I have no problem admitting when I’m wrong. I wrote a couple times last week that the Warriors wouldn’t win any of their three final games of the regular season against a trio of Western Conference powers — Oklahoma City, Utah and Portland.
I was wrong. This group of Warriors, even when there is seemingly nothing left to play for this season, refuses to quit. They continue to play hard and continue to put an entertaining product out on the court. Winning six of their past 10 games probably isn’t helping the Warriors’ draft lottery chances, but there’s something honorable about playing out the season the way the Warriors are doing. As a fan, you should want those extra ping-pong balls when the lottery is decided, but it’s impossible not to appreciate and respect the effort this team has demonstrated over the past few weeks.
The Warriors gave another spectacular effort Sunday against the Thunder and walked away with a 120-117 win against Kevin Durant’s talented crew. The win was especially impressive considering the Warriors trailed 42-25 after the first quarter. But the Warriors continued to execute their high-powered offense and turned in a strong defensive effort for the final three quarters. In the end, it was enough to score a surprising win.
Here are a few thoughts I had from the game:
Monta Ellis: At the end of the first half, I thought I had just witnessed a perfect example of why the Warriors need to trade Ellis. Ellis started and played the majority of the first quarter and the first minute of the second quarter. Ellis’ defense was atrocious, his offense was erratic and the Thunder, behind Durant’s 16 first-quarter points, led 45-27 when Ellis checked out for the first time with 10:40 left in the second quarter. The Warriors, without Ellis on the court, outscored the Thunder 29-17 the rest of the quarter. With Ellis, the defense stunk and the offense was inconsistent. Without Ellis, the offense was very good and the defense was much improved.
But something changed in the second half. Ellis made significant contributions to the Warriors’ comeback with consecutive 3-pointers in the third quarter and a strong final five minutes of the game in which Ellis scored 11 points on 4-4 shooting, including a 3-pointer. He made 2 of 4 free throws in the final minute of the game to help the Warriors hold off the Thunder. It was more than just his offense. He wasn’t the sole defender on Durant, but he was matched up with the Thunder superstar often in the second half and played well defensively. After Durant scored 26 points in the first half, he was limited to 14 points on 5-of-18 shooting in the second half. There were a lot of instances where Durant got around Ellis easily and was met at the rim by Ronny Turiaf, but there were also a lot of times that Ellis’ pesky brand of defense bothered Durant.
It wasn’t a great performance by Ellis. He was pretty horrible until the fourth quarter, but at the same time, without his inspired play the final five minutes and his second-half effort on defense, the Warriors don’t win that game. So it was a mixed bag. I liked some of what I saw from Ellis in this game but it doesn’t change my opinion that the Warriors need to trade Ellis this offseason. They are a better team without him on the court on offense and defense. There was been too much proof of that this season to deny it.
Reggie Williams: You have to love Williams’ talent and consistency. He played a huge role in the Warriors’ second-quarter comeback and played a very good game overall (20 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, 42 minutes). He makes good decisions on the court and he’s so versatile on offense. I think he could be a season-long starter at small forward for the Warriors next season, but only if the team gets a solid defender with length at the shooting guard position (a player like Thabo Sefolosha or Nicolas Batum — not that either of those players would be available) to help mask his defensive deficiencies. He’s just so good on offense and he’s a pretty solid rebounder. His strengths far outweigh his weaknesses. He’s a very nice player. Still not a star, and I don’t think he’ll ever be one. But he’s a good player and could be a legitimate starting small forward in the NBA if he has the right kind of teammates in the backcourt.
The Thunder: Not that this takes away from the Warriors’ performance or win, but man, what a meltdown by the Thunder! This is a team that’s supposed to be getting ready for the intense pressure of the playoffs, but I think their youth and immaturity is starting to show. Aside from blowing the big lead in the first place in Sunday’s game, their performance in the final two minutes of the game was laughable. Durant hit a nice jumper with 1:42 left to tie the game at 111-111. At that point, I thought the Thunder had grabbed the momentum and would go on to win the game. But Oklahoma City completely unraveled. Here are their remaining possessions: two missed free throws; turnover; turnover; turnover (botched by refs); made shot; free throws (2-2); free throws (2-2); missed shot. Besides making their free throws, the Thunder did nothing right down the stretch. The Warriors deserve some credit for that, but the Thunder deserve a lot of blame, too.
Is this team ready for the playoffs? I don’t think so. They’ve lost three of their last four games and looked shaky in the process. I think this team will be lucky to win one game in their first-round series. They’re just too young and inexperienced. They’re not ready for the pressure.
Other thoughts: Stephen Curry played a very good game. He’s so smart and controlled. He runs the team like a veteran. He should be rookie of the year. Turiaf was crucial to this victory. He provides a physical presence on the court and an emotional presence with the team that they can’t get anywhere else, at least not from any healthy player on the roster.