Saturday, November 20, 2010

Knicks deal Warriors first loss at Oracle Arena

The Warriors wasted a 40 point night by Monta Ellis in a 125-119 loss to the Knicks. Ellis' big night was negated by a fluky performance by Raymond Felton, who scored a career high 35 points and hit his first four three point attempts. It seems to happen once, if not a few times per year, a player on any given team plays way above his level and burns the Warriors. Past examples include Luther Head, Brandon Bass, Drew Gooden, Amir Johnson, Beno Udich...Brandon Jennings, the talented second year point guard for the Bucks, will not score 55 points again. He won't top 45.

Felton was more than on fire last night. He should go to Vegas and put one years salary on a number. He sooner hit jackpot than he would if asked to duplicate the wild shots attempted last night. Felton, with the shot clock running down, hit a leaning three pointer from 31 feet. In a later possession, again with the shot clock running out, another Felton prayer was answered as he banked a fade away while falling down after his foot slipped.

Everything about this game was weird: Felton's fluky shooting, a ball was tipped and stalled atop the shot clock box above the backboard, and the Knicks were the team using the fast break to beat the Warriors.

The Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni is an homage to the NBA's all-time leader in coaching wins: Don Nelson. Everyone in a New York uniform can shoot the ball and their strategy is to shoot early in a possession, preferably in transition when there are often defensive mismatches. A chaotic, up and down game favors the Knicks.

The Warriors, with a renovated roster, are in the process of rebuilding their identity. The absence of David Lee halts identity development for now. Over the past four years, Don Nelson shaped basketball philosophy in the Bay Area. Run and gun with smaller, more athletic players and worry about defense later (if at all). It was entertaining and sometimes effective, but it never got the Warriors past the second round nor did it win Nelson a ring.

The move to make Keith Smart head coach and overhaul the roster has turned the Warriors in a new direction. The Warriors appear to have ditched wild shots and no defense along with the nacho cheese colored jerseys of the Nelson era. Last night, I saw the Warriors get way down when they tried to run with the Knicks, then get back in business when they slowed the game down and forced the Knicks into some sloppy possessions and turnovers.

Slowing down is counter intuitive to many Warriors players who grew up under Nelson, (Ellis, Curry, Reggie Williams) but this is how the best teams in the league win basketball games. The Lakers, Celtics, Spurs, Jazz, Magic, and Bulls all play rugged half court defense. When the Warriors are healthy and winning again, Bob Fitzgerald and Jim Barnett will be talking about the Warriors getting stops and slowing down the game.

Still, the most glaring problem this year for the Warriors is free throw disparity. In the loss to the Knicks Friday, New York was 27-32 from the line and the Warriors were 12-17.

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