Pietrus comes off the bench for his second career double-double
By Geoff Lepper
CONTRA COSTA TIMES
OAKLAND - If you want to know exactly why Chris Mullin thought it worth burning the better part of $5 million to clear the way for Don Nelson to take over once again as the Warriors coach, check out the third quarter of Friday night's contest against the Portland Trail Blazers as Exhibit A.
Playing a hunch about his big men, Nelson paired Troy Murphy with Ike Diogu in the Warriors' opening lineup for the second half.
The result: An 18-3 run to begin the third quarter that not only sealed a 102-89 victory at Oracle Arena -- No. 1,191 in Nelson's career and No. 1 in his second stint as Golden State's coach -- but also hammered home the point that this is a coach who's willing to sift through every combination until he finds an edge.
"That's the way it should be," Murphy said. "No one's guaranteed anything here. You can't just go out and have empty minutes. You've got to produce. That's what everyone is here in this locker room for. If guys aren't producing, then Nellie's not going to play you."
After Wednesday's season-opening debacle against the Los Angeles Lakers, the coach wasted little time making clear he holds no sacred cows, benching Mickael Pietrus in favor of Adonal Foyle and juggling the remainder of his starters to the point that each played a different position from 48 hours earlier.
Mike Dunleavy was shifted from power forward to point guard, forcing Baron Davis to slide to shooting guard and Jason Richardson to become a small forward. With Foyle -- a one-game stand-in for Andris Biedrins, who should take over the starting center role tonight in Utah -- in the paint, Murphy went back to power forward.
Nelson was hoping the move would help maximize production from Dunleavy, who has never lived up to the potential engendered by his status as the No. 3 overall pick in the 2002 draft.
"I don't think we're really concerned about who's introduced as the point guard as much as we are about getting up and down the court and playing the way we'd been playing up until (Wednesday) night," said executive vice president Mullin, who signed Dunleavy to the five-year, $45 million contract extension that began this fall.
Said Nelson: "(Point guard) is where he wants to play. We're just affording him more opportunities to be what he is."
In the end, the Dunleavy experiment was a bit of an afterthought. He finished with 14 points and four rebounds, but only had one assist versus three turnovers.
The spotlight instead shone brightest on Pietrus, who responded to his removal from the starting lineup with his second career double-double (16 points, 10 rebounds) and Davis, who added 17 points, nine assists and four rebounds for the Warriors (1-1).
"Mickael was terrific. He was probably the best player on my team," Nelson said. "It was nothing he did. I told him it's not punishment. I'm just trying to get the best out of my team."
The Warriors could easily have slipped into irrelevance before the third quarter began if not for Pietrus. As the rest of the Warriors' offense stagnated, he scored 13 points, teaming with Diogu (10 points, four boards) and Monta Ellis (15 points) to form the corps of the Warriors' most formidable unit in the first two quarters.
Diogu became even more critical in the second half, when he replaced Foyle in the starting five and the Warriors took off. During the 18-3 run, Golden State converted four fast-break layups, two other driving layups and a two-handed, reverse jam by Murphy. Murphy scored six points, Richardson added five, Davis had four and Diogu three more.
"It was just an idea that I had, an outside-inside kind of thing," Nelson said. "Murphy's the outside guy and Ike's the inside man. I thought that might work and I thought it did pretty well."
The Warriors would eventually widen their lead to 64-48, and even though Portland responded with 10 consecutive points, Golden State's second unit -- especially Pietrus, Ellis and Biedrins (4-for-6, eight points) -- kept the Trail Blazers at arm's length.
Contact Geoff Lepper at email@example.com.
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