Commentary

With the Warriors and Jackson, expect the unexpected

Originally Published: March 24, 2008
By J.A. Adande | ESPN.com

Stephen Jackson and Kobe BryantLisa Blumenfeld/Getty ImagesStephen Jackson hit the clinching 3-pointer against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.

LOS ANGELES -- It's hard to pick one play to summarize an evening that brought references to everything from Easter to "Star Wars," that featured appearances by both Nellie and Nelly, a game in which the Warriors put up the most points scored against the Los Angeles Lakers in a half this season, then threatened to break the mark for the fewest points scored against them in a quarter.

But if one play typified what makes the Golden State Warriors a threat to any opponent -- as well as themselves -- it was Stephen Jackson's 3-pointer that provided the final margin in the Warriors' wild 115-111 victory over the Lakers on Sunday.

The Warriors scored 72 points in the first half and led by 26 early in the third quarter, but the Lakers came all the way back and briefly took the lead with 5:07 left in the game. Surprisingly, for such a helter-skelter team with no low-post presence, the Warriors were in their element. They're now 10-2 in games decided by three points or fewer.

Up by a point in the final 30 seconds, the 24-second clock still in play, what did the Warriors do? Jackson launched a 26-foot, 3-pointer that hit nothing but net.

Seriously. That's what they did when the conventional wisdom called for them to protect the lead, run down the clock and get a good shot.

Poor Derek Fisher. He thought about the normal way, so he played off Jackson, hedging toward Monta Ellis and Kelenna Azubuike on the wing. He was in no position to close out on Jackson when Baron Davis passed him the ball and Jackson cast away.

"Your natural instinct is not to just run past a guy that far from the basket at that time," Fisher said. "You don't want to give up an easy drive to the basket."

Even Jackson admitted the usual play would not be to take such a low-percentage shot for coach Don Nelson's team.

"But after watching us all year, you should expect that we're going to do the opposite of the norm, you know what I mean?" Jackson said. "That's how we play, that's our team, that's what we're built on. Just making up our own stuff. You know Nellie, he does everything that you don't expect him to do."

This is exactly what makes the Warriors so dangerous. They go southpaw when you expect them to hit you with a right. As Lakers coach Phil Jackson said, "They're an out-of-balance ballclub."

Of course, it's just as difficult for their own coach to figure out what his team will do next. After scoring 38 points in the second quarter, the Warriors managed only 15 in the third.

"Don't ask the coach," Nelson said. "I have no clue. Sometimes the Force is with you, sometimes it isn't. Throughout the game, the Force can change sides. Which it did tonight."

The thing is, in a seven-game series, teams can focus in on the Warriors, get a feel for them, start to expect the unconventional. And if these two teams should meet in the playoffs, the Lakers plan to have Pau Gasol (expected to return Wednesday) and Andrew Bynum, who both missed Sunday's game with injuries. Bynum has yet to begin practice.

But even if the Lakers had their big men, they'd still have to show discipline on offense, and "right now we're not patient enough to do that," Fisher said.

They also have to shore up their defense. Before the game, Jackson said, "We're still a ways away from really putting in the kind of effort and the consistency that we have to have on some of our screen-roll defense. We have to get there."

They got there in the second half, when they denied at the basket better and deflected Warriors passes. Coach Jackson wondered if giving the players the morning off to observe the Easter holiday affected their mind-set at the start of the game, when the defense was nonexistent.

But at the end, the players committed to protecting the paint ... and it cost them. So the Warriors celebrated a victory on the Lakers' floor, and Stephen Jackson ran over to chest-bump the rapper Nelly at his courtside seat.

The Warriors pulled within a half game of seventh-place Dallas in the Western Conference playoff standings, and the Mavericks will have to play without Dirk Nowitzki for a stretch. But Golden State still has to worry about Denver, which is just a game and a half out of the final playoff spot.

Even if Sunday was the only time you had seen the Warriors, you'd recognize that they won't take the easy path. But you know they'll always be a threat, no matter where they might be.

J.A. Adande is the author of "The Best Los Angeles Sports Arguments." He joined ESPN.com as an NBA columnist in August 2007 after 10 years with the Los Angeles Times. Click here to e-mail J.A.

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