Shootaround (Jan. 8): Warriors learn from tough loss
Warriors on body language, ball movement | Gobert’s star continues to rise | ‘Melo’s shoulder, Knicks ailing | Spurs’ Bertans secret it out
No. 1: Warriors’ body language speaks volumes – In the lowest moment of Golden State’s overtime loss to Memphis Friday night, the Warriors looked a little Clippers-like. That is to say, their emotions seemed to be seizing up on them, with Draymond Green acting out in obvious dissatisfaction over Kevin Durant’s isolation-play failure near the end of regulation. Dissension? A schism in the team’s pecking order that could expose bigger issues? Well, for now, Warriors coach Steve Kerr, Green and the rest are treating it as a bout of bad body language. Whether it has any legs in the coming months is entirely up to Golden State and its professionalism. Here is a report from ESPN.com’s Chris Haynes:
Golden State managed only 13 points in the final quarter. Before that, the defending Western Conference champions appeared to be on their way to their fifth straight victory. But the team said the offense became stagnant and movement became minimal.
In the midst of the offensive lull, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said he noticed something.
“I didn’t like our body language,” Kerr said. “That’s the main thing. I thought we were playing a really good, solid game through three quarters. We were taking care of the ball and defending, but the fourth quarter, once they made that run, our body language was bad. That can’t happen, and that bothered me.”
Green made an argument that the poor body language surfaced in the third quarter and admitted he was probably the main culprit.
Even though it was a colossal, embarrassing meltdown, Green said he was relieved they picked up their sixth loss of the season.
“I’m actually happy we lost today because there’s some things that we need to correct in order to win a championship, and that’s our goal,” he said. “So trying to win every regular-season game really don’t matter. I want to see us get better each and every time we step on the floor, and I don’t feel like that’s been happening for the things we need to get better at. So I’m kind of thrilled that we lost because you usually make corrections when you lose.”
One play in the fourth quarter summed up the Warriors’ frustration with their late-game offensive decisions.
The Warriors were up two with 22 seconds left in regulation. Klay Thompson collected an offensive rebound and kicked it out to Kevin Durant, who dribbled some time off the clock and ended up shooting a contested 3-pointer from the top of the key that clanked off the rim.
Memphis gathered the rebound and called timeout. Green was furious as he stormed to the bench while shaking his head in disdain.
As great as Durant is one-on-one, Golden State allowed Memphis to get its defense set.
“We had Kevin with an iso at the top,” Kerr explained. “He had Zach [Randolph] on him and I thought about taking a timeout, but I liked the matchup and so I let the play go through.”
Memphis’ first lead of the game came in overtime, 113-111, and the Grizzlies never gave it up from there. Afterward, Green brought up Thompson, saying all he was doing was standing around during the latter parts of the game because the ball wasn’t moving.
He said that’s the team’s fault, not Thompson’s.
“We’ve got some things that we need to correct to be a championship team, and right now we’re not that,” he said.
No. 2: Gobert goes big at both ends – In this season of triple-double mania and 50-point scoring performances, it’s nice remembering that there is another side to the sport that involves stopping or at least limiting those sorts of stats. Few personify the defensive game better than Utah’s Rudy Gobert, who poses both a physical and a mental obstacle to Jazz opponents when they run a cost/benefit analysis of attacking the rim against the Jazz. Paul Flannery of SBNation looked at Gobert’s rising profile when he and Utah recently passed through Boston:
Rudy Gobert is a star. How you feel about that statement depends on two primary factors: how much you value defense, and how much you watch the Utah Jazz.
Gobert’s defensive value is been well-established at this point. He’s a shot-blocking machine who’s figured out how to defend the entire paint. Other big men have stretched the limits of verticality, few have done it with such dexterity. Gobert is so effective that most teams don’t even try to go down low when he’s in the game, and fewer still are successful.
That ability has made him the linchpin of the fourth-rated defense in the league and a leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year (along with Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green, and Marc Gasol). Utah’s top-flight defense, by the way, has been without George Hill for much of the season, as well as Derrick Favors for almost half. NBA defense is rarely about one player, no matter how dynamic. For every action, there’s a reaction and for everything you take away, something else opens up.
How vital is Gobert in this equation? When he’s on the court, the Jazz allow 99.9 points per 100 possessions. When he’s on the bench that number skyrockets to 106.2. With Gobert locking down the paint, his teammates can concentrate on taking away the 3-point line, which they do better than anyone else in the league. That leaves inefficient long twos as the shot of choice against Utah.
What’s elevated Gobert from the ranks of intriguing young talent into All-Star consideration has been a steadier offensive game. He’s averaging double figures in scoring for the first time in his career and shooting an absurd 67 percent from the floor, with an improved free throw shooting stroke to go with it. He doesn’t possess unicorn range by any means, but Gobert has become stronger and more sure of himself around the rim. He’s no longer just a passive participant in Utah’s offensive flow, he’s a main actor.
“I used to be more nervous,” Gobert said. “Now I’m just playing, having fun.
As with his defense, Gobert’s offensive impact is contextual. When he’s on the court, the Jazz score 108.1 points per 100 possessions and 103.9 when he’s off. The true mark of a star is that they make everyone else on the court better. Traditionally, that’s been the role of a playmaking scorer. In Gobert’s case, his very presence attracts so much attention that everyone else is free to do their thing. That includes Gordon Hayward, who is also having a breakthrough campaign.
“He’s so big that if he catches the ball on a roll, even if you’re there and he’s inside six feet of the basket, there’s a good chance you and the ball are going in the basket together,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “He’s great on lobs. He’s gotten better at finishing in traffic. He’s a good offensive rebounder. And then they’ve got a bunch of guys who can really shoot the ball, so he gets looks because you’re worried about the 3-point line. He’s a really good player.”
No. 3: Melo’s shoulder, Knicks both ailing – Give The Unicorn credit. He’s taking and showing some ownership of the New York Knicks, good or bad. Young big man Kristaps Porzingis, still developing his game and his leadership in his second NBA season, was willing to call out the team after its latest setback in Indianapolis Saturday. Porzingis made it sound like New York’s early-season success papered over bigger, deeper challenges facing the team, the likes of which the Knicks only now are truly grappling. Oh, and Carmelo Anthony’s sore right shoulder probably isn’t going to get better until he gets some time off – or misses a couple games. First New York Post beat writer Marc Berman reports on the team’s hiccups:
After being heroes in Milwaukee on Friday, the Knicks turned into zeros against the Pacers, suffering a letdown of massive proportions in a 123-109 loss. The defeat sent team president Phil Jackson’s club to its seventh defeat in eight games.
Once 14-10, the Knicks (17-20) have fallen hard — as they did last January — and they may not recover because they have become a defensive wreck.
Porzingis said he never felt the Knicks were jelling, even when they were 14-10, instead getting by on talent, and he sounded as uncertain as he has this season in terms of their future prospects.
“In the moment we were four games out of .500, I said it — I don’t see ourselves as that good of a team yet,’’ Porzingis said in his season’s most candid remarks. “We were still growing. We were winning games, but we still had a lot to learn. It was a good moment based on our talent, but we weren’t there yet and now it’s showing. We got to figure this out and keep growing as a team. It’s not coming together yet. It’s frustrating.’’
The Knicks still have three back-to-backs left in January and might want to just forfeit the tail ends. The Knicks are now 0-7 on the second legs of back-to-backs after this sleepy Saturday in the Midwest, when their defense regressed again, allowing the Pacers to shoot 11-of-24 from the 3-point line and 50 percent overall. The Knicks were done in by a 29-14 second quarter Pacers edge.
Carmelo Anthony, who has not looked good on the second legs, sat out the fourth quarter and finished with 17 points, five assists and two rebounds as the Knicks got hammered on the boards, 53-32. Anthony appeared sluggish early, going 1-for-6 with four assists in the first half before heating up in the third quarter.
Anthony finished 6-of-14 after saying before the game he still is “tolerating’’ playing with a sore right shoulder that sidelined him three weeks ago when the Knicks played at Golden State.
Then it was Ian Begley of ESPN.com bringing updated word on Anthony’s aching shooting shoulder:
Anthony has been dealing with the shoulder injury for the past four weeks and missed one game last month due to the ailment.
“It’s bad,” Anthony told the New York Daily News after the Knicks’ win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night. “You know what it is; it’s an adjustment that you have to make on the fly. Like some days it feels good; some days it’s tight. Throughout the course of the game — certain shots, certain moves — you feel like the strength isn’t there. So it’s just a matter of figuring out how to play through it. What’s working? What’s not?
“It feels good during the game. And then you irritate it. And then you kind of have to work backwards again to get it back stronger. But I’m constant, around-the-clock treatment.
Anthony had 26 points, 10 assists and six rebounds on Friday to help New York snap its six-game losing streak. He had 30 points in a loss earlier this week, but he had struggled with his shot at times in the previous three weeks, possibly because of the shoulder ailment.
“The only thing that’s going to help [the shoulder] is rest,” Anthony told the newspaper. “But we’re playing every other day. It’s a tough month.”
No. 4: Spurs’ Bertans secret it out – Like a lot of deep reserves, Davis Bertans’ stats were subject to various small-sample-size variations. The fact that San Antonio had a 13-0 record, for instance, in games in which the 6-foot-10 rookie big man had scored seemed related more to when he was given the chance to play and touch the basketball, rather than any Midas-like impact on outcomes. After all, the rookie from Latvia was averaging just 2.6 points and 9.6 minutes in his first 29 appearances this season. But Bertans’ 30th game was different – he scored 21 points and did play a key role in the Spurs’ rout of Charlotte. Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News was on hand as usual to report:
Roaring into the paint after catching a pitch from Jonathon Simmons in the first half, Bertans took one dribble then elevated for a rim-rattling one-handed slam that brought the bench to its feet.
It was the start of a quite a night for Bertans, who finished with a game-high 21 points on only six shot attempts.
“Coming here, I knew there would be some games where I don’t play at all and some games where I get more minutes,” said the 24-year-old Bertans, whose 18-minute stint was his longest in more than a month. “Just to get on the court and help the team win a game like this, it feels great.”
Bertans’ outburst – which included 4-for-5 marksmanship from 3-point range – helped the Spurs thrive on a night in which the rest of the team went cold.
The Spurs shot 40.4 percent, with Kawhi Leonard going 3 for 10 from long range en route to 19 points and Tony Parker missing 7 of his 8 attempts on his way to two.
Midway through the third quarter, the Spurs were still in a pitched battle with the Hornets, having traded the lead 20 times to that point.
The Spurs had just pulled ahead 61-60 on a Dewayne Dedmon foul shot when Bertans hit his second basket of the night.
It was a 3-pointer from the right arc that included a foul on Charlotte’s Frank Kaminsky. The four-point play gave the Spurs’ a 65-60 edge and Bertans the confidence to keep firing away. Thirty seconds later, Bertans buried a transition 3-pointer and a game that seemed dicey to that point began to break for the Spurs.
Bertans credited his teammates for finding him.
“They got me wide open looks,” said Bertans, who was 5 of 6 from the field and 7 of 8 from the foul line. “And when we get easy looks like that, it’s easy to drive, kick, finish and the whole game just goes easy.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Minnesota’s inability to close out games – the Timberwolves are 0-10 in games decided by four points or fewer and 12 times have blown leads of 10 or more to lose – is reaching epidemic proportions … Dwyane Wade had lofty praise for his fellow Marquette alum, Jimmy Butler … Isaiah Austin finally gets his chance, getting medical clearance and signing to play in Belgrade … J.R. Smith and his wife shared some personal news, while welcoming prayers and good thoughts