The Warriors didn’t lose last night for any one reason. A desperate Utah Jazz team exploited Golden State with unmatched energy and supreme activity on both ends that was emblematic of their current state – the Jazz are playing for their postseason lives. The Warriors didn’t need that urgency yesterday, and won’t need it at all unless they endure a season-ending collapse of truly historic proportions.
Golden State is fine, last night’s loss included. The Warriors are a veritable lock to make the playoffs and still stand a good chance of winning the sixth seed – they’re a game ahead of the Houston Rockets in the standings.
Nothing’s changed. This is still the team we thought it was despite morning Bay Area notions suggesting otherwise, as ESPN’s/Warriors World’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss opines in his game recap. “Sometimes teams just lose,” Strauss says. “…Bad losses at this juncture don’t do much to change the overall analysis.” Bingo. The Warriors lost to a team as good or slightly worse than they are for a myriad of basketball reasons, which are most succinctly summed up by a simple glance at the standings. Golden State wanted a win; Utah had to have one.
There are more specific reasons for worry, of course, but none of them new. That the Warriors struggled with a huge, mobile big like Derrick Favors is no surprise. Mo Williams exploiting pick-and-roll defense with long jumpers doesn’t shock, either.
So when Draymond Green entered for the first time with 3:15 remaining and Golden State trailing 91-86, not an eye batted. Mark Jackson’s clearly keen on Green’s position-less nomenclature and defensive disposition, two traits that are especially handy in late game situations. Green, predictably, took the place of fellow rookie Harrison Barnes in the Warriors lineup; the former has logged more fourth quarter time than the latter this season despite trailing Barnes in overall minutes by nearly 900.
Golden State needed stops on defense to have a chance to steal a win, and Green’s presence on that end allows Golden State to switch pick-and-rolls without sacrificing much to the ballhandler. He’s also a better rebounder than the sometimes timid Barnes, and is obviously stouter defending the post, too. The question is whether or not that potential defensive impact outweighs the just as sizable advantage Barnes has on Green offensively. It’s a tough call, and a catch-22 against a Utah team with two skilled big men on the floor at all times when trailing by five. But last night – perhaps by mere specific circumstance – it’s clear Jackson made the wrong one. (Brandon Rush would have come in handy here, by the way.)
The highlights we’ll unfortunately remember from Green’s brief performance come on each end – a blocked attempt at the rim by Favors and a dagger jumper from Williams on the ensuing possession. That’s not fair to Green, either; he was put in a bad situation offensively in the first instance and was the victim of basic shot-making in the next one.
But it’s hard not to wonder what Barnes might have done in Green’s stead. Maybe he takes a pull-up jumper instead of challenging Favors; perhaps he gets fouled or even scores. And while guarding Williams on the switch 20 seconds later, it’s possible his superior length and quickness renders a more difficult shot attempt. The game of what-ifs is endless and Jackson had no way to know in what exact predicaments Green would find himself. But there’s been consternation over Barnes’ lack of late-game minutes all season, especially when he’s on the bench in Green’s usual place. Last night is just another example of why that normal decision is so questionable.
Which is an exact microcosm of what to glean from yesterday’s loss on the whole: nothing revelatory. Jackson played his hand the way he has all season long, trusting rookie Green over rookie Barnes when the game was on the line. The Warriors didn’t lose on that development alone, but it no doubt contributed to the final result. One team has to lose even when the sides are close to evenly matched. Considering the circumstances, that it was Golden State is anything but surprising, just as the way the the loss played out all game long wasn’t, either.
Statistical support for this piece provided by NBA.com.
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