When the Golden State Warriors traded for Andrew Bogut last March, it was done principally to avoid the type of game that unfolded on Wednesday night at Oracle Arena.
Tasked with containing Memphis Grizzlies’ big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, Golden State couldn’t measure up, dropping their eighth straight to Memphis by a final of 94-87. With Bogut continuing to languish on the bench, the Grizzlies collected rebound after rebound with ease and maintained their small lead with a barrage of second-chance points.
“I thought early on we had a tough time because they were more physical and imposed their will on us,” coach Mark Jackson said.
But it was a problem for Golden State for the entirety of the game. By the fourth quarter, David Lee had spent a considerable amount of energy trying to stop Randolph (19 points, 12 rebounds) and didn’t have much left for the offensive end of the floor. Gasol added 12 points and nine rebounds of his own as the Grizzlies dominated the Warriors in the paint, outscoring them 60-34. The 60 points were the most the Dubs had allowed all year.
It was only Golden State’s 34th game of the season, but the Grizzlies are currently the Western Conference’s fourth seed and thus would meet the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs if the current standings hold. At the very least, it’s a possible postseason mismatch if Bogut isn’t ready to go.
Golden State’s defense has undoubtedly been a pleasant surprise thus far and a big reason the team is off to its best start in decades. But without Bogut positioned down low to take on the league’s best big men, teams can simply line up premier centers and power forwards where they please and, as Jackson put it, “impose their will.”
The good news is that the Warriors are schematically strong enough to continue to win against teams that don’t possess the right combination of those front court weapons. Jackson’s defensive strategy has maximized Golden State’s speed and smarts and allowed the team to overcome its undersized personnel against inferior teams as well as superior teams with exploitable mismatches (think Miami). There’s a reason the Warriors are 22-12 even without their seven-foot center.
But by the time the playoffs roll around—and yes, barring a total collapse, there will be postseason action at Oracle this spring—many of those teams aren’t around any more. Memphis certainly will be, as will San Antonio and several other squads with elite presences down low. Unless Bogut returns to action before then, the Warriors will have to find another answer or be ready for an early exit.
The thing is…we don’t know if or when Bogut might find himself on the floor again. The team continues to categorize his absence as “indefinite”, and it’s entirely possible the six games Bogut played at the beginning of the season will be his only appearances in the blue and gold this year. And if that’s the case, the Warriors should be spending less time musing over players like Memphis’ Rudy Gay and more time looking for someone to plug up the hole that Randolph and Gasol so easily barreled through on Wednesday.
It’s still too early to take out the yellow pages, but if Bogut doesn’t make progress by the All-Star break, Golden State won’t have a choice but to at least consider making a move.