Several times during his rookie season, we ripped Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson not so much for his choices with the Xs and Os, but for acting a bit of a blowhard in ways that reminded of his annoying turn as ABC/ESPN analyst. And though he’s had one minor misstep this season, overall Jackson has turned in a sterling 2012-13 season that could rightfully earn him Coach of the Year honors.
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Such honors are rarely rubber stamped by ably defeating the often-struggling Toronto Raptors, but Jackson added another bullet point to his award submission on Monday night simply for doing what was right. When Stephen Curry went down with yet another right ankle tweak in the third quarter, Jackson refused to play his best (if not “All-Star”) player the rest of the game. Despite Curry asking to go back in. Whether the Warriors won or lost is immaterial and shouldn’t color the reaction to the decision, but GSW did hang on for a 114-102 win.
By the end of the third quarter, Curry was sitting on the baseline near the visiting bench with his shoe off, adjusting his ankle brace. He headed toward the locker room to test running with 8:57 remaining, and though he quickly returned to the bench, he never re-entered the game.
Warriors head coach Mark Jackson said the team just wanted to be cautious about putting Curry back on the floor, despite pleas from the guard to return to the court.
“We’ll find out tomorrow but we just wanted to be smart,” Jackson said. “I sent (assistant coach) Pete Myers in the hallway to look at him run and there was no need to put him back out there.
“I just wanted to make sure he was healthy and give an opportunity to know what we’re dealing with. He wanted to get back in the game, but I’ve got more interest in his future and our future.”
CSN reported that Curry stayed on the court for two plays following his ankle roll, which occurred when he stepped on Toronto big man Ed Davis’ foot, but that it was “obvious” he was having trouble cutting with his usual alacrity.
If this sounds familiar to you, even as an outside Warrior observer, it’s because Curry has dealt with right ankle issues for years. His most recent complications required two different offseason surgeries last year, operations that resulted in Curry looking like a completely different player in 2012-13. “Completely different” in a very good way, mind you, because watching Curry play during the 2010-11 or 2011-12 season was a chore at times, even though his gifts were obvious and overall he was a fine player. This season had been a rebirth, however, with Curry seeing both an extra spring in his drives and a better ability to clear space for the long three-pointers that he hit at a league-leading rate for good chunks of the season.
Curry rolled the same ankle during a morning shootaround before a Jan. 16 game against the Miami Heat, necessitating that he miss the next two contests. It was his first brush with the bench all season, and a scary moment until he roared back with a six-game run (including his truncated performance against Toronto) that featured averages of 23.8 points (nearly three above his season average), 5.5 assists, two steals, 43.9 percent shooting (slightly above his season average) in about 36 minute a contest. The Warriors won four of six along that span.
Curry is listed as “day to day,” but considering the fact that his ankle tweak technically happened less than 24 hours before Tuesday night’s tip-off against the Cleveland Cavaliers, would it be the worst thing if Jackson sat his guard one more night as a precautionary procedure? After all, the Warriors coach has the luxury of tossing out a legitimate Sixth Man Award candidate in Jarrett Jack to run the offense, and the team may not need Curry’s talents even against a Cavalier team featuring All-Star Kyrie Irving.
We ask not only because of concerns over Curry’s long-term health, but also the rough schedule the Warriors are about to take in as they work towards an All-Star break that Curry sadly won’t be a part of.
The team will be asked to fly all the way back to the Bay Area for a Thursday night contest against the desperate Dallas Mavericks, no easy task considering they were playing a game in Eastern time just 48 hours earlier. Four out of the team’s six games before the All-Star break take place on the road, with contests against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies, and two games against the Houston Rockets left to play. On top of a game against an improved Phoenix Suns team, and those same desperate Mavs in Texas.
If Curry has to sit, or is unable to provide his usual penetration and passing skills, newly-healthy center Andrew Bogut can help with some of the burden.
We rightfully destroyed the Warriors last fall for lying to their fans in anticipation of season ticket sales, and omitting the fact that Bogut had undergone a microfracture surgery on his left ankle in April; basically reconstructive surgery that should have put him out of the lineup until the New Year, at least. Instead, Bogut attempted to come back in training camp while nobody on the Warriors protested, and a setback resulted. On top of the revelation that the Warriors, once again, lied to their fans.
Bogut returned on Tuesday, though, and he and slick-passing forward David Lee combined for nine assists. Bogut “only” registered two, but this will change as he and his teammates grow accustomed to one another, ostensibly ready to play for good nearly 11 months since he was traded to Golden State.
Yet another luxury for Jackson, who has earned it with his quick offense/defense substituting and fine leadership work with this young team. And certainly something that was earned with his grown-up move on Monday.
Coaches are supposed to be the adult in this situation, the one that says “no.” We all know players want to play through anything, but that cliché (however true) doesn’t excuse letting a player get everything he wants. Players also want to shoot every time they touch the ball and no coach would allow that, so why give in to these guys when they wrongly refuse to admit fallibility and attempt to help their team by playing through injury? It’s one thing for the player not to know that he shouldn’t be trying to play through an injury. It’s something completely different – and wrong -- for the sober-minded coach to look the other way as well.
Golden State is tied for the sixth seed in the West and currently in a dogfight with the improving Denver Nuggets. Beyond these January concerns, though, is the idea that this team could reasonably make a second round run next spring, and even surprise from there.
And more important than the team’s second playoff appearance in 19 seasons is the health of its star. The team already blew it with Andrew Bogut, and they’re lucky they didn’t derail Andrew’s career after asking him to return to action six months after microfracture surgery. It’s good to see, starting from the sideline, a change in attitude.
Smart move, coach Jackson. Right move, coach Jackson.
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