The Golden State Warriors like to brag about how good they are offensively, often saying that’s a part of the game they don’t need to worry about.
But Wednesday night, with point guard Stephen Curry missing the game to rest his injured ankle, offense was no doubt a worry for coach Mark Jackson. At least until guard Monta Ellis finally awakened.
Ellis scored 12 points in the fourth quarter as Golden State turned an eight-point third-quarter deficit into a comfortable 92-78 victory.
Ellis finished with 22 points and eight assists. But before he began to dominate, Golden State had to turn to unlikely sources for offense at crucial junctures. No reserve came through better than forward Brandon Rush, who had 19 points in 26 minutes.
Rush’s production allowed the Warriors to hang around. So did a staunch defense, which led to off nights for Knicks stars Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire. They combined for 29 points on 8-for-27 shooting.
Golden State held New York to 40 percent shooting.
The Warriors needed good defense since one of their best offensive players was sidelined.
Curry was held out of the lineup to take advantage of a break in the schedule. Because he was on the bench in a blazer Wednesday, Curry will have four full days of rest before the Warriors play host to Philadelphia on Saturday.
“It was the best thing to give it some time to heal,” Jackson said. “I understand the concerns, people saying ‘Why not let it heal or rest him?’ Bottom line is he got hurt landing on somebody and we are going to give it some time to heal.”
Curry’s presence was obviously missed early on. Golden State shot just 35 percent in the first half while turning the ball over 10 times. Ellis missed 11 of his 15 shots. He was 0 for 3 from 3-point range in the second quarter, when Golden State managed just 16 points.
But early in the third, the tide changed.
Down 48-40 and having gone 2:26 without a point, Rush rebounded his missed jumper and turned it into a reverse layup. Two minutes later, point guard Ish Smith capped an 8-1 Warriors run with a layup of his own.
The Warriors trailed 50-49 after backup center Kwame Brown split a pair of free throws. Moments later, Brown dunked back his own miss to give the Warriors a 55-54 lead with just less than four minutes left in the third.
Rush capped the third quarter by walking into a 3-pointer. Despite the offensive struggles, the game was tied at 64 entering the fourth quarter.
Golden State opened the fourth quarter with an 8-1 run – with reserve forward Dominic McGuire pitching in four points – to take a 72-65 lead. The Warriors were able to bide time until Ellis found his stroke.
And boy did he ever.
It started with a left-handed finger roll, set up by a give-and-go with David Lee, putting Golden State ahead 74-68 with about nine minutes left. Minutes later, Ellis put the Warriors up 14 with a pull-up 3-pointer. He then iced the game in front of the Knicks bench with a turnaround 3-pointer at the 4:09 mark, putting the Warriors up 89-70.
• Jackson had a few options to replace Curry in the lineup.
The coach could have moved Ellis to point guard and started Rush or rookie Klay Thompson at shooting guard. He could have given the nod to rookie point guard Charles Jenkins, who has been with the team since training camp and has earned plenty praise from Jackson.
Instead, he chose Ish Smith, a guy who hasn’t been with the team two weeks.
“We feel comfortable with him.” Jackson said. “He’s a proven guy who won’t be afraid of the bright lights and then we have options from there.”
That’s got to be a confidence boost for a guy who was recently waived by Memphis.
“It depends on how much he yells at me,” Smith said through a smile. “Coach Jackson was one of the best point guards to ever play in the NBA. I’m just picking his brain as much as I can, and I know he’s going to do some yelling at me.”
The second-year point guard from Wake Forest has come out of nowhere to earn the trust of his teammates and Jackson. He began last season with Houston. He appeared in 28 games, starting three, and averaged 2.6 points and 2.3 assists in 11.8 minutes.
In February, he was traded to Memphis along with Shane Battier. He barely got off the bench with Grizzlies, averaging 7.5 minutes in 15 games. On Dec. 14, Memphis waived him. Golden State couldn’t put in its bid fast enough.