With the clock winding down in Saturday’s contest between the Golden State Warriors and the Utah Jazz, the outcome was very much in the hands of Warriors guard Monta Ellis. The final minute of the game not only awarded the better team for that day, it also proved the Ellis is not quite capable of running a ballclub all on his own.
The game was tied at 87 with 34 seconds left in the fourth quarter. The Warriors had just seen their four-point fourth-quarter lead disappear, and the Jazz were on the verge of completely stealing the momentum.
But all of that could have been erased with another game-winning shot by Ellis, who had a few buzzer-beaters last season. With the absence of Stephen Curry, Golden State relied ever-so obviously on the playmaking ability of Ellis, the team’s leading scorer.
The problem is that having Ellis operate in an isolated situation is quite predictable and stale.
Without a true point guard guiding the offense, nor a legitimate second scoring option, Ellis was forced to improvise. This ultimately led to his inability to shake Raja Bell, a one-time All-Defensive First Teamer and Ellis’ former teammate.
Ellis drove the lane and was cut off without any other options. He dangled in the air with no chance at a shot at the rim and threw a desperate pass to the right wing, where a waiting Jazz defender, Devin Harris, was ready to deflect the ball away. The Warriors were forced to foul on the counter-fast break, and the Jazz sunk one free throw to move up 88-87 with 11 seconds left.
The good news was that there was still enough time on the clock for the Warriors to draw up a play, and they could actually win the game with a bucket. On the ensuing offensive series, it was déjà vu—a near repeat of what had just happened a mere 10 seconds prior.
Ellis exhaustedly dribbled the ball till it was out of air, threw up a difficult runner in the lane with Bell draped all over him—and missed. Since the shot was taken nanoseconds before the final buzzer, the Warriors had no second-chance opportunity.
The last minute of Saturday’s game demonstrated where Ellis stands as a star in this league. And without Curry, who has been sidelined indefinitely with another ankle injury, Ellis is called upon to shine even brighter as the Warriors’ main scoring option. This is the onus of being the only offensive force.
Though critics may state that the Warriors cannot function having Ellis and Curry in the same backcourt, Saturday’s performance showed that Ellis thrives better when Curry is in the lineup. As the distributor and ball-handler, Curry opens up the floor for Ellis, who doesn’t have to exert so much energy on the offensive side.
But with Curry out of the game, Ellis isn’t able to use any creativity in engineering original plays, and the defense collapses on the transparent shots he takes. Head coach Mark Jackson needs to figure out a way to have Ellis on the receiving end of passes for scores rather than forcing him to create shots all the time on his own. Though he is a skilled scorer, his (relative) lack of height, strength and length allow defenders to challenge shots with regularity.
Until Curry returns to action, Ellis will have to lug the majority of the offense for the hapless Warriors. The problem is, Ellis may not just be capable of doing so all by himself.