It was just a few days ago that the Warriors OG was talking about his brassy young teammate and explaining the benefits of a rookie being in such a fortunate position.
“He’s got a golden opportunity just to learn every single day,” the Eldest Warrior was saying, “whether we’re actually playing or practicing or just being around one another.”
The OG, David West, was referring to Jordan Bell, the gifted rookie who has a tendency to get caught up in his splendor.
West, 37, is widely respected, in his 15th season, a two-time All-Star with an illuminating worldview. He’d be a finalist if NBA players were to have a Most Interesting Man In The League competition.
West is someone from whom Bell, 22, could learn a lot by simply watching.
The latest example came Monday night in Los Angeles, where Bell in the third quarter offset a brilliant moment with a dash of immaturity before West later pulled a veteran move to punctuate a 116-114 Warriors win over the Lakers.
With roughly six seconds remaining after Kevin Durant dropped in the final bucket of the game, giving the Warriors the lead in OT, LA’s celebrity rookie Lonzo Ball was sprint-dribbling toward the Lakers basket. Seeing the potential for a second OT, West was sprinting upcourt to prevent it.
Racing between Klay Thompson and West, Ball entered the paint thinking he had split a napping Warriors defense for the game-tying basket. West, though, was tracking him from midcourt, taking flight a nanosecond after Ball tossed up a right-handed layup and smacking the shot off the backboard with 2,4 seconds left on the clock.
By the time Lakers forward Brandon Ingram recovered the loose ball 40 feet from the basket, all he could do was fling a 35-foot prayer that got nowhere near the rim.
Game over, the Eldest Warrior executing a fabulous chase-down block to put a padlock on one of the grittiest wins of this Warriors season.
A win that possibly would not have required 53 minutes if Bell had been a bit more aware of the consequences of celebrating himself in real time.
With the Warriors trailing 61-59 and a little less than eight minutes left in the third quarter, Ingram had dribbled around his defender, Pat McCaw, and then breezed by a statuesque JaVale McGee and saw a clearance near the basket. Ingram was thinking layup, giving the Lakers a four-point lead.
Seeing exactly what Ingram had seen, Bell hustled over from the weak side and rejected Ingram’s shot, with the Laker sprawling to the floor. It was fantastic play, and Bell knew it. So he took a moment to enjoy it, standing over Ingram, lying supine along the baseline, giving him triumphant glare.
Meanwhile, McCaw recovered the loose ball and was dribbling the other way. His layup bounced out, with the Lakers grabbing the rebound -- all before Bell could join McCaw and his teammates on the offensive end.
When the Lakers called timeout a few second later, Bell came off the floor and was met by Warriors coach Steve Kerr. Aware that Bell’s full engagement after the block would have given the Warriors a 5-on-4 advantage, the coach was disappointed.
“Tremendous block,” Kerr, after the win, told reporters in Los Angeles. “But we didn’t score at the other end. I think if he had just turned and sprinted, he probably would have had a tip dunk.”
Kerr and his staff believe in players having fun. They encourage it, but not at the expense of the game. Bell did what many rookies -- and some vets -- do after making a spectacular play. He took a moment to soak in his glory.
“You make a big play, you kind of have to let him know you're here,” Bell told reporters. “But Coach is right. I’ve got to run the floor. (I) possibly could've got a dunk on that possession if I would've got the blocked shot and ran. A lesson I keep learning as I'm playing.”
If West had taken a moment to enjoy Durant’s decisive shot, there might have been a second OT. But the OG won’t soak in his glory. Can’t, until corks start popping in the locker room and he’s able to share it with the team.
“Jordan’s absorbing a lot,” West was saying a few days ago. “A lot is being thrown at him. But he’s got good natural instincts and he’s active around the basketball. So he gives himself a shot to make plays when he’s out there.”
West recognizes Bell’s potential and probably wishes he had such athleticism. He never has. Maybe that’s why West doesn’t feel himself. He has to work, and it isn’t done until there is an NBA Finals postgame celebration.