Here is a link to my Monday column about the Warriors win over Portland. The full text appears below:
OAKLAND — In his pregame media chat, Warriors coach Mark Jackson laid it on the line, “Tonight is a big night for us.”
Why so big?
The Warriors were playing the Portland Trail Blazers, the surprising Blazers who are way ahead of the Warriors in the Western Conference standings. And the Warriors have been slumping.
A while back they had a 10-game winning streak. But coming into the Blazers game, they had lost five of seven games and were giving up points by the ton. Which means they weren’t playing defense — and that’s very bad for a defense-first team.
So, Sunday night’s game was a State of the Warriors Game. Could they play well, could they beat an elite team? As a general rule, teams that beat elite teams are themselves elite teams.
The Warriors want to be elite.
Maybe they are. They won 103-88. Easy. A walk in the park. An elite kind of night.
Before the game, Jackson made a pretty good case for Portland. “Tonight, there’s no answer for Damian Lillard in pick-and-roll situations and isolation situations,” he said from his coaching situation. “There’s no answer for LaMarcus Aldridge. We’ve got to contest shots and try to make them uncomfortable.”
Well, the Warriors had answers to every question posed by the Blazers. When it came to shooting, Aldridge couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn — he hit two of 14 shots and David Lee made him look mediocre. And Lillard had a pretty good night — 16 points — but wasn’t in the same universe as Stephen Curry, a more dangerous shooter, just a better player. Which means the Warriors corrected their defense — they had given up 120 or more points in three of their previous five games.
Before Sunday’s game, I asked Jackson, “How do you get your guys to play better defense? Do you yell at them, plead with them?”
“I coach them,” Jackson said. “Hold them accountable. ‘Understand how teams are going to hurt you.’ You prepare. You talk about it. Playing in this league, there’s going to be nights when you have it and there’s going to be nights when you don’t have it. The great teams, in spite of not having it, find ways to get it done.”
“How do you hold your players accountable?”
“You hold them accountable by discussing it, whether it be timeout, whether it be taking them out, whether it be correcting them, whether it be practice tomorrow. There’s different ways to hold them accountable. I don’t believe holding them accountable is cussing them out and disrespecting them because then they have the right to hold me accountable by doing the same thing to me. We don’t do that here. We are a professional basketball team with grown men. This is not the first time that we’ve either played great for a stretch or did not play great for a stretch.”
Someone mentioned the Warriors’ pregame film session was “grueling.” Grueling was Klay Thompson’s word.
“Probably a little uglier than normal,” Jackson said. “You win 10 straight games, I’m sure they probably wanted to see Part 2 of it. When you’re losing, the film is telling. Sometimes, you may think, ‘I wasn’t as bad as I was,’ and then looking at the footage, it exposes you and it exposes you in front of everybody. And the problem with showing the latest film, it wasn’t one guy. So, it wasn’t comfortable, but we are a team that we challenge each other and now it’s about going out and correcting the mistakes we made.”
The Warriors corrected their mistakes. They are good enough right now to go deep in the playoffs. You’d expect nothing less. Someone asked me on TV recently what the Warriors need to go to the NBA Finals. I said they need nothing. That’s pretty close to the truth. Their starting five are fabulous, have everything. They could use one more scorer off the bench, someone who comes in and, boom, scores 15 points. They have time to get him. And they’ll improve when their backup centers get well.
But right now, they can compete with any team. On certain nights, they can beat any team. They ran the Blazers off the court. True, this was Portland’s fifth game in seven nights. But still.
Afterward, Jackson praised his team’s defense, as you’d expect. He singled out Andre Iguodala, the big-deal acquisition in the offseason. He wants Iguodala, who scored 12 points, to get more involved in the offense. I don’t know Iguodala. I’m told he’s soft spoken and introspective. So here’s Iguodala — call this the Andre Primer.
Me: Why did you guys play better defense tonight?
Iguodala: Coach told us we’re going to get traded if we don’t play better defense so our backs were against the wall.
Me: Now give the real answer.
Iguodala: It happens like that in the league. You go through phases where you’re stuck on major areas.
Me: Mark Jackson told us he wants you more involved. Has he told you that?
Me: What does he mean by more involved?
Iguodala: Rebound. Be more aggressive on the offensive end. Just taking shots. Might have to take one or two bad ones to keep yourself in rhythm.
Me: Is it that you’re very humble, that you don’t want the spotlight on you?
Iguodala: No, not at all. I’ve been there before. I’m just trying to build with these guys, trying to build the chemistry. The main thing is not to force. When you start forcing, that’s when you don’t have great chemistry with the guys. They don’t know what you’re going to do, and you don’t know what they’re going to do. It never flows. Sometimes you’ve got to sacrifice for the flow of the game, for the flow of a teammate. Throughout the course of a season, teams are going to lock in on our shooters and that will open it up even more (for him).
“All these games are to build up for the playoffs. I may only take three or four shots but there’s an endgame to it. When it really counts I’ll be ready for it.”
Call that Andre An Introduction.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.