Earlier this season, the Houston Rockets were going H.A.M. on the Golden State Warriors. The Rockets were one short of the league record for three-pointers in a game on their way to 140 points. Instead of allowing Houston to jack treys and go for the record, Warriors coach Mark Jackson had his team intentionally foul the Rockets before they could even get up a shot. It wasn’t goon ball; but some – of a new age, cornball variety – thought it was bush league. I guess Golden State should have just laid out rose petals on the floor and willingly resigned itself to the dubious side of a record.
Not in Jackson’s world. Here’s what he had to say about his decision to avoid eternal ignominy:
“We’re not going to lie down. I was an old-school basketball player. I’m an old-school coach. If you can’t appreciate that, that’s on you. If you’re going to try to get the record, we’re going to stop you … I would expect nothing less if I was on the other side ... If you’re going to try to shoot threes, we’re going to run you off the line. We’re developing something here, and we’re awfully proud of it.”
The snarky reaction would be to quickly point out that, if you allow a squad to hang 140 on you, you’ve been “laying down” all game and hadn’t been stopping anyone. But Jackson was making a larger point about the Warriors as a project. This is a team forming a new identity, building new expectations. Circumstances like that often provide the most indelible teaching moments: We got handled today, but here, in this final moment, have some respect for yourselves and don’t let them set that record on us.
Before owner Joe Lacob and general manager Bob Myers hired Mark Jackson prior to last season, there was no such thing as “Warriors basketball.” Well, technically, there was. “Warriors basketball” was an ill-comprised team of smallish players zipping up and down the court with what seemed like no true schematic plan. It was just a series of Monta Ellis recklessness, Dorell Wright threes, and Steph Curry moments. Jackson came on and immediately tried to change that.
A constant refrain of Jackson’s this season has been “all we teach in practice is defense.” This is a different tact than, say, the Lakers’ Mike D’Antoni used this season when he famously got into a back-and-forth with a reporter who questioned if D’Antoni and staff were dismissing L.A.’s defensive woes to focus on offense.
Last season, Jackson and his staff’s defensive focus didn’t pay automatic dividends; they still finished right near the bottom of the league in opponents points per game and defensive rating (the amount of points allowed per 100 possessions, which takes into account the teams’ paces). But last year, Jackson and Myers decided to move on a trade that sent high-scoring Ellis to Milwaukee for, principally, Andrew Bogut. Bogut was injured at the time. In fact, he has a history of injuries. He also has a history as an above average shot-blocker and rebounder (when he’s actually on the floor). Next, they took two sturdy, impressionable wing players in the 2012 Draft (Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green – “did he play basketball or football at Michigan State,” George Karl recently asked). They brought in Jarrett Jack, a tough combo-guard that has allowed Curry to play off the ball, to the Bay in a three-way trade with New Orleans and Philly. And finally, in August, they signed Carl Landry – the kind of role player you find on winning squads.
But, slightly rewinding back to Jack, dig what Jackson said about his incoming guard: “It’s a homerun for us,” said Mark Jackson . “He’s a gamer, and I like guys who play with an edge and who are proven. He’s not going to be manhandled on the court. He’s going to meet force with force, and we needed his toughness.”
It’s a totally new squad that Jackson is molding into a team of increasing mettle.
Not more than a full game into its postseason, the Warriors lost David Lee. It was Lee who, before Steph’s second half ascendance, was the squad’s 2013 All-Star. He was their double-double machine, the legit-big tasked with keeping up with his zoomster cohorts. With Lee out for the playoffs with a hip injury, the conventional wisdom was that the Warriors would take a first round L. And this is where Mark Jackson has made and will keep making his mark within the organization and program (you can use the very collegiate term for a squad so young and a coach that rocks with that “cool teacher” charisma).
But we know that G-State nearly snuck Game 1 from the Nuggets in Denver, until Andre Miller pulled out an okey-doke he used on his uncle Reggie back when MC Hammer was an underground Oakland emcee. In reaction to that letdown, Mark had his crew ready to go for Game 2. No sulking, just 30 points from Curry and double-digit win. This team is starting to show some steel.
The Nuggets jumped out on the Warriors early, Golden State heading into the half down 20. Jackson said something to the team in the locker room and, of course, they came out in the second half and made it a game. Now, the Warriors can sulk back to the Bay, losers of a big closeout game. Instead, Jackson has proven he’ll take this time to whip his squad into the necessary outfit that’s ready to rock that delirious (all the time) Oracle crowd and advance.
The post-game talk turned to the physicality of the series, something folks didn’t expect out of two squads that like to put up 120.
“They tried to send hitmen on (Stephen Curry), but I give them credit,” said Jackson in his press conference. “There were some dirty plays early. It’s playoff basketball; it’s all right. Make no mistake about it: we went up 3-1 playing hard, physical, and clean basketball, not trying to hurt anyone.”
These are the new Ws – getting into dogfights.
Months earlier, in Houston, Jackson’s Warriors were clowned. Fed up, Jackson made them retaliate, even if it bordered on petty. That one decision – “go foul those dudes…they ain’t getting the record on us – is paying current dividends on the team’s psyche, swagger and sense of self.
“We’re developing something here,” said Jackson, “and we’re awfully proud of it.”