Friday, December 14, 2012
The Golden State Warriors' success and the Heat's return.
Golden State Warriors 97 - Miami Heat 95
Warriors: This TLC group are no scrubs and neither are the rest of the Warriors. It is always great to see a team exceed the expectations that the NBA subliminally sets in our minds. If you follow NBA basketball at any time, you would know what I mean. Surprises are rare and miracles always come to an early end. Prior to the start of this season, Golden State was considered a borderline playoff team in the West. The pick was based on the assumption that Andrew Bogut would return and provide the defense this team has been missing since ever. But fast forward two months later into the season, the Warriors are playing solid defense, their record stands at 15-7 and they are doing it all without Andrew Bogut, who is out indefinitely.
Despite the failure Mark Jackson had in the first year as the head coach, he has turned this team around. He instilled a defensive principle and learned to utilize his personnel to the best of their abilities. His team by no means are a defensive juggernaut. Hell, they don't even have a designated stopper, yet they make up for it with effort. A few weeks ago, I was laughing at David Lee's lateral movement, and now he actually looks decent. They are committed on this end on the floor as well as the other. The best thing is that there is nothing spectacular about it either, they just talk and help each other out.
The potential of this team is almost sky-high, you have a soon to be best back court of the league, with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. A David Lee in his prime to compliment them. I think Lee is among the league's current greatest stretch four, with the likes of Marc Gasol and Joakim Noah. The rookies have a lot of work to do, but they are good fits. Festus Ezeli stands out above all though, he has this Serge Ibaka thing going on that I really like. He reads the offense well, has the quickness to respond and doesn't fall for every single pump fake. He could become a steal if he develops any offensive game. And since you can never count out the importance of the veterans, Jarrett Jack is the perfect guy to teach the young guards of the team, even though he does those unpredictable Westbrook-esque pull ups.
Heat: The defense that once made them champions is in a process of coming back together. After the impressive ass-whooping from the New York Knicks, they are finally playing with a purpose. It helps that Shane Battier is back, even if he is still recovering from his injury because he is key in Miami's defensive scheme. They did two things particularly well, they clogged up the paint and took Stephen Curry out of his offensive flow, but there is a trade off that ended up hurting them, which I will explain in the other section.
Offensively, they are a totally different team when Ray Allen is on. The ball moves around and players cut. Without him, everyone stands around and waits for either LeBron or Wade to create for them. Bosh was huge in stretches and bailed them out a few times.
Warriors: They played a great game, there is not much bad you can take away. They didn't shoot terribly, or got out rebounded and there were only 13 turnovers. The Heat wanted this game and the fact they pulled it out in someone else's house is remarkable.
Heat: When you focus your defense on a particular player, there is always a trade off. And whether a team is able to take advantage will determine the results. In this case, the target was Stephen Curry. Even before tip-off, Miami's intention was to prevent Curry from shooting at all costs. While the game plan worked, it completely ignored his under-appreciated passing ability.
Golden State read this early too. They spaced the floor with their shooters for Curry, so he could get a good look at his surroundings and make the right pass before the Heat commences with his ancient Egyptian burial. This is a considerable amount of risk for the Heat, because if Curry manages to kick the ball out, it leaves his teammates wide open for a jumper. For the past couple games, Miami's biggest issue on the defense was getting out to shooters, something they sacrifice due to their worry over dribble penetration. And it remains unsolved. There were multiple possessions where I caught guys giving up after the screen. They just stopped and watched as their responsibility knock down easy shots. Winning requires effort and Miami have not worked all 48 minutes.