Warriors/Heat: Recap And Analysis
(originally written 1/29/14)
Tonight, the Golden State Warriors downed the Miami Heat IN Miami, something done by no other team besides the Warriors (twice) over the past 12 months.
They did so midway through a grueling seven-game road trip.
They did so with Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and all other Miami regulars suited up, healthy and ready to play.
Did anybody see this coming?
Back on December 27, as it became evident the Dubs would knock off visiting Phoenix (about the 6:07 mark in quarter No. 2), my focus shifted from deciphering one Morris twin from the other to breaking down the long Eastern Conference swing awaiting Golden State. And by "breaking down" I mean "making hasty predictions based on superficial statistics, limited EC observation and gut." Below are the first three such predictions:
Cavaliers—win. Kyrie Irving will get his, but he has little help and the Cavs are near the bottom of the NBA in shooting.
Magic—win. Better than the Cavs, but very young and not good against winning teams.
Heat—blowout loss. Just sacrifice this game to ensure Steph Curry and the crew are rested and healthy for the next night in Atlanta.
I don't think I've been this wrong about anything NBA-related since predicting Latrell Sprewell would return to the league on his hands and knees by late 2006.
Golden State did almost anything they wanted against Miami offensively except protect the basketball. But they don't protect the basketball against anybody, and the Heat aren't just anybody defensively, so that was to be expected. Miami did play the trademark Warrior curls well, and they swarmed Curry time and again (so aggressively at one point a foul was called at half-court)—but it barely even slowed the Warriors' offense.
It was a simple case of getting shots off—and making them. Curry drilled eight from long-range and most of them were contested. Golden State AGAIN controlled the boards; ever since the Rockets—one of the NBA's best rebounding teams—ripped them on December 6, the Warriors have been out-rebounded exactly once (by Denver). This is a team that ranked 28th in that category just two seasons ago—but I'm not here to talk about the past.
David Lee abused Bosh underneath and even hit a couple of mid-range jumpers. That's two consecutive games of Lee being able to extend out to the elbow area after a season-long struggle there (league-worst percentage on mid-range J's entering the new year, per Grantland.com's Kirk Goldsberry). Even as he poured in bucket after bucket in single coverage, Miami rarely doubled—and paid for it. Lee scored 32, but it felt like 48.
The man they did double repeatedly was Curry, who still blitzed them for 36 using "impossible" shots and a few of those no-no-no-no-YES three-pointers that longtime Warriors and Heat guard Tim Hardaway Sr. (now a Heat scout and present at the game) became synonymous with.
I'm not sure how many NBA point guards are even capable of entertaining the thought of taking a much-taller LeBron to the right baseline and sinking a J in his face WITH EIGHT TICKS LEFT ON THE SHOT CLOCK—let alone doing so. I guarantee you could tally them on one hand while hitching a ride. But Curry did just that to cap off a 6-0 Warrior run to open the second half.
James scored 26, but none were in dominant fashion; he turned the ball over eight times, including twice in the first 70 seconds. Even as the Warrior lead expanded to 15 points in the third quarter, it was difficult to even briefly feel at ease as a Warrior fan—not with King James' imprint on the game yet to be made.
Said imprint never would be made. No one's ever going to bottle up LeBron James, and no one's ever going to torch Andre Iguodala or Draymond Green; the end result is about what one could reasonably expect—James got his numbers, but they were mostly cosmetic, hard-earned and lacked serious impact.
The boxscore will show Andrew Bogut playing all of 18 minutes (he did not have foul trouble, so either he was nursing an undisclosed injury or coach Mark Jackson preferred the effective matchup of Green on James and Lee against Bosh as the game progressed.) But Bogut's presence lingered for all 48 minutes. How else can a half-dozen barely-if-at-all-contested Miami misses from in close—including a wide-open fast-break layup brick by Wade early in the third—be explained?
Any offense run against GS is mindful of Bogut; the way he's defended the rim this year makes it utterly foolish not to be. He doesn't just change shots; he alters strategies and tonight versus the Heat was no different.
They'd probably never admit it, but it appeared Bogut was in their heads and affecting their shooting even during the 30 game minutes he sat. (Bogut arguably made the play of the night with yet another one-handed lob slam midway thru the first quarter; he also did so memorably against Houston's Dwight Howard back on December 13.)
About the only real drawback: Golden State won while committing 18 turnovers—many of which were, to borrow from GS announcer Bob Fitzgerald, "unforced errors".
We saw multiple lazy passes intercepted by the Heat guards; it should be known after three consecutive NBA Finals appearances that the Heat are kind of aggressive in passing lanes. We saw Klay Thompson pull a Kent Bazemore by stepping out of bounds twice in the corners (one costing the Warriors three points.) We saw Bazemore himself pull a Bazemore by hauling in a pass too casually, knocking it out of bounds.
We also saw a nine-point victory against the best team in the league in spite of the carelessness, true. But the Warriors aren't going to shoot 56 percent on the road against a good defensive lineup very often, and it's on nights like that those possessions must be valued. It's not the AMOUNT of turnovers necessarily—it's the type. I'd like to see the shooters not run straight for the corner as often; the out-of-bounds violations there (not to mention dangerous cross-wing passes) are piling up and could have proved costly against Miami.
I'd also like to commend tonight's officiating trio. Wade can't seem to ever miss a shot without looking over his shoulder at a ref, and he can't seem to ever make one without falling to the floor. I've always wanted to like Wade, especially after he got himself and his children out of a terrible marriage to an unstable person in 2007. Most of the time, I do. But not when he dials up his inner Vince Carter (or, while I'm on the topic, mocks an ill Dirk Nowitzki after losing to him.)
Tonight's crew was fair to both sides (although they erred by not calling Thompson for a reach-in on Heat guard Norris Cole but compensating with a Miami possession when Cole's pass went out-of-bounds—earning Jackson a technical.) A five-second post-up penalty was even called on James!
Furthermore, the refs correctly ate their whistles when Warriors forward Harrison Barnes (who played very well after a recent slump, even scoring Golden State's first eight points of the second quarter) stripped James in transition for a turnover, and when Green stripped Wade on a fourth-quarter fast-break that would have shifted the momentum to the home team.
With the Warriors the most-whistled team in the NBA and coming off a criminally inaccurate sixth foul on Lee last week in Cleveland, it's very noticeable when only 13 fouls are called against them in Orlando and when Miami is not allowed to gripe their way into three dozen free throws.
With Atlanta coming up in 24 hours, Jackson—who half-jokingly threatened retirement if Curry didn't land an All-Star nod after the game—probably had no intention of playing his star guard 44 minutes until realizing the game was winnable, but only as long as Curry stayed on the floor. This likely means limited minutes against a Hawks team that, like Miami tonight, will have had two full days off entering play.
The Hawks won't have injured center Al Horford (torn pec) but do expect starting guard DeMarre Carroll (thumb) back in the lineup against the Warriors. They, at least for the time being, are one of only three Eastern Conference teams with a winning record (18-14). Go do it, Golden State.