Game Notes: Warriors at Suns
Suns rally to overcome… Anthony Tolliver!
by Dennis Tarwood
A ragtag band of warriors, having been separated from the rest of their forces against their will, find themselves a long way away from home and forced on the run, never resting and never allowed to slow for fear of more loss. Every few beats of the clock, the enemy reappears to volley shots at them relentlessly with the heart of a machine. And so they run, unable to do more and unwilling to do less.
For sci-fi geeks, the latest “Battlestar Galactica” series pops to mind. For NBA nerds, the description reads like the last 24 hours for the Golden State Warriors. After a 32-point nuking of the New Jersey Nets Friday night muted by the loss of Monta Ellis to an ankle injury, the Warriors drove south with the ones they love (including Anthony Tolliver and Cartier Smith, their recent D-League additions) to take on a Phoenix Suns squad with its own cable drama in the works: Barbosa’s Cyst.
Suns President/GM Steve Kerr announced minutes before tip that Barbosa would be out for at least a month due to a recurrence of a wrist cyst that kept him out earlier in the season. Surgery was avoided at the time, but the oft-damaged Brazilian will find himself under the knife on Tuesday to rectify the situation (hopefully).
(For our Brazilian readers, here’s the news in Portuguese.)
“Just in the last week, (the injury’s) come back,” noted Kerr. “He was fine when he first came back in November. It went away; he came back. He had some really good games for us and then he sprained the ankle… when he came back from the ankle, he was fine at first but now it’s just worsened.”
By sheer coincidence, Suns color commentator (and team employee) Scott Williams dropped in on the impromptu presser and asked questions about the rarity of such an injury and the proper treatment for the ailment in the first go-round.
The Suns are lucky to have such a fledgling journalism talent come out of the player ranks, available to chew valuable time just before the game with questions geared towards making the team appear to be in the clear regarding the return of the cyst.
There’s also no way the 20-minute delay before Suns coach Alvin Gentry started his pre-game media availability was spent coaching up a former player in preparation for Kerr’s announcement that immediately followed.
“I asked Leandro how long the doctor said the recovery from the surgery would take and he wasn’t sure if the doctor said ’4 weeks’ or ’4 months’ but that he wants to wait until the end of the season because it would take ‘a while’.”
When the two crossed paths Saturday, the consequences were clear: A Suns loss meant freefall while the Warriors had plenty of room for moral victory. Both teams dragged themselves in on the second night of a back-to-back for a long Saturday night in the desert where the drama off the court threatened to overshadow career nights by the Suns’ Goran Dragic and the Warriors’ Anthony Tolliver.
The Ragtag Band of Warriors lucked into a hands-off officiating crew as their eight-deep lineup (nine counting ankle victim Monta Ellis, who did not travel with the team but was left on the active roster) could play active defense all night with few repercussions, allowing them to lead for most of the first half as much as 10 points.
Phoenix couldn’t muster decent shots but stayed close by using the rim as a sixth pass recipient, relying on 10 offensive rebounds and 16 second chance points in the first half to close within five at the break despite impressive contributions from D-Leaguers Anthony Tolliver and Cartier Martin (12/5 and 8/4, respectively, in the first half).
The Warriors’ lead slowly melted away in the third as tired legs wavered under the Ragtag Band and the Suns switched the shooting situation, sinking nearly half their shots while keeping the Warriors to one-third success.
In the fourth quarter, the Suns poured on the pain by driving to the lane again and again, drawing 17 foul shots. Goran Dragic led the free shot parade with 7-8 FTs in the last quarter on his way to 18 points in the fourth and 20 points overall, effectively ending the Warriors’ night by grinding the Golden State guards into the ground.
The Suns succeeded in the second half by sticking to the Cylon strategy against the Warriors, repeatedly running their guards around pick-and-rolls to wear down the guard-deficient Bay Area squad. “Coach (Igor Kokoskov) said I have to pressure Curry or Watson because they’re going to play a lot of minutes,” noted Dragic after the game. “Just to pressure and get (them) tired; that’s what we did.”
The trick worked, according to the stats (Dragic’s 18 fourth-quarter points, Curry’s 3-9 shooting in the final period, Watson’s disappearance) and according to Curry himself: “Tonight, I didn’t have my legs there like I wanted to in the second half.”
The Suns’ success came despite another career night for Anthony Tolliver. He ended the game with 19 points, a new career high that eclipsed his previous mark set 24 hours previous against New Jersey. His defense also neutralized Amar’e Stoudemire (5-13 shooting, only 5 rebounds to Tolliver’s 11). “I focused on defense and rebounding and just happened to get a lot of (offensive) opportunities. Those are the things I’m trying to bring to the team, though.”
In the Warriors’ favor, the people on the fictional Battlestar Galactica managed to survive far worse for years before seeing a turnaround. However, tens of thousands of people died first on that show. So, y’know, maybe that’s where the analogy should end. A Monta Ellis injury only seems that melodramatic and long-running.
– Not spotted in the fourth quarter tonight during the comeback: Jason Richardson. Also not spotted in any quarter: Brandan Wright. Both men will be tied together for NBA life after being traded for each other on Draft Night 2007, which put Richardson in a Bobcat uniform long enough for Larry Brown to find a distaste for the guard and send him to Phoenix for a bag of Raja Bells. And Raja Bell now sits on the trainer’s table for… the Golden State Warriors. THE CIIIIRCLE OF LIFE…
– Asked about his insanely efficient offensive season, Corey Maggette (27/6/4 on an unusually poor 10-23 shooting night) deflected credit: “I’m just keeping my faith in the man upstairs and letting him lead me in the right direction.” Asked if the good Lord had been leading him into the lane more to increase his FTAs and give him easier shots, Maggette laughed: “You just never know, man. In some situations, you probably get more calls…. I know I got banged a few times (tonight) and didn’t get it, but you got some veteran officials (tonight) who aren’t going to fall for it, like Monty (McCutchen). It’s a thing I can do, get to the line. Even when I was 22-23, I was still (ranked) 1 or 2 in free throws attempted and made.”
– Andris Biedrins must have some remarkable basketball skill that keeps him gainfully employed, right? It doesn’t involve shooting the basketball and his rebounding is adequate and his defense is often recognizable by strangers as theoretically possible, but he continues to gain significant minutes in the Warriors’ depleted rotation. Tonight: 5/8/2/1 in 24 minutes. Maybe he knows how to chill a six-pack in 60 seconds.
– C.J. Watson returned from a lacerated hand injury to provide 11/2/2 in 24 minutes of his own and also received a posterior aeration from Goran Dragic late in the game on a breakaway block of his attempted layup. Don Nelson earned a technical 20 seconds later for bluster above and beyond the call of duty. After the game, the always erudite Nelson was asked what he saw on the play: “Foul.”
– This was the first game Monta Ellis missed all season. Digest that for awhile.
– Don Nelson noted after the game that his boys deserved no pity as they were all growed up now and “need no lollipop.” You only need those if you plan on sucking, Don, and the Warriors haven’t started that yet.
– The two Warriors D-Leaguers and your never-not-intrepid Game Notes writer had the following conversation about one of Tolliver’s favorite D-League teammates:
Anthony Tolliver: “You know, I really enjoyed playing with Lanny Smith. He actually got hurt and is out for the season…”
Cartier Martin: [Shocked] “Lanny out? That’s my man!”
Tolliver: “Yeah, he messed up his MCL or patella or something and had to get surgery.”
Tolliver: “Yeah, he was a lot of fun to play with. Great point guard, really pushed the tempo…”
Martin: “Maaaaan! Lanny?”
Tolliver: “He allowed me to get a lot of opportunities to get a lot of shots up, so he’s a great teammate. (laugh)”
SLAM Online: “We always like that, don’t we? [to Martin] So would that be your answer, too?”
Martin: “Lanny my guy, man. Me and Lanny go way back. We played in high school together.”
Tolliver: “I didn’t know that!”
Martin: “Yeah, man! I mean, we weren’t on the same team, but we played against each other.”
Tolliver: “He’s a great guy, too.”
Scott Schroeder from Ridiculous Upside finds that opinion fairly universal in the D-League and told this writer Lanny is in good spirits after his successful surgery with Lanny calling it another .”.. minor setback for a major comeback!” If you’re looking for ’10-11′s Sundiata Gaines, you could do worse than root for Lanny.