Warriors usher in a new era, narrowly beat Pistons
on November 16, 2010
With new jerseys, a new coach, new players—and even a new group of owners, who were formally introduced to the fans at Monday night’s game—one of the hard-luck teams of the NBA may have broken finally from its afflicted past.
In celebration of the official transfer of ownership, new Golden State Warriors managing partner Joe Lacob and associate Peter Guber invited fans to the game to enjoy half-price tickets, food and drinks. They pulled in a crowd of 19,123, their largest crowd of the season so far. The Warriors’ 101-97 win over the Detroit Pistons, with its exhilarating ending, only added to the value.
“We want to make sure that our fans get their money’s worth,” said head coach Keith Smart at his post-game press conference. “That’s what it is, we’re in the entertainment business. It puts coaches, ownership and the general manger in the hospital, but after all, guys, when you’re playing for a big lead in the NBA, it’s hard to maintain the composure to keep things nice and solid.”
With starting guard Monta Ellis shooting seven of nine from the field, and six of seven from the foul line just in the first half, the sixth-year player was well on his way to his 26.5 points-per-game average, which places him second in the league. This helped put the Warriors ahead by as many as 32 points in the second quarter, and for a while it looked as though they had locked up the game before the Pistons realized they were off of the team bus.
Detroit managed to cut what once seemed like an insurmountable deficit down to 23 by the time the Pistons crawled to the locker room at the half to regroup. But playing with a lead that size can be difficult for young teams like this year’s Warriors. Smart said he concentrated on telling his team just to stick with the plan.
“‘Play how you guys have played your third quarters—quick, fast and aggressive defensively,’” Smart said he told them.
It almost didn’t work. Still up by 18 at the close of the third quarter, the home team let the Pistons claw all the way back during the fourth to make it a two-point ballgame, 98-96, with under a minute left in the final period.
That’s when, according to forward Dorell Wright—an important off-season, free-agent acquisition, who made arguably the biggest play of the game, with the outcome in the balance—the home crowd took over.
With the ball in Pistons reserve point guard Ben Gordon’s hands, and just over 14 seconds on the clock, the fans got loud. Without a single person sitting, from the look of things, deafening chants of DE-FENSE prompted the Warriors to rise to the occasion. Wright stole the ball, with 9.9 seconds left, and plunged to the hardwood to get complete control of it. With the ball in his hands and the Pistons’ royal and red quickly descending upon him, he got a rolling pass off to Ellis—and the lead held up.
“We’ve got some of the best fans in the NBA,” said Wright, a former member of the Miami Heat, as he relaxed in front of his locker after the game. “They really were there for us at the key part of the game. Getting loud like that, rattling guys at the free throw line making guys miss shots, just being the monkey on their back. They mean a lot down the stretch.”
Another off-season addition was the focus of the talk before the game. The question on everyone’s mind was how the team would do without starter David Lee, the team’s recent high-dollar prize. The former New York Knicks’ power forward went down to a left elbow injury during the Warriors third road game last week—against his old team, no less.
Since then, the 6’9” Lee has missed three games—Monday nights’, plus two games during the team’s just-completed five-game road trip. Those two, to Chicago and Milwaukee, were losses. So Smart said that in Lee’s absence, he was looking for a player to step in and provide some energy. “Unfortunate for us not to have him,” said Smart. “But it’s a good time for some other guys to kind of try to move up into that role.”
It turned out that Smart was actually looking for a handful of players to fill Lee’s shoes while he recovers. To start, he went with ten-year vet Vladimir Radmanovic, but it quickly became apparent that the strategy was replacement-by-committee. Second-year man Jeff Adrien entered the game earlier in the first quarter than might have been expected. Then a combination of bench players, Rodney Carney and Dan Gadzuric, relieved him and point guard Stephen Curry in the second quarter.
At least for last night, it seemed to work. Together, the group accounted for 12 points and 19 rebounds. As of his last game, Lee was averaging 14 points and 11 rebounds per game.
Considering what the Warriors franchise has been through over the years, and given the way the Pistons fought back, this was the type of game the Warriors would have somehow managed to lose last season. This is a team that lost more than a third of their games last year and managed a franchise-worst 17 wins in 2000-01. They had a flicker of hope in 2006-7 with one playoff run, but that burned out fast. The Warriors have not had a 50-win season since President Bill Clinton first took office.
But Monday night’s win over Detroit keeps Golden State undefeated at home this year, and with a 7-4 overall record, the Bay Area faithful and the new ownership group alike have reason to show up.
“We’re on a mission of trying to play good basketball, and however we can get the good basketball played, that’s what we want to do,” Smart said after the game, knowing that his new bosses were watching. “We just wanted to win. So maybe we all get raises now.”
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