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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.

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?

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