The vast Encyclopedia Brown mystery involving Tony Allen and the pre-pubescent MC Hammer impersonator is over a week old now, and we’ll probably never really know the truth, never know whether Allen is an oblivious walker, an entertaining obstructionist or (as seems most likely) some hybrid of the two.
That all took place a week ago Sunday, during Game 1 of the NBA’s Western Conference semifinals between Memphis and Golden State, when the Grizzlies’ stone-faced pest of a FIRST-TEAM ALL-DEFENSE guard beelined in front of that tiny dancer, drawing a ceaseless cascade of boos from the crowd at Oakland’s Oracle Arena every time he touched the ball afterward. At that moment, the Warriors were cruising to a home victory in Game 1 and already seemed on the verge of a second consecutive playoff series sweep; at that moment, the Warriors appeared to have already penciled themselves into the NBA Finals, a swashbuckling and unselfish and futuristic team with one of the best shooting backcourts in the recent history of the league. And it didn’t really matter how the hell Tony Allen chose to deal with it.
But everything is different now. For the first time all season, the Warriors, tied 2-2 in the series with the Grizzlies, are in an actual fight for their lives; for the first time all season, their offense – one of the only NBA offenses in quite some time that can legitimately be characterized as “beautiful” – is being gummed up by Tony Allen (who is, in case you’ve forgotten, FIRST-TEAM ALL DEFENSE) and a larger, more physical Memphis team that’s a throwback to the league’s plodding big-man era. This prompted Phil Jackson, of all people, to spout off.
“NBA analysts give me some diagnostics on how 3pt oriented teams are faring this playoffs…seriously, how’s it goink (sic)?” Jackson wrote on Twitter, and followed it up not with a clarification of his alternate spelling but a Tweet about penetration being the key to success, all of which felt like a not-very-veiled shot at the Warriors, who are coached by Steve Kerr, who once played for the Bulls when Phil Jackson was the coach, and almost coached Jackson’s current team, the Knicks.
Never mind that, under Jackson’s watch, the Knicks have become a franchise so pathetic they might soon invalidate at least one handful of his championship rings. Because Jackson is obviously one of the best coaches in the history of the league, and you can argue he makes a fair point, except for one thing: The Warriors are fun to watch.
This is where Jackson is misguided, and maybe can’t see the forest for the trees: The Warriors have become a professional basketball team that appeals to people who may have otherwise given up on professional basketball, the kind of folks who tend to tune in when the playoffs actually get good. (The closest analogy I can make is the contrast between Alabama’s football team in the early 2010s, and that of the wide-open offenses burgeoning all around them: It was pretty obvious who the casual fan was going to get behind.) The Warriors play like college teams did, back in the days when college basketball was also a beautiful product; their offense is all flow and cuts and extra passes and sharing, a combination of factors that Grantland’s Zach Lowe referred to as “tangible basketball generosity.”
In a league that is often accused of emphasizing isolation and one-on-one matchups for superstars, in a league that often becomes weighed down with overweening physicality during the playoffs, the Warriors do it differently: Steph Curry needs his teammates to find him within the flow of the offense in order to score, and this is a wonderful thing when it’s working to perfection, as it did nearly all season up to this series.
That’s why I’m glad the Warriors appeared to find themselves last night, regaining home-court advantage and evening the series. They bring a new look and fresh energy to a league that is in constant need of it. And that’s also why I hope they win this series, and why I’m rooting for them to keep goink, all the way through the obstruction of Tony Allen and Grizzlies, proving along the way that championship teams don’t need to be what they were back in Phil Jackson’s time.
Michael Weinreb is the author of Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games. You can find him on Twitter @michaelweinreb