There were so many positives to take away from the Golden State Warriors’ 17-point fourth-quarter rally Sunday to pull out a 108-104 win over the playoff-bound Atlanta Hawks:
— Love the way Stephen Curry stepped up and led the rally. He had nine points in the fourth quarter, hit the huge 3-pointer that pulled them within two and then made the long pass to C.J. Watson that led to the tying bucket. For the first eight minutes of the fourth quarter, when the Warriors went from 17 down to 2 up, he was the most dominant and effective player on the court. For the game, Curry had 32 points, nine rebounds and three assists. Watch out Tyreke Evans, Curry is coming for you.
— The pairing of Chris Hunter and Andris Biedrins proved extremely effective. Hunter came in and gave the Warriors offense in the post and together, they played tough interior defense and combined for four blocks in the fourth quarter. The defense was huge in allowing the Warriors to come back.
— Anthony Morrow and Watson each had six points in the run as the three smalls spread the court, stayed active and took advantage of holes in the Hawks’ defense.
— Devean George and Anthony Tolliver, who saw most of the action in the third quarter when the Hawks built their lead to as big as 18, stayed in the game emotionally and were constantly jumping off the bench to celebrate with their teammates as they rallied back. That emotionally lift can’t be overlooked.
— Along those lines, loved the excitement shown by Raja Bell, who only played one game with the Warriors but was on his feet and into the game as if he was part of the team all season. It would be nice to have his desire and intensity on the team next year when he’s healthy and can actually play. It’s also nice to see all the injured guys actually at the games — even if they’re only there because they have to be. It gives a sense of togetherness, unity and team. It’s just good to see.
— Loved how the entire team didn’t get down and just write it off as another loss, which would be easy to do and understandable when you’re 16-39 and just plain tired of losing.
— The Warriors’ active defense had a lot to do with it, but it was nice to see the Hawks suddenly go cold after such a hot third quarter. Atlanta went from 38 points in the third to 14 in the fourth.
The only thing missing from the huge run to start the fourth quarter was Monta Ellis. That’s because for the second game in a row, the Warriors stormed back with Ellis sitting (and I do mean sitting as he was the only one of the eight in uniform not to get excited and pumped during the rally, not even when Curry made the 3-pointer or Watson hauled in the long pass for the tying layup) on the bench.
Ellis, who finished with 26 points in his second game back from his knee injury, started the fourth quarter on the bench and didn’t enter until the 4:07 mark when the Warriors were up 99-97. He had two huge steals, one of which led to a layup, a big rebound and scored five points in the final three minutes to help secure the win, but he wasn’t involved at all during the rally.
It was all Curry, Morrow and Watson running the show. Which, even after an exciting win, brings us back to the question of whether or not the Warriors are better without Ellis.
If you go back and watch the game again, or maybe you noticed the first time through, the Warriors do A LOT of standing around and watching Ellis when he has the ball in the halfcourt set. It’s Ellis dribbling, looking for a crack in the defense, with four teammates standing still watching and wondering if they’re going to get a pass.
The lack of movement not only hurts the offense, but with no one going to the basket, it hurts the offensive rebounding. The Warriors are much more active on the offensive glass when Ellis is not triggering the offense. When Curry — or even Watson — has the ball, teammates seem to expect a pass and work harder to get open and get rebounds.
(Watching Ellis on Sunday to focus on differences when he’s controlling the ball and when he’s not reminded me of a pickup-game scenario I think we’ve all experienced. We want to be on the same team as that one guy who is clearly the best player because he usually wins and we don’t want to get used by him, but we kind of don’t want to be on his team because he hogs the ball and it’s not very much fun. We feel pressure on the rare occasion he actually passes the ball to not make mistakes and our first thought is always to pass it right back. It’s not a fun way to play but it’s how the Warriors look at times with Ellis on the court.)
There also seems to be a huge difference in Curry’s confidence. Just moments after throwing a 3/4-court pass over the top of the Atlanta defense to hit Watson in stride, Curry seemed unsure of himself and hesitant on a 4-foot pass to a stationary Ellis and almost handed it right to an Atlanta defender. It’s that “have to give the best player the ball” mentality that can sometimes lock up and almost paralyze even supremely confident NBA players.
So how do the Warriors resolve this issue?
Do they trade Ellis? Do they sit Ellis more often? Do they tell him not to be the scorer he can be and stop playing like the Monta Ellis we love to watch?
Before they pull the trigger on a trade or make any drastic decisions, I hope they let the last 27 games play out and see what happens. I would love to see Ellis defer more to Curry in the halfcourt and play off the rookie’s strengths. If there’s no opening for Ellis to drive to the basket, give the ball back to the rookie and become part of the offense. See if Ellis can develop into a true off guard, playing off of Curry, who will be more than happy to find Ellis when he’s open while creating more opportunities for other teammates.
I still think Ellis and Curry can be effective together. It’s just going to take some time and — and a willingness to make it work.