decision?

Much of the talk in the locker room postgame was about the Warriors’ final shot in regulation. That’s because Montq Ellis’ sprained left ankle didn’t seem so bad.

Ellis was carried off the court with just over 20 seconds left in overtime after Kings forward Donte Greene fell on Ellis’ left ankle. Ellis said he was in pain and worried because it was the ankle with screws and plate in it. But after the game, he was laughing and chatting with his teammates and unusually chatty with the media. He did walk with a limp, but it was slight enough to be confused with a 70s strut.

The team first announced he would get the left ankle x-rays, but minutes later it was deemed unnecessary. Ellis said he would see how he feels in the morning and determine if he will play Saturday at the Clippers. Considering the Warriors are on a back-to-back and San Antonio in town on Monday, I wouldn’t be surprised if he skipped Saturday’s game and have two full days off.

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Back to the shot …

The Warriors had the ball with 15.3 seconds left, down 104-102. No question, they were going to put the ball in Monta Ellis’ hands. But much to the dismay of the crowd at their feet on Friday night, Ellis kept the ball in his hands.

10 seconds left.

8 seconds left.

6 seconds left.

Finally, he made his move, with just enough time to take one shot. Yes, he made it, with .9 seconds left, sending the game to overtime. But that was risky at best, questionable to say the least, and perhaps even irresponsible. But how did it get to that point?

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As traditional logic goes, when you’re trailing, you go quickly. This must’ve been what Ellis was thinking. How do I know? Because that’s what was on his mind when he asked coach Keith Smart about it. Smart wound up expressing extreme trust in his star guard.

MONTA ELLIS: “I was thinking that, too, but he told me to do me. So I did me. So I took it all the way down, like the other night, and I got the last shot.”

With Ellis running away the time, that gave the Warriors once chance to win it. One play. One shot. If he missed, they wouldn’t have had time to get an offensive rebound and put it back. If the Kings got it, they didn’t have time to foul and extend the game (the Kings had already missed 3 of 6 FTs down the stretch to give the Warriors a shot).

But when that shot went in, and the Warriors wound up winning, Smart looked like a genius. Not only did it work, but it builds Ellis’ confidence for future situations.

KEITH SMART: “He asked me, ‘Want me to go quick?’ I said, ‘Go when you need to.’ … And he made the right play.”

Smart said he didn’t mind Ellis’ decision because he didn’t want to leave time left on the clock, he didn’t want to rely on Sacramento to miss free throws (though they’d just missed 3 of 6). Most important, he wanted Monta to do what made him comfortable. And to Ellis, that was taking his time, getting to his sweet spot, and doing exactly what he did against Indiana on Wednesday: nail a clutch pull-up jumper from around the left elbow.

STEPHEN CURRY: “It’s a tough call. If he goes fast, he’s not in control as he wants to be. If you go fast and miss it, then they make two free throws and the game is over. You can’t stop who gets the ball (on the rebound). So you live or die by that shot, and it worked for us.”

Ellis said he didn’t even think about going for a 3-pointer to win it. Which is smart, because you go for the win on the road, for the tie at home.

ELLIS: “We needed a two. Ain’t no need for me to take a 3. I was 1-for-6 for the night. I’m not about to launch that one.”

Marcus Thompson

  • Coltraning

    Ummm….didn’t cross your mind to pass it to your point guard who was shooting better or your PF who also was shooting better? Great shot for sure, but not even a thought of passing to one of them? Hmmm…anyway, great comeback. Fitzgerald whines way too much about refs, but tonight he had a point. Monta should have gone to the line at least five trips he didn’t take.

  • Ramg529

    Absolutely unequivocally a stupid play… Don’t care how it turned out. Typical of Smart though… Two mistakes: the first is the obvious, taking the shot WAAAY too late; the second is letting Monta make a strategic call, if what Smart said at his post game conference is true, that he agreed to let Monta make the call to wait so damn long before taking the shot. The game wasn’t tied! What the hell were you thinking?! Blame goes to Smart 100% for this gaffe… Monta’s basketball IQs not his strong point so he gets a pass. Even more reason to fire Smart… And not to mention his whacked lineup with 7 minutes to go in the game…Law, BWright, Gadz, Rad, and Monta I think it was? Really??? No wonder why the momentum swung the Queen’s way and the lead ballooned…

  • Rich

    Monta … I hope they make you an All-Star. You more than deserve it!!!!

  • W’s in 2010

    Lucky. :)

  • llewey22

    He was Smart. :-) We have had years of “playing by the book”. I’d much rather leave it in Monta’s hands than give Sac the momentum back with time left on the clock to win it. Keep on trusting your players, Coach! You are a breath of fresh air & just what the W’s needed.

  • Kick Out

    Better to be lucky than smart. His line up in the early to mid 4th was horrible. So he’s lucky he had Ellis and then Curry to bail him out. Ellis hitting consistant buzzer beater isn’t luck, it’s skill.

  • YouTired

    Since the W’s don’t rebound well, there’s less benefit to shooting early. Since the W’s don’t defend great, there’s even more benefit to taking the clock down and not exposing the defense any more than you must. With the added psychological benefit of letting Monta go when he’s most comfortable, I say smart.

  • mac

    He just did the same thing last game, don’t leave the other team a chance. I like it a whole better than a 3. From where he shot he’s probably shooting 50plus percent, I’ll take that. You gotta have confidence in your stars and more importantly they do in themselves. No question the right move!!!

  • Felix

    Great players, coaches and ordinary people, “in the moment of truth,” do our jobs; what we know to do, the outcome is what makes success. He was a Genius!

  • ChuckDurn

    More lucky than good. Smart seems to be subscribing to Nelson’s approach of “don’t call a play – just put the ball in your best player’s hands and ask them to win or tie it for you one-on-one.” Saw it all the time in the bast with Baron and Jackson, Smart is doing it with Ellis. As for me, I subscribe to the notion that the coach should actually call a play to get one of his top 3 players open (Monta, Curry, Lee) rather than relying on a guy to continually make semi-balanced, challenged 16-footers to bail us out. Monta’s been great at it the last couple of days, but give me Curry breaking wide open off a pick from 18 feet, and I’ll feel more comfortable with that any day of the week.

  • WetLunGz

    Those mvp chants while he’s at the ft line r starting to b less and less ridiculous.

  • sco_lo_pro

    Marcus, in regards to the question of was Smart genius or lucky – I have a slightly different perspective. By giving Monta the lattitude to take his own shot whenever he was comfortable, Smart may have propelled Monta beyond his previous eschelon into elite status. Sound over dramatic? Maybe but here’s my point. Monta coming off thatclutch shot vs the Pacers was starting to feel like he is the guy. The go to guy, the takeover artist, an all star. But one clutch shot for the win make not an all star. Smarts decision to take a calculated riskand give Monta ultimate freedom is not given up lightly by any head coach, rookie or not. That trust and the positive end result may give the Warriors much more than a needed home win against a terrible team. The compounding of this success matched with Monta’s prior superhero feat may give Monta the unshakable confidence that he’s been missing and that the nba elite posess. We may look back at this and think, this was way more than a heart pounding OT win. It may be a turning point that we will reference when tracing back the emergence of Monta Ellis as an elite NBA player mentioned with prior MVPs. Smart risked losing an important home game during a critical stretch, but what he won is way more than a single game. He now has elevated his best players game, something great coaches do. Is Keith Smart a great coach? Perhaps not. But with that win he may have bought himself another year coaching this team. Not only because they won – because he’s now getting the most out of an amazing talent that was scratching the ceiling, reaching for higher.

  • Gizzm

    It was interesting to see how the players played last night, considering Lacob laid out his thoughts on nearly every player and staff member earlier in the day with the media.

  • Grey Warden

    I thought it was the right choice. Nobody can guard Ellis one on one. I knew he would shoot a jumpshot rather than drive the lane (if he did he would’ve been smothered immediately by surrounding defenders). Had they settled for a quick 2, they probably would’ve lost the game.

    As for Ellis waiting till the last second, at least he didn’t pull a Captain Jack and shoot a 3 lol

  • dickv

    Smart was smart… if Monta truly is an all-star, he makes the play. The lakers, with all of phil’s zen master mumbo jumbo, do the same with Kobe at the end of every game when they need one shot to win or tie… the difference there of course is that you have Gasol, bynum, Artest crashing the boards ready to get the rebound… Fisher spotting up for plan B ready to sink the dagger.

  • al oha

    Sacramento has the basketball IQ of a rock.

    Didn’t they see the tape of Monta from the day before? Or at least hear about it?

    Wouldn’t you send a double-team at Monta and force him to give up the ball to say, D. Lee or D. Wright with time running out?

    No wonder Sac. is going for the top 3 picks in the draft every year.

    With ‘Reke and Cuz, they’re half way to being totally insane.

  • TownLove

    Seemed like it took Smart a long time to realize that AB was gettin it handed to him. He played Gadz much more in the 2nd half and imo that was the difference

  • Earl Monroe

    The warriors down by nine-who goes off? None other than Mr. Curry-this backcourt has a lot of moxie.

  • nickj

    you know what? I think it might be a combination of both luck and not genius but smart being just that, smart. With the game on the line you want the ball in your best player’s habds whether to shoot it for the win or look for the right pass to the player cutting to the hoop for the winning basket, in essence making the right decision. This I think has two fold effect on the situation where you instill a confidence in the team wherer it knows it can rely on a player with the ability to take victory out of the jaws of defeat and it also gives that player the sense that when the game is on the line I have what it takes to be that difference maker, that star that rises above the rest. Make no mistake not everyone has that capability because of the pressure it takes to make that clutch shot. We are seeing the emergence of a super player in the making. Curry has the same kind of ingredients but his shine is different than Monta’s. Good Article Marcus!

  • W’s in 2010

    Keith Smart is a HORRIBLE coach. Now I understand Joe Lacob when he questioned Smart’s rotations. Dan Gadzuric had a great game against the Kings, his energy was huge that game. So what happens against the Clippers, one of the best rebounding teams in the league? DNP-CD. Smart plays VladRad at PF, and without a center most of the game. WTF, is it any wonder why we get destroyed on that glass? Can’t even secure a rebound off a missed FT. Insane.

  • commeno14

    Number 14 comment is right on the money. I strongly encourage fans out there to voice their opinions regarding the insanity of keith smart’s substitutions. I have absolute had it with this bunch of junk. Who cares now about biedrins: just get rid of him take the big hit or dump him off in a trade that we better make before the deadline. Udoh, Amundson, BWright have absolutely no chance to show that if you rotate this players in and out that they are 100times better than gadzuric, biedrins, and vlad. It took Vlad about 25 games to break through yet he barely gives any chance to let those other players to get any kind of rythmn. This is the most worthless garbage coach….and quite honestly i think he is sabotaging this team……go to he hell coach smart

  • bobfitzsucks

    just heard fitzy boy for the millionth time mention warriors starters and how great they are. Well yes idiot…..this is what happens when you get a coach that barely uses his bench and the right guys off the bench…this is also why they can’t win at the end of games…..they are spent……get a clue bob….this is why they have no inside game….maybe the 5th guy in the starting lineup ever say had 10 points or more we might win……learn the game announcer boy

  • http://welbiltbreadmachine.blogspot.com welbilt

    Keith is doing fine. Warriors fans need to take a look at the roster and be honest with themselves. He’s making a decent cake with poor ingredients. We’re lucky we’re not in the bottom dregs of the league. We only have 1 player (d. wright) that can defend, and only 2 that can score consistently (ellis, curry).

  • robert rowell

    ha! dwright can defend?

    but yeah, the roster is full of scrubs and stiffs. not much keith can do but play the young guys… oh wait, better just to play the starters in the 4th quarter of a blowout.

  • W’s in 2010

    NOTHING annoys me more than people disrespecting the talent on this team to make the stopgap coach look good. We got talent, more talent than that team last year that won 26 games. Sadly, this team would be over .500 right now if Nellie were still here.