NellieBall isn't built for the long haul

With the Warriors heading for one of those gut-wrenching, "How the hell did we lose that series?" exits, just remember, there are specific reasons why they're trailing Utah 2-zip. Warriors fans can look back at Game 1 and say, "If Stephen Jackson makes that 3-pointer, we win it," and they can certainly look back at Game 2 and say, "We choked." Both of those points are true. If Utah advances, those two games will haunt G-State fans for the rest of the spring and summer.

But here's the real problem: Because of their unconventional personnel and reckless style of play, the Warriors are actually predisposed to squander winnable games against good teams. It's not much different than succeeding in the NFL playoffs, when you need to succeed in specific categories to give yourself the best chance to win: run the ball and stop the run; take care of the football and force a couple of turnovers; win the special teams battle; make two or three big plays. That's really it. Take care of those pieces and you'll probably win the game.

Well, the basketball playoffs are just as simple. If you made a list of the top five things that invariably kill playoff teams in May and June, it would look like this in some order:

1. Can they control the boards when it matters?
2. Can they bury their foul shots in crunch time?
3. Can they get a defensive stop when they absolutely need one?
4. Can they maintain their poise at the most crucial times?
5. Can they get quality shots when it matters?

Now ...

Look at the two games that Golden State just lost in Utah and ask those questions again:

1. Can they control the boards when it matters?
Considering the Warriors have been out-rebounded by a whopping 114-68 margin in two games, I'd say no.

2. Can they bury their foul shots in crunch time?
We know the answer to this one: Pietrus and Davis missed three of four free throws in the final 16 seconds that would have iced Game 2. For the game, G-State shot 26-for-37 (70 percent) from the charity stripe; Utah finished 28-for-33 (84 percent). The thing is, everyone who followed the Warriors knew they'd blow at least one huge playoff game because of free throws: Jackson was their only core guy shooting better than 76 percent, and Harrington (68 percent), Richardson (66 percent), Pietrus (64 percent) and Biedrins (52 percent) are legitimately shaky. That was their achilles heel. Everyone knew it.

3. Can they get a defensive stop when they absolutely need one?
Well, the Warriors can't stop penetrating guards (as evidenced by Deron Williams easily getting off the tying shot in Game 2, or all the damage Devin Harris did in Game 5 of the Dallas series), and they can't protect the defensive boards (it didn't kill them against Dallas, but it's destroying them against Utah). So the answer is no.

4. Can they maintain their poise at the most crucial times?
Not a major problem so far, although they melted down in Game 2 at Dallas. Am I confident that they can make it through this Utah series without Jackson or Davis melting down and getting thrown out at the worst possible time? No.

5. Can they get quality shots when it matters?
Another problem with NellieBall: When you're creating a chaotic pace and trying to shoot 35-40 3-pointers a game, you adopt a certain "I don't give a f---" mind-set for the first 45 minutes of the game ... and then those last three minutes roll around, and you have to slow things down and get good shots and take care of the ball, but you can't because you've already committed to that "I don't give a f---" mind-set. So the same carefree, balls-to-the-wall mentality that got you where you need to be ends up killing you in the end. We didn't see this problem against Dallas because three of G-State's four victories were by 10 points or more. Against Utah? It popped out like a giant pimple.

We've been down this road before with Drexler's Blazers (1989-1992); with the '01 Bucks, '85 Nuggets and '87 Bucks; with Nellie's Dallas teams; even with Nellie's Warriors in '91 and '92. It's one of the reasons I picked Utah to win in five -- not because they're a better team, but because they're a better playoff team. Playing "NellieBall" (or whatever you want to call it) is almost like watching someone playing recklessly/aggressively at a poker table -- maybe they stand out, maybe they're fun to watch, maybe it can work for awhile, but eventually, they're going to get screwed on the river. That's what happened to Golden State in Utah.

Now ...

There's no way the Warriors are losing Game 3 in Oakland. It's not happening. The Jazz will need one game simply to adjust to that frenetic crowd. But I see them squeezing out another nailbiter in Game 4, then closing Golden State out at home in Game 5. The fact is, Golden State couldn't have asked for a better situation in Utah -- two close games, no Derek Fisher in Game 1, foul trouble for Deron Williams in Game 2 -- and couldn't get it done. Just don't say the Warriors choked. There's an old saying about this that involves a sword. I'll spare you the cliche.

One more thing about last night's game: Like everyone else, I was amazed and touched by the unforgettable Derek Fisher saga, one of those rare sports moments that was genuine in every respect -- the way he was greeted by the fans, the way teammates and opponents hugged him during the game, the way he channeled his anguish into the basketball game, the appreciative way his teammates were interacting with him, his monster 3 that clinched the game, his heartfelt interview after everything was over, even the gracious words of the TNT guys after the game. We'll always remember it as the Derek Fisher Game, one of those special nights that made me remember why I chose to write about sports for a living. Those nights happen from time to time, not always for the most uplifting reasons, but they always resonate. Sometimes it's not about winning and losing. We forget this.

Anyway, best wishes to Fisher and his family.


Four leftover NBA thoughts/questions from Round 2:

• Did it really take Scott Skiles seven quarters to realize that he needed to go small against this Pistons team? Why not just play Ty Thomas, Luol Deng, Andres Nocioni, Kirk Hinrich/Chris Duhon and Thabo Sefolosha for an extended stretch and see how it plays out? I can't believe P.J. Brown or Mike Sweetney saw even a single minute of that series. And don't get me started on Ben Wallace. ...

• Did it really take Mike Brown five months to realize that LeBron, Hughes and Pavlovic should all be playing at the same time? Really, you think so, doctor? You think it's a good idea to play your best three perimeter guys at the same time? Anyway, it seems like they've finally settled into a groove -- especially defensively, where they get their hands on a ton of balls -- and the rest of the team is falling in place (even Ilgauskas has been decent lately). With LeBron peaking at the perfect time and making a run at the "42 Club," I have to say ... I'm not sure I'd want to play the Cavs right now. They could absolutely beat the Pistons.

• There is no excuse for Marv Albert or Kevin Harlan not being involved in this Warriors-Jazz series. None. Zero. Zilch.

• Here's why Gregg Popovich is the best coach in the league: Phoenix makes its big adjustment in Game 2 (playing Kurt Thomas to cover Duncan one-on-one), and it's clear from the beginning that it's just not San Antonio's night -- they're not getting any calls, they're missing free throws and 3s, it's just not happening. So he lets the game unfold without a big counter move and Phoenix pulls away in the fourth quarter, which probably would have happened regardless of whatever Pop did. Now we're headed to Game 3 and Phoenix still has no idea how Pop will counter the Duncan/Thomas thing. Watch what happens in Game 3: the Spurs will counter (I predict they go small with Duncan and four perimeter guys, force Amare to guard Finley, Ginobili or Barry 20 feet from the basket, then pound the ball inside to Duncan) and Phoenix will take an entire game to adjust. If they had done this in Game 2, it wouldn't have mattered because Phoenix was winning the game, anyway. I swear, this will all make sense when you're watching Game 3.

And now, a few links to tide you over until tomorrow's column (which will be up by lunch time on the East Coast) ...

• From JB in Chicago: "Here's an article from Drew Sharp about the '88-'91 Pistons/Bulls rivalry. It's really more of a mini oral history, with amusing quotes from Mahorn, Laimbeer, Paxson, Armstrong and others. I send it because it touches on a lot of points you've made about the NBA and its decline: old-school nastiness vs. new-school warm fuzziness, talent dilution, the genuine evil of Bill Laimbeer, and the changing role of fans as arenas became larger, cleaner and less intense."

• I received the following link about a kazillion times on Monday and Tuesday. Luke in Yonkers explains: "Did you hear Suzyn Waldman announcing on Yankees radio right after Clemens announced he was coming back? She went Jim Ross on us! Be careful, the audio is massively disturbing."

(Note: Luke isn't kidding. We need to create an event in the Olympics for female announcers and sideline reporters who are intentionally trying to deepen their voice to disturb the hell out of us -- it could be the worst sports media trend of this decade. I like my female announcers and sideline reporters to, you know, sound like females. I'm old-fashioned that way.)

• Steve from Indy passes along "The Best of Paulie Walnuts," which wins the title of the most riveting YouTube clip of the week.

• If you missed the superb NBC special about "Saturday Night Live" in the '90s last weekend, New York Magazine re-ran Chris Smith's hatchet job of the 1995 cast because it was mentioned in that show. It's a brutally honest feature and a classic example of why you should never give a writer inside access to a struggling TV show. During my first year at "Jimmy Kimmel Live," an Entertainment Weekly writer hung out with the show for a couple of days, laughed at everyone's jokes, kissed Jimmy's butt, seemed like the nicest lady in the world ... and then, she skewered us two weeks later in the magazine. The thing I'll always remember is her sitting at the writer's table during our daily writer's meeting and nearly dying with laughter during some of Adam Carolla's jokes; of course, in her piece, she demolished him for having a juvenile sense of humor. Such a hypocritical, slimy, scummy move. Anyway, I don't know if Chris Smith (a really good writer, by the way) pulled the same routine with SNL because I wasn't there, but it's a fascinating piece to read.

• Mike from Alexandria is excited: "CBS is finally upgrading it's HD coverage of the NFL, and hey, by 2008, all games will finally be in HD. How many years is that?

• Some fascinating bitterness from Matt Barnes about Mo Cheeks in this article. Makes you wonder how many potentially good NBA players slip through the cracks simply because they were playing for the wrong teams and wrong coaches. Matt Harpring was like that, too. And Mikki Moore.

• Eileen from Southie passes along some depressing news: "Did you see that the NBA has banned Don Nelson from taking Bud Light into his interviews? Yet another reason to cheer for the Warriors."

(Speaking of postgame beers, I couldn't agree more with this e-mail from Ed in Dallas: "Does the coverage of the Josh Hancock accident perfectly illustrate the double standard we have with different sports? If a tattooed, cornrowed NBA player had been been in a fatal, single-car accident with a BAC level twice the legal limit, allegedly on the phone with a woman arranging a hookup and with a stash of weed in the car -- he'd be posterized as everything that's wrong with the NBA. Since it's a clean-cut white guy, he's being treated like Barbaro.")

• Multiple readers passed along Sam Smith's column about Miami being handcuffed by Shaq's contract this week (a story that gained steam as the week rolled along). Hey, here's a trade that works: Shaq to the Clippers for Chris Kaman, Cuttino Mobley, Sam Cassell (contract expires 2008) and the right to swap 2007 picks (so Miami would jump six spots into the tail end of the lottery). Imagine Shaq returning to L.A. to pump some life into the Lakers-Clippers rivalry? And wouldn't Miami have to make that deal because it'd be getting younger and chopping off $20 million (Cassell, Jason Williams and Alonzo Mourning) after 2008, giving them more than enough room to sign another marquee guy?

• Our long wait is over ... the great Ronald Jenkees finally finished his "Rocky Remix." If we could only get him into the studio writing songs for Sean Stewart.

• Finally, I keep getting e-mails from readers wondering where they can find older blog entries or older columns. To find the blog posts, check out the calendar on the top right of this page, then click on any of the dates with links (you'll also see the monthly archives below). You can also check the complete archives for every column in reverse order (from newest to oldest). We're in the process of revamping the "Sports Guy's World" page, but apparently there's a target date of 2025. In the meantime, those are the easiest ways to catch up.