PORTLAND – Even after he was glued to the bench for Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals last Sunday, Warriors center Festus Ezeli was coached up for Game 2 on Tuesday, only to be stuck to the same seat for the entire first half.
Six quarters, not one minute of action – but plenty of talk as assistant coach Ron Adams did his part to ensure Ezeli was prepared.
“Ron is my individual coach, but he’s like a dad to me,” Ezeli told CSNBayArea.com. “He comes out to me and tries to make sure that I’m best prepared for whatever situation I find myself in.
“He had a feeling that I’d be in (Game 2), so he tried to make sure I was prepared.”
The same will apply to Game 3 on Saturday at Moda Center. Ezeli will be prepared. And he most certainly will play.
When Ezeli entered with 4:09 left in the third quarter of Game 2, the Trail Blazers had a 76-66 lead. When he was subbed out with 3:17 left in the game, the Warriors were up 98-95 and went on for a 110-99 victory.
Ezeli had, as head coach Steve Kerr noted, “changed the game,” by using his athleticism and defensive presence thwart what had been a highly effective pick-and-roll. Starting center Andrew Bogut struggled, as did subsequent big men Anderson Varejao and Marreese Speights.
“Coach has a decision to make and he can go with any guy,” Ezeli said. “There’s really no wrong decision, whether it’s Marreese Speights or myself or Anderson Varejao or Bogut. Based on the way (Game 2) was going, we needed energy and that’s what I bring – especially on the defensive end.”
Not until Kerr summoned his No. 4 option did the Warriors begin their comeback from a deficit that had been as much as 17 points.
“He was so active and mobile against all their actions that they run, he just made things tougher on their guards,” Kerr pointed out. “They’re so explosive and they really run good stuff. It’s hard to guard. You have to cover a lot of floor against Portland, and I thought between Festus and Draymond (Green), those guys did a great job of protecting the feed and moving and handling the pick-and-roll on top.”
Ezeli played 13 minutes, contributing eight points (4-of-4 shooting), six rebounds, one blocked shot, one assist and fine defense.
As he often does, Ezeli credited Adams, whose persistence and diligence has helped make the 6-foot-11, 265-pound Vanderbilt product a highly credible NBA big man.
Watching Game 2 from the bench, Adams in the first half got a feel for Portland’s offensive tendencies and passed that information to Ezeli, who then could see it for himself. Trail Blazers guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum were going right, and Ezeli was ready to counter that with technique and footwork.
“Ron is a wealth of knowledge, especially on the defensive end,” Ezeli said. “He’s somebody that tells me where I need to be the whole game. Even when I was not playing in the first game, he still came to me and told me what the keys to the game were and what I should be ready for if I came into the game.”
Ezeli’s job was to apply that knowledge. He did, in remarkable fashion. He won’t have to wait another six quarters before he is called into action.