Blowout at Portland showed why Warriors needed Varejao

The Portland game had to be the one that convinced the Warriors’ front office to go out and get Anderson Varejao or at least get serious about another big. General manager Bob Myers, et al., were thinking of it before that anyway, but the 137-105 blowout loss to the Blazers had to make it apparent.

Starting center Andrew Bogut played just 14 minutes and wasn’t his active self after coming off the long break. Backup center Festus Ezeli was out, of course, after undergoing knee surgery. They’re saying re-evaluation in five weeks or so now for Ezeli, but there are no guarantees when you’re talking knees and big guys.

Mo Speights managed to get up eight shots in his 13 minutes but as is sometimes the case other parts of his game were lacking. Wait a minute … with this uncertainty with the Warriors’ up front, why would the Blazers, a possible first-round opponent, waive Varejao? What if Bogut and Ezeli are banged-up at the time? Oh, well, that for another time.

Without Bogut, and to a lesser degree without Ezeli, the Warriors are a different kind of team. Naturally, they’re still going to score and they’re still going to win at a nice clip without them, but the rim protection that twosome gives the Warriors has been a vastly underrated part of the team’s success.

Bogut and Ezeli have done a fantastic job this season of covering up when the Warriors get beat on penetration. Usually, a guard breaking down your defense is a significant issue, but for the Warriors it hasn’t been the end of the world. Sometimes, it’s even been positive.

Chances are when Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson or any other perimeter defender gets beat on the perimeter, Bogut or Ezeli will be there to intercede. That tandem much of the time will either force a miss, block the shot or redirect the driver. If they accomplish any of the first two, the Golden State Warriors are off to the races.

Why? Because the beaten Warriors defender is now lingering on the perimeter and beginning to leak out as they await Bogut or Ezeli to make a defensive play. Even those times Bogut or Ezeli don’t make a play and the opposition scores at the rim, it’s still not necessarily all bad news for the Warriors, either.

With the beaten defender leaking out, it allows the Warriors to take the ball out of the net quickly and inbound the ball up the sideline almost as if it were in transition. How many times have the Warriors gotten layups this season by beating other teams up the court after made baskets? A lot.

But on Friday, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum faced no such resistance. In addition to their 3-point exploits, they got to the hole at an alarming rate. When Lillard and McCollum got into the lane they didn’t find much there. Speights may take a charge here and there, but he’s not challenging at the rim. And for as good as Draymond Green is defensively, it’s tough to be a rim protector at 6-foot-7.

Though Bogut is a veteran and Ezeli is young, they do share a bummer of an attribute: Both are injury prone. In fact, Bogut missed Saturday’s game against the Clippers because of a sore Achilles. Maybe both are fine by the playoffs … but maybe they’re not. And if they’re not, then the Warriors are vastly different team.

That’s why Varejao could be nice pickup for Warriors. If he can give them quality minutes, even for short stretches during games, he makes the Warriors less different.

*** Link to the “NBA This Week,” where John Dickinson and I talk all about Varejao and all things Warriors and NBA.

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About Steinmetz

Matt Steinmetz is a veteran San Francisco Bay Area sports journalist. He covered the Golden State Warriors for Bay Area News Group for more than a decade before becoming a television analyst with Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. Steinmetz currently co-hosts the "Warriors WrapUp" show and "NBA This Week" on 95.7-FM The Game, the franchise's flagship station, in San Francisco. He also co-hosts the Sal and Steiny podcast.
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