Over a week ago, the Houston Rockets demolished the Golden State Warriors by 31 points, winning 140-109 and tying an NBA record for 23 made three-pointers. The carnage was so bad that, deep into garbage time and with a bevy of Rocket bench players that happened to rely on the three-pointer as the main facet of their arsenal on the court, Warriors coach Mark Jackson watched happily as his team intentionally fouled the Rockets so as to prevent them from setting the record. Rox forward Chandler Parsons took to Twitter to mock Jackson’s ABC catchphrase following, and Warriors center Andrew Bogut took to Twitter to use an ages-old “joke” a junior high kid should be ashamed about.
The underlying theme being, “look out, Rockets, we get you again in California in a week.” And the Warriors did welcome Houston, coming off of an embarrassing loss to the Sacramento Kings on Sunday, to the Bay Area on Tuesday — and promptly gave up 116 points on its home court as Houston romped again.
Bogut, not so churlish in the aftermath of a second straight loss to the Rockets, fumed afterward, citing his team’s failing defense as the reason behind the team’s 8-12 swoon since Jan. 2. From Tim Kawakami at the San Jose Mercury News:
-Q: Can you point to any one thing that has caused the team’s defensive lapse the last five games?
-BOGUT: It’s hard to say. I think at the end of the day, you’ve got to stop your man. We have a great shell team defense. But I think at the end of the day, it’s you one-on-one in a battle with the guy you’re guarding, you know?
You can’t just keep hoping for help and funneling to help–against All-Star players like James Harden or someone, they’re the exceptions.
But I think we need to take a bit of saying ‘I’m going to stop my man,’ so we don’t have to get into help rotations and then all kinds of crap happens when you start rotating,
Like I said earlier, our defense one-on-one is horrendous, 1 through 5, not just 1 or 2 guys. 1 through 5. We get beat it’s like, ‘Oh help, someone help me.’
Andrew Bogut has long been known as one of the best helpers in the NBA, and though his (at times league-best) side-to-side movement has dimmed slightly since ankle injuries took hold during the 2011-12 season, he appeared to be doing his job on that end.
His teammates, mindful of Bogut’s best attribute, appear to be banking on the big center to act as a catch-all, something that can be relied upon after each blow-by should things go pear-shaped defensively. When, the truth is, even the best big man movers are only occasional helpers and eventually stoppers once the initial penetration has been initiated. And, as Bogut hinted at, no NBA player is driving into the lane more often these days than James Harden.
Until he takes his already-pained body and goes and steps on David Lee’s ankle, that is. From Jonathan Feigen at the Houston Chronicle:
James Harden took care of the pain part. He began the night with his left knee aching only on the occasions he ran. Or jumped. Or moved. Then things got worse. He stepped on David Lee’s left foot, and hobbled to the locker room, limping through the rest of the game before clinching the Rockets’ 116-107 second-half surge past the Warriors with a pair of free throws and a 3-pointer in the final minutes.
With the offensive roll, the Rockets have scored more than 108 points for nine-consecutive games, their longest streak since the 1985-86 season.
“I barely could walk,” Harden said. “I was limping. I’m still limping. But I kind of felt the momentum going our way in the third quarter. We got a couple stops and I think our energy was picking up. I didn’t want to shut it down. I tried to make the right play and help my teammates do whatever it takes to win.
“I just saw the replay and it was pretty bad. The outside of my ankle touched the ground.”
Harden did return in the fourth to contribute five points on three shots with two assists, staving off a Warriors team that is desperate for answers as to why what was one of the league’s better surprises on the defensive end has faded significantly, and especially with the return of an all-world defender in Bogut.
The Warriors weren’t putting up all-world numbers themselves defensively as they entered the new year, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t come through with an astonishing start. Merely an above average ranking, on a team featuring plenty of youth and noted sieves like David Lee and Stephen Curry, was impressive enough. But a top-10 ranking after 32 games, and 22-10 record? Because of that mark, it was completely appropriate to champion Jackson as a coach of the year candidate. Mere competency on that end was a significant upgrade.
As NBA.com’s great John Schuhmann pointed out even before the team’s latest embarrassment against Houston on Tuesday, that onetime top-10 defense has ranked in the bottom five since Jan. 2, and one could hardly pin the blame on the 126 minutes Bogut played during that bottom five span entering Tuesday’s loss. A loss that, even given Bogut’s 26 minutes and 12 rebounds, dropped the Warriors down three more slots in defensive efficiency, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
Bogut may have acted a prat on Twitter last week, but he’s not the issue. His teammates aren’t doing their job, and he can’t continue to cover for their missteps even if his surgically repaired ankle were in its 2010-prime. David Lee was terrible on defense last night – awful – and Stephen Curry wasn’t much better. And even in their top form, Bogut can’t be expected to be a salve in a modern NBA full of calls that routinely go against big men.
As Schuhmann mentioned in his column from Tuesday, the Warriors are also a good example of a system righting itself. The team had a choice schedule through those first 32 in terms of opponent strength, but a horrendous 3-9 mark on the road against a series of strong teams has the W’s up against it. Jackson just can’t seem to get his players on the same page on that end when Golden State is working away from the confines of Oracle arena.
Happily, as John charted, the Warriors are 5-3 with very good (even after the Houston loss) defensive marks at home during this swoon, with a tilted 18 of the final 30 games to still be played in the Bay Area, along with a week to make things right as the Warriors don’t play again before the All-Star break. And because Jackson had his group taking care of business so well in the early months, Golden State has been able to stave off the lower reaches of the Western playoff bracket – Utah is still a game and a half behind Golden State for the sixth seed, a current placement that would have the Warriors taking the Clippers on in the first round of the playoffs. The Warriors have already beaten the Clips twice, home and away, so far this season.
The worst is over. The team likely won’t be dealing before the trade deadline, Bogut told the press last night that he expects to play on both sides of a back to back following the All-Star break, and those 18 home games will go a long way toward what could be yet another impressive run for Mark Jackson’s Golden State Warriors.