Game story for tomorrow
Warriors second-year big man Ekpe Udoh started at center against the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday. And after the way he played, many Golden State fans will be hoping it’s permanent.
With the usual starter Andris Biedrins out with flu-like symptoms, Udoh registered a career-high 17 points in a career-high tying 39 minutes as the Warriors beat the Clippers 104-97. He made on 9 of 14 shots to go with eight rebounds (including a career-high six offensive boards) and two blocks as Golden State snapped a three-game losing streak.
“He was great. Absolutely great,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. “He had an opportunity tonight and truly took advantage of it. … The way he‘s played the last month or so has been great and (Monday night) was the icing on the cake.”
Unfortunately for the Warriors (12-17), Udoh left the game after he banged his left knee late and did not return. X-rays were negative. Udoh’s sprained left knee will be re-evaluated Tuesday.
But before he left, though, Udoh brought the kind of production and presence to the center position the Warriors have been craving. He outplayed Clippers’ center DeAndre Jordan and helped keep All-Star Blake Griffin from dominating too much (21 points, nine rebounds).
In addition to his defense, Udoh, if only for one night, answered the Warriors’ famine for inside scoring. Golden State actually scored more points in the paint (34-32) than the Clippers.
Throw in a game-high 32 points from guard Monta Ellis and a 24-point and 13-rebound double-double from David Lee, and the Warriors proved to be too much for the third-best team in the Western Conference.
“You have enough trouble trying to stop Monta and (Stephen) Curry,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “When you throw Udoh into it, it gets a lot tougher.”
The only question now is will this be a blip on the radar or a breakout game.
“I’ve just got to keep working,” Udoh said. “I have to take advantage of the opportunities. I will do whatever coach Jackson needs me to. I’m just trying to help this team win.”
Even with Udoh’s performance, the Warriors still found themselves in a tight game down the stretch. In what is a break from the norm, Golden State made the necessary plays down the stretch to hold off the Clippers.
With four minutes left, Udoh emerged from a crowd of Clippers with an offense rebound, dropping it in with a two hands to tie the game at 95. Moments after Los Angeles took the lead back, Curry drove the lane and whipped a pass back out to swingman Brandon Rush, who nailed the open 3-pointer.
After Curry secured a stop with a defensive rebound, which the Warriors couldn’t do in Saturday’s loss at Memphis, Ellis put the Warriors ahead 100-97 with a driving lay-up at the 1:23 mark.
Ellis’ basket all but sealed as Golden State held the Clippers scoreless over the last 3:15. Los Angeles missed its last six shots and turned it over once.
Jackson has said he was sticking by Biedrins as his starter. But after Monday’s performance, it sound as if Jackson was laying the foundation for a change at center.
“The way he played tonight, he gives us something totally different,” Jackson said when asked if Udoh is his starter. “I will take my time and assess our basketball team and we’ll move forward. But he certainly is a guy that, when opportunity presented itself, played well enough to demand more minutes.”
Certainly, the fans are going to want Udoh in the starting lineup.
With just under a minute and a half left, after Ellis’ driving basket, the crowd at Oracle Arena was in mid-celebration. Then when it saw Udoh on the ground clutching his left knee, the noise immediately fell to a concerned hush.
Eventually, Udoh got up and walked off on his own power. And you could almost hear the sell-out crowd collectively sigh in relief. Their new choice for starting center appeared to be ok.