When the Warriors lost David Lee to what the team assumed was a season-ending injury in the team’s first playoff game, I was skeptical that Golden State would be able to reconstruct its offense on the fly against an opponent devoting nearly 100 percent of its scouting resources to the Warriors. It wasn’t that Lee was some kind of indispensable two-way destroyer for the Dubs; he’s a very clear minus on defense, and though he puts up gaudy individual rebounding numbers every season, his teams have generally rebounded better with him on the bench.
It was mostly that Lee was such a central cog in just about every Warriors offensive possession. He was by far Golden State’s most common screener for Stephen Curry, and on those deadly pick-and-rolls, Lee could do just about everything — pop for jumpers, roll to the hoop, catch at the foul line, and break down the defense with his dribbling/passing skills. He also soaked up a lot of Golden State possessions with a solid post-up/isolation game, particularly from the left wing. Only Curry attempted more shots per game or used a larger share of Warriors possessions.
David Lee is a punch line, mostly because of his poor defense, but his ability to do just about everything on offense has made him a core part of a Warriors team that has won by scoring like hell, surviving on defense, and cleaning the glass. Now he’s gone for the season, the bad-luck victim of a hip flexor just 29 minutes into his very first NBA playoff game. The Warriors might be fine without him, and even improve on defense, but they’ll have to do so venturing into borderline unknown territory with lineup combinations that haven’t worked in tiny sample sizes. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that Golden State will have to carve out an entirely new identity on the fly, a task even more difficult because of another injury everyone's forgotten about.
After a brutal six-game losing streak in early February put their playoff hopes in doubt, the Golden State Warriors have fared much better lately. The team has won eight of its last 12 games with a sterling point differential of +5.8 — a mark that would equate to a 57-win campaign if it held up over the course of a season. Golden State’s overall season mark is just +0.4, suggesting its real abilities lie somewhere closer to a .500 team, not one sitting 10 games above the break-even point. As ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh recently pointed out, point differential, not record, is a better indicator of future success. And that’s why this recent Warriors run is so intriguing.
Though they’ve faced a slate of middling opponents — their best wins have come at Houston and at home against Washington and the Lakers — a large part of this recent run can be attributed to the improving health of center Andrew Bogut. Since his gruesome elbow dislocation in the spring of 2010, the Australian center has been somewhat of a forgotten man. Far from productive during short-lived returns to the court, Bogut hadn’t been the defensive force he was emerging as three years ago in Milwaukee. Slowly but surely, however, Bogut has been recapturing his form, and the Warriors are reaping the benefits.
Stephen Curry just wrapped one of the most scintillating two-game stretches you’ll ever see, slicing up Indiana and New York on back-to-back nights for 92 points on 32-of-48 shooting — including an insane 18-of-23 from 3-point range. He’s on pace for perhaps the greatest 3-point shooting season in NBA history, and he combines that high-volume accuracy with a wonderful arsenal of creative, flippy, and spinny interior shots. When Curry is on, he’s one of the league’s half-dozen most entertaining players, and he transforms the Warriors into a must-watch.
But it’s time to worry that games like Curry’s 54-point explosion last night in New York are becoming almost emblematic of this Golden State season — a fun, score-first bonanza the Warriors ultimately lose because they cannot stop anyone on the other end. Their defense, an important early-season story line, has fallen apart. The Warriors are 7-10 in their last 17 games, and have allowed 109 points per 100 possessions in that stretch, a mark that would rank dead last in the league. After hanging around the top 10 in that category, and then just below that range, the Warriors have fallen into a four-way tie with the Lakers, Nets, and Mavericks that spans spots nos. 16-19. They’ve been outscored for the season, and they are 12-15 in their last 27 games.
In case you were busy celebrating your big Oscars win by drunk-dialing Matt Damon and yelling, "How ’bout dem apples!" here's what you missed in sports last weekend.
Georgetown and Syracuse played their penultimate rivalry game as members of the Big East, with Georgetown getting the win at the Carrier Dome, 57-46. While they won't be members of the same conference much longer, the two schools both suggested the possibility of future games against each other. But let's get real; we all know how this ends up. For a month or two, they'll call each other every night. But slowly, Georgetown will find itself getting very close with Marquette, as they share a faith and a set of values. Syracuse, meanwhile, will plan to come down for a game in D.C., but they won't be able to make it due to a prior commitment in New York with Duke. And as things will get serious with Georgetown and Marquette (they had been saving themselves, after all), Syracuse will drunk-dial Georgetown and say things they don't mean about Allen Iverson, and Georgetown will throw the whole Gerry McNamara thing in Syracuse's face. The two schools won't be on speaking terms for years, as Syracuse, abandoned again, will wind up in a co-dependent and destructive relationship with UConn.
We’ll always have the second half of the 2009-10 season. That's when the Bucks, under head coach Scott Skiles, became League Pass darlings in a way they never were before and haven’t approached since. The Bucks went 18-6 after swiping John Salmons from the Bulls at the trade deadline, and before Andrew Bogut’s season came to a scary and sad end in early April with a gruesome bad-luck fall on his right arm. Bogut had been playing the best ball of his career, scoring in high volumes from the post, getting to the line more, dishing assists out of the pick-and-roll, and playing the best individual defense that existed anywhere outside of Orlando.
Salmons went on a tear that would earn him a $40 million contract the Bucks have since pawned off on the hapless Kings (though Salmons, it should be said, has been a steadying presence in Sacramento this season). A delightful, fearless grasshopper of a rookie point guard in Brandon Jennings helped run what used to be Michael Redd’s show, and the Bucks for two months were legitimately terrifying. When Salmons, Bogut, and Jennings shared the floor, Milwaukee scored at a top-10 level, defended better than any team in the league — by a giant margin, per NBA.com — and scared the bejesus out of fans whose higher-seeded teams were potentially in line to draw Milwaukee in the first round. Fear the Deer was a real thing. It was perhaps Skiles’s crowning moment as a coach, though he had already transformed teams in Phoenix and Chicago into defensive powerhouses before wearing out his welcome in both towns.
1. David Lee’s unnecessary but appreciated post-fancy-pass spin away from the play.
2. The realization that Kevin Love’s return opens the door for both a T’Wolves whiteout and an all-bearded, zero-defense Minnesota frontcourt.
3. The suspicion that Andrew Bogut was a bit too inspired by Adrien Brody’s look in that Gillete ad.
4. Andris Biedrins. Everything about Andris Biedrins: that he’s the first one off the bench, that his celebration involves lifting one leg off the ground and a pelvic thrust, that there’s more joy in his towel-draped face than I’ve ever experienced.
5. The Barnes stare-down.
6. The chance to tell my Nikola Pekovic story. It goes like this. Apparently, last season, a group of reporters had gathered in the Minnesota locker room, and one inquired about the tattoo on Pekovic’s left arm — what looks to be a knight thrusting a large sword into a pile of skulls. Asked whom the tattoo was supposed to represent, Pekovic responded, “Oh, that’s just my friend.” It sure is.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
The BYU Cougars staged a furious comeback — the largest in NCAA tournament history — to erase a 25-point deficit and beat the Iona Gaels 78-72. "What a great night for Mormons!" said head coach Dave Rose. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney stood alone in the glow of a TV screen at his campaign headquarters, sipping a V8 and just grinning the biggest, saddest grin you've ever seen.
For ... Knicks-Sixers!
In Philadelphia, you get your cheesesteaks wiz wit and you get your sports with hate. When you're not hating on Andy Reid, Juan Castillo, Raul Ibanez's peanut brittle frame, Brad Lidge's satanic soul patch, or the ghost of Donovan McNabb, you're hating on the New York Giants, the Atlanta Braves, the Dallas Cowboys, and the New York Mets. It's just how we get down.