Revisiting Game 2: Warriors, Already Climbing Uphill, Couldn’t Overcome Loss of Brandon Rush

The Warriors, which had lost six straight to Memphis, was in for a tough match-up at full strength. So losing a key player in the rotation definitely hurt.

But the way they lost swingman Brandon Rush, that was debilitating.

JARRETT JACK: “It had me in a daze for a little while. I’ve known Brandon probably longer than anybody in here. I knew him as a rookie. We both went to Indiana the same year – lived next door to each other, literally. He’s one of my really, really good friends. To watch that happen, it took the air out of me for a little bit.”

Oracle Arena kept waiting for a run to come. The Warriors are usually good for one in their own arena. But Friday, though it was the home opener, it was hard to muster the adrenaline. In the locker room after the game, it was obvious why. Their hearts were with Rush.

Rush was scheduled for an MRI on Saturday. But even without the diagnosis, it was clear Rush’s injury was devastating. The Warriors pride themselves being a close-knit group, and Rush seemed to get along with everybody. So when he went down at the 4:09 mark of the first quarter, when he screamed in pain and tried to push his knee back in place, when he tried to walk it off and didn’t even try to hide his tears, it took the Warriors to an emotional place they couldn’t quite come back from.

STEPHEN CURRY: “His initial reaction kind of said everything. You try to brush it off. The message is that injuries happen, guys have to step up. But when you say one of your brothers go down like that, with the emotion that he had, it was really tough.”

The players got a chance to give Rush their best at halftime. But seeing him, how emotional and devastate he was, worked a number on their psyche.

Bogut, who’s experienced the shock of suffering a painful, season-ending injury, said he just left Rush alone. After the game, Carl Landry didn’t want to talk. Jack talked but was clearly emotional.

JACK: “I know personally for me, my heart was just pounding. And like I said, he’s a really great kid, fun-loving kid. Nobody deserves to get hurt but if there was a person who didn’t deserve it, it was him.

“I talked to him, but what do you really say to somebody in that situation? Obviously he couldn’t play so we know he’s going to miss a substantial amount of time. If it were to happen to me, there’s really nothing you can say that’s just going to make me smile at that point. That’s just like telling somebody who just got laid off and they got three kids at home and the 1st is in three days. You gotta keep the lights on, some food – what can you really say to that person? Fortunately, financially, we’re pretty good but obviously this is what we love to do. And anytime anything you love is kind of taken from you, it’s a rough situation.”

Rush signed a two-year contract with the Warriors this summer for $8 million. He has a player option for next season, but he never planned on using it. The goal was for him to top his breakout performance from last year and enter free agency again in search of more money and a longer deal.
But at this point, no one knows when Rush will return. No one in the Warriors’ locker room is doubting if Rush will return. Late Friday evening, Rush sent out a tweet thanking everyone for their prayers and saying “I’ll be alright.”

JACK: “He tore his ACL in college. You just feel helpless at that point. Obviously none of us can predict, control injuries. They’re a part of the game – it’s the worst part of the game. For it to happen to him, he’s worked so hard to get to where he’s at now in his NBA career. You never want to see it happen to one of your teammates but he’s one of my better friends as well. Two games into the season, it just sucks, point blank.”

More from last game:

*MVP: Stephen Curry. It could easily go to Carl Landry again. But Curry was too dominant. He carried the Warriors for a critical stretch in the second quarter, after the Rush injury had deflated the team. He found his stroke, knocking down half his shots, including six 3-pointers. Seven assists and five rebounds is just good production. He had one turnover too many (4) but he played a game-high 43 minutes.

JACKSON: “We all know Steph is a great shooter. If we can get him running off screens, getting some separation, my job is easy – deliver it on time, on target. If the big guys do a good job of screening for him, he’s able to be really effective.”

**MDP: David Lee. He simply MUST be more of a factor. He not only was quiet on the offensive end, looking tentative on most possessions, but he was relatively helpless against Zach Randolph.

The Warriors need Lee to be big. Not average. Not OK. He needs to play big. It makes sense that he is trying to get his legs under him. However, the Warriors need him to hurry up.

KEY MOMENT I:  With about seven minutes left in the first quarter, Memphis center Marc Gasol came charging down the lane. He ended up on the ground with Andrew Bogut standing over him. The crowd went into a frenzy after Bogut spiked Gasol’s runner.

On Memphis’ next time down the floor, Bogut stopped Gasol again. This time, he took a charge, drawing another ovation from the crowd.

It was enough to make Warriors fans crave when Bogut can be fully incorporated into the rotation. Of course, Bogut is craving the same thing.

BOGUT: “You know, it’s frustrating. We’ll see what happens this next couple weeks and we’ll go from there. Obviously I’ve got to try to find a way to find my rhythm quickly in three- or four-minute bursts that I’m out there and maintain that rhythm. Tonight I didn’t do that.”

*Xs AND Os: When Tony Allen checked out of the game, the Warriors moved Stephen Curry to shooting guard. They kept running the same play, this pin down screen in which Curry curls off looking for his shot. With Curry’s stroke clicking, it was a smart move to keep going to it.

But when Tony Allen checked back in, the Warriors abandon it. Seems like that would have been a great way to try to free up Thompson.

Oddly enough, that was about the most creative offensive set the Warriors ran. Golden State can score in bunches, but it seems like they can’t score consistently. They have guys with good individual offensive talents, but tough defense throws them off their games. They seem to need to have an open look or someone get hot.

It is simply not enough to just be able to shoot or dribble or pass against teams like Memphis. Since the Warriors don’t have great one-on-one talent, that means the coaches have to do more. They need something like the Princeton offense to take advantage of their skills but lack of athleticism and improvisation.

They struggle to find reliable, consistent offense when they NEED a basket, except for throw it down to Carl Landry. They struggle against pressure defense (it gets them all rushed and scattered) and don’t have much of a fast-break game. The test of a good offense is not how many mismatches they can create and exploit, but their ability to score when there is no mismatch, when the opponent plays good defense.

Even Curry said the Warriors need more creativity on offense. But it sounds like Mark Jackson is buying the same mantra as coaches of the past, that the Warriors have plenty guys who can score 20, therefore they are a good offense.

MARK JACKSON: “We are a very good offensive team. I’m not worried about scoring 80s and 90s. We are going to score the basketball. We’ve got to defend without fouling and minimize our turnovers. When we do that, we are going to be just fine.”

That doesn’t mean Jackson doesn’t know his Xs and Os. But if he does have some schemes up his sleeves, the Warriors need him to pull them out.

Another thing, Jackson deserves kudos for saying publicly he would play Landry over Lee if it came to that. He kept Lee in for a couple minutes at a point when it was clear Landry should be in. But even still, he’s been finding ways to get Landry in the game, which is a good thing.

However, Ezeli – who Jackson never fails to praise – getting less than 13 minutes is a head-scratcher considering a) the size and physicality of Memphis; b) that Ezeli is supposed to start Saturday and probably could’ve used more minutes to prepare him for the Clippers; c) the Warriors are always talking about defense but didn’t give more time to one of their best defenders

*KEY MOMENT III: Did you see that reverse dunk by Rudy Gay in the first quarter? Geez.

*SERIOUSLY?: The Warriors have said Bogut won’t play until he’s 100 percent. Then Jackson said Bogut was cleared but he would play him based on how Bogut feels. Now, Jackson is saying Bogut will be held to a 20-minute limit through at least the end of November.

JACKSON: “I can’t stress enough how much he means to us. I’m not going to drag this guy out there 30 to 35 minutes to get a win in early November and risk something happening. … It is not about how he feels. It’s going to be frustrating. But we have to make sure he’s 100 percent.”

Bogut is clearly frustrated with this whole minutes limit process, as Tim Kawakami illuminated. But what was really odd was how Jackson divided his minutes Sunday.   He played the first 6 in the first quarter, 0 in the second, 4 midway through the third, 8 in the fourth. Sitting from the sixth minute mark of the first quarter all the way to the third quarter killed whatever rhythm Bogut gained.

BOGUT: “Definitely. No doubt about it. … I’m out there, I’m playing, so there’s no excuse with my injury and with minutes. But it is frustrating. I’ve got to try to find a way to stay positive and make sure I’m more productive than I was tonight.”

*YEAH, WHAT HE SAID: “There’s no excuse. If you’re out there on an NBA floor, whether you’re 80 percent or 110 percent, you’re out there. No one else cares how you feel. You go out there and bring your “A” game. And tonight I didn’t play too well. As a team, we didn’t play our best.” – Andrew Bogut

*DEFINING RUN: Curry nailed a 3-pointer with 6:37 left in the third quarter. The Warriors were down 59-56 and in position to turn the tide of the game.

Golden State then got a stop on the defensive end. But at the 5:52 mark, Lee drove to the basket and was stripped, leading to a turnover. The next time down, a shot clock violation. Then a missed Curry 3-pointer. Then a Bogut turnover. Then Lee missed a jumper. Then Thompson missed a jumper.

MEMPHIS COACH LIONEL HOLLINS: “That’s what we do. We had good pressure; pressure on the ball; pressure on the wings. We were just taking them away from everything they wanted. When you’re trying to force a play when there’s a lot of pressure and also when the shot clock is against you, turnovers happen.”

Lee eventually nailed a step-back jumper with 2:50 left. But that was merely stopping a 9-0 Memphis run. After that Curry 3-pointer, Golden State closed the quarter making 3 of 11 with four turnovers. What was shaping out to be a nail-biter turned into a comfortable 75-63 Grizzlies lead entering the fourth quarter.

*KEY MOMENT III: Zach Randolph, who fouled Rush on the play he got hurt, felt terrible about the injury. He has a previous relationship with Rush. He said they used to play hoops in Indiana when Rush was a little kid. So Randolph took time out to go to the Warriors locker room and apologize to Rush.

*BEFORE YOU GO: Center Andris Biedrins made his 2012-13 debut. After getting a DNP-CD in the opener, he was forced into the game on Friday. When Rush went down, since he couldn’t take his free throws, the Grizzlies get to choose who takes the free throws in Rush’s place. Memphis coach Lionel Hollins chose Biedrins.

Biedrins, with the crowd fully engaged, missed both free throws. But he hit the rim, saving himself from further embarrassment. He went on to play six minutes. Jackson said he will get some time Saturday against the Clippers being rookie Festus Ezeli. (Bogut is being held out, prevented from playing in back-to-back games.) Still, expect more Carl Landry than Biedrins. And you may say Jeremy Tyler.

Marcus Thompson