Wasn’t it just great to hear Don Nelson say the reason he sat Baron Davis the entire second half of Monday night’s playoff-busting loss to the Phoenix Suns was because he played terribly, was tired and besides: “We probably had a better chance to get hit with lightning than of getting into the playoffs”? Welcome to Nellie’s world of cunning disguised as candor.
Sure, Davis was dragging, but how many times have we seen the Warriors’ leading scorer and playmaker rise up when the team needed him most? Of course, this wasn’tjust any game — it was Golden State’s last stand and it’s beyond curious that Nelson would look to unproven backups to take on one of the league’s best teams on their home court, no less.
Now some have speculated that Baron may have had a little too much fun at his 29th birthday party Sunday night; more likely it was a coach reminding his captain who’s the real boss. That’s Nellie: The imperialist and iconoclast cloaked in good ol’ country boy charm.
Take last week’s pivotal showdown with the Denver Nuggets. The obviously tired Warriors starters were kept on the floor virtually the entire game while Denver’s reserves came on like gangbusters, outscoring Golden State’s bench 34-7 in cruising to an easy win. After the game, Nelson said the subs didn’t compete well enough, so he went back to his starters.
Most of the reserves were barely on the court long enough to break a sweat. But that’s Nellie. Certainly The Don has had success coaching more by feel than formula, witness last year’s stunning playoff upset of the Dallas Mavericks. But this is the same coach who treats young players like intruders, even telling team insiders he wanted to trade Monta Ellis after he struggled in his first postseason series.
Anyone remember how rattled the young guard was getting yo-yo’d in and out of a game if he made a shot or a mistake? How about Mickael Pietrus demanding a trade in February only to somehow, for some reason, get back in Nellie’s good graces and once again become a key player in the rotation? Or Brandan Wright, the first-round draft pick who never got enough playing time to be a factor despite showing great promise almost every time he stepped onto the court?
After watching 7-foot-2 rookie Kosta Perovic knock down Shaquille O’Neal to get his first NBA dunk the other night in Phoenix, you wonder why he played all of 38 minutes the whole season going into Wednesday’s finale. And then there’s Patrick O’Bryant, the 2006 top pick who’s buried so deep in Nellie’s doghouse he should shop for a flea collar.
Sure the Warriors are the winningest club ever to miss the playoffs in the current 16-team format, but unlike a season ago — when they snuck up on everybody and raced into the postseason winning 16 of their last 21 — this year’s team had a losing record in April.
Remember, too, The Don may be the NBA’s second all-time winningest coach, but only two coaches in league history ever lost more games than Nelson, who also has a losing record in the playoffs without ever coming close to winning a championship. Plus, the Warriors led the league in points allowed in each of the last two seasons.
Next month, Nellie turns 68. Maybe at his birthday party, he’ll tell the Warriors he’s too tired and won’t be back next season. Don’t expect Baron and too many of his teammates to shed a tear.
Rich Walcoff is the sports director at KGO Radio (810 AM) and can be heard weekdays between 5-9 a.m. on the “KGO Morning News.” He can also be reached at email@example.com.