If you didn’t watch the L.A. Lakers’ 118-116 win over the Warriors on Friday night at Staples Center you missed an incredible game – and, frankly, historic.
The Warriors and Lakers played a late-season classic, replete with playoff implications, an extra-special shooting performance by Stephen Curry, a big-time step-up by Klay Thompson, a triple-double by Pau Gasol, a run of made free throws by Dwight Howard (naturally not with the game on the line), a miserable evening of officiating by Bennie Adams and a serious injury to Kobe Bryant.
[Instant Replay: Lakers 118, Warriors 116]
All indications are that Bryant tore his Achilles tendon, which means he will likely miss the rest of this season and all of next season. Bryant will be 35 this offseason and this is the most significant injury of his career. It’s fair to talk about what the future holds for Bryant, one of the game’s greatest players.
It might not be Bryant’s last game but it will be for a while.
That’s for another day, as is all the stuff about the game mentioned above. Let’s talk about the Warriors’ possession in the final seconds with the game on the line.
If there seemed to be a criticism by some fans after the game, it was that Warriors coach Mark Jackson should have put the ball in Curry’s hands at the top of the circle – near halfcourt, with four teammates spread on baseline, or certainly pushed back toward that part of the floor.
If you can’t picture what I’m talking about, but have seen Warriors games over the years, it’s what always seemed to happen with Monta Ellis late in one-possession games.
The play is pretty much this … you put the ball into a player’s hands, he goes one on one, and he either creates a potential game-winning shot for himself or someone else.
Someone can go back and take a look at the numbers, but those possessions with Ellis didn’t work far more than they did – though they worked on occasion, no doubt.
It sounds like many Warriors’ fans wanted Jackson to call that play for Curry – allow him to go a little one-on-one and see if he could get something on his own first, and if not, then try to go elsewhere.
The rationale for running that play seems obvious. Curry was working on a 47-point night, and with Bryant out of the game, chances were that Steve Blake would guard Curry. That was already working out extremely well for Curry and the Warriors.
Instead, Jackson ran a high pick-and-roll with Curry and Carl Landry. It’s a play the Warriors ran in their season-opener against Phoenix – and Landry knocked down a 17-footer for the win.
On Friday night against the Lakers, the Warriors got the same result as they did on Halloween night against Phoenix.
Curry came off the pick, drew two defenders, and made absolutely, positively the right play and hit Landry for an open jumper. Landry missed, and the Lakers won.
But by running that play, you seemingly allow the Lakers to take Curry out of the play because they can double-team or blitz Curry once he comes off the screen.
In other words, calling that play makes it very difficult for Curry to take a potential game-winning shot if the Lakers defend it in a conventional way against Curry, particularly on a night when he’s working on putting 50 on you.
I think you can make a case Curry’s should have been given that opportunity. I’m not arguing against that. But I don’t have a problem with that call at all. Why?
Well, you got the exact same shot that you won a game with earlier in the season, and a shot that Landry has made consistently for the Warriors.
Let’s suppose you do put the ball in Curry’s hands … like you used to put it into Ellis’. As far as which players is more adept at creating his own shot – in a one-on-one situation – I’d go with Ellis. Curry has a quick release and a cleverness to get his shot off most of the time against defenders, but Ellis has an athleticism that allows him to get a shot off almost every time.
I think Curry could shoot Ellis out of the gym, but when it comes to creating his own shot, I think you’ve got to go with Ellis. So if Ellis had limited success in that spot, why do you want to put Curry in it?
Because Curry is a better passer, you say, than Ellis, and Curry could have beaten Blake. Well, for the sake of focus, I won’t argue that right now, although I reserve the right to in the future.
The question isn’t whether or not Curry is a better passer than Ellis, though. The question is how much better of a shot could Curry have created from that isolation at the top of the court as opposed to what he created off the pick-and-roll with Landry. I don’t think much better.
I suppose you could make the case Curry would have broken down Blake, gotten into the teeth of the lane, and spoon-fed a big man for an easy layup or dunk. But that’s asking for a lot with less than 10 seconds left and the entire defense casting an eye on Curry – or anyone in that situation -- and where he is.
You also might be thinking that Curry could have simply fiddle-faddled a little bit, then stuck a jumper in Blake’s face for the win. Well, yes, he could have.
But keep in mind that’s not the strength of Curry’s game, and he can’t and doesn’t do that against certain defenders – be it because of size or quickness.
It’s also tougher to draw fouls in those situations. Most would agree that officials are likelier to allow more contact on the game’s final possession than earlier in the game – because they don’t want to decide the game.
Or, I’ll put it this way … I heard a lot of complaining about the officiating on Friday night (some of it justified), so the Warriors weren’t likely to get a foul call against Blake if there was contact anyway, right?
Could Curry have created his own shot against Blake? Yeah, maybe he could have, and he certainly did more than once or twice earlier in the game.
But Curry still might have ended up taking a long-distance jumper with a hand in the face or at least contested. Curry had a very good night shooting the ball, finishing 17-for-31. But he was hotter earlier in the game than he was late, and he was fatigued playing the second big-minute night on a back-to-back.
Plus, I’m not convinced the Lakers would have allowed Blake to be on an island for the entire possession of guarding Curry, which started with 9.7 left on the clock. In other words, is Mike D’Antoni really going to allow Blake to get scored upon one final time by the same guy who has been doing it to him all game. Without any help? I can’t see it.
I think that Curry would have likely begun to make a move, then help would have come from some area of the floor, and then Curry would have either had to take a tough shot or create a play.
But how much better could his play have been under those circumstances than the play he made in the pick-and-roll with Landry?
Landry got a very good look.
Could Curry have knocked down a tough step-back or contested jumper before the buzzer to give the Warriors a win? Certainly. But I still give Landry a better chance of making his open, bread-and-butter, extended elbow jumper than I do Curry going one-on-one and perhaps ending up with something difficult and contested or worse – turning the ball over.
Curry’s decision-making has been perhaps the weakest aspect of his game this year. He’s been known to make mistakes under duress.
To my way of thinking, he’s more likely to make a sound decision off a pick-and-roll than he is trying to create from a one-on-one set-up where a help defender could be coming from any possible area.
On Friday against the Lakers, Curry made the right basketball decision in the most critical part of a game. Curry deserves praise for that.
If you want to criticize Jackson, go ahead. After all, how can you lose an argument when your position is that on a night Curry scores 47 points he should at least get a crack at the game-winner? That’s a legitimate point of view. But there’s legitimacy on the other side, too, and Landry’s wide-open look is proof.