Monta Ellis has to play, even if he isn't playing well.
That eight-man rotation coach Don Nelson talked about when the playoffs began? It really does need to consist of eight men.
Because as Jason Richardson said before practice Thursday morning: "Say we get past this round ... "
Right. What good would it do to beat the Utah Jazz if all you had left at the end of the series was 10 empty, smoking sneakers where five healthy bodies used to be? "I think fatigue is becoming a factor," Nelson said, thinking of Wednesday's overtime loss in Game 2 and looking ahead to tonight's Game 3. "We need some help. These players are playing hard. They're banged up."
None more so than Davis, less than three months removed from knee surgery, one week removed from straining a hamstring in the clinching win over Dallas, and who was getting his back cracked on the Warriors bench during the deciding minutes Wednesday night.
"It was tough at the end of the last game," Davis said. "It was a battle with all the soreness and pain. It was tough to keep the motor running."
"We can't continue that," Nelson said.
That's the sound of cooler heads prevailing, right there.
Here's why you should expect nothing to change come tonight: The early second quarter will roll around. Oracle Arena will be three feet off the ground, filled to overflowing with white noise.
The Warriors will be nursing a tenuous lead over Utah, or trying to overcome Utah's tenuous lead over them. Nelson will try giving Davis a rest. And the game will start to slip away.
Nellie will think to himself, "God, I'd like to fire up a good stogie right now."
But after that, he'll think: "If I leave Baron on the bench, we're in trouble. If I put him back in and he spontaneously combusts because of all the minutes he's been playing, we're in even bigger trouble. If I put him back in and we somehow win, and he somehow comes out of it able to play again in two nights, we've got a shot.
"And you know, I really would like to fire up a good stogie right now."
That's not just the Warriors' 0-2 standing in the Utah series talking. That's their current lot in postseason life. Unlike their pals the Sharks, the Warriors did not enter the playoffs touting themselves as a team built to win it all. They're fabulously flawed, which is one reason they've been such a good story.
Nelson has to coach as if his hair is on fire just to give his team a chance. His eight-man rotation? That lasted about three quarters into Game 1 of the Dallas series. Al Harrington wasn't giving him much, and Ellis was giving him even less. Soon enough, the Warriors were down to a six-man rotation, sometimes five.
Harrington appears to be back in the pink against Utah (they're back up to seven), but Matt Barnes has been inconsistent (call it 63/4). Center Andris Biedrins is a situational guy (make it 61/2), though it bears noting he went 2-for-2 from the free-throw line down the stretch in Game 2 while Davis and Mickael Pietrus were combining to go 1-for-4 (OK, 6ø).
Ellis, however, still looks lost. While Davis was scoring 36 points in 46 industrial-strength minutes Wednesday, Ellis was playing seven minutes -- scoring one point, with two rebounds, an assist, a turnover and two personal fouls. When he was removed from the game in the second half, he sat on the bench with a towel hiding his face, rapping his knuckles against his head.
"He's going to play more minutes (in Game 3)," Nelson said Thursday, "no matter how he's playing."
Nelson sounded like a guy making a New Year's resolution he knows he can't keep.
"I've just got to find myself," Ellis said. "It's on me to get out of my slump."
How would he define this slump? "It's everywhere -- offensive end, defensive end, my whole game."
Is it a confidence thing? "I never lose confidence," he said.
He didn't sound all that convincing, either.
Ellis will be fine in the long run. The problem is, the Warriors are currently playing in the moment. Nelson has to rely on players he can trust right now. He also has to play at least five men, per NBA rules.
Beyond that? He's a competitor. Come tip-off, he's going to do whatever gives the Warriors a chance to win, regardless of what his best intentions tell him.
Because those victory cigars? They don't smoke themselves.
Contact Gary Peterson at email@example.com.