By Eric G. Satterwhite
After a sparkling performance against the Dallas Mavericks this past Sunday the Golden State Warriors have attained a 3-1 lead in the opening round of the NBA playoffs. The best of seven series moves to Texas tonight and if Dallas loses then Mark Cuban’s franchise will be left wondering why they could not defend there Western Conference Championship and make good on being the prohibitive favorite to win this year’s Lawrence O’Brien trophy as NBA Champs. Despite the fact Dallas had the fifth best winning percentage in NBA history at 67-15 during the regular season and home court throughout the playoffs, the Mavericks have been out-poised, outplayed, out-hustled, and out-hearted by a team making there first playoff entry in twelve years.
One of the players responsible for Golden State’s impressive run in the playoffs is Matt Barnes, the third year pro out of UCLA who has thrived under “Nellie” and is posting career highs in all statistical categories. More importantly Matt Barnes has played every position from 1 to 5 both offensively and defensively. The intangibles Barnes has provided are beyond statistics and his leadership for the one of the NBA’s youngest teams is most noteworthy. It was Barnes in Game 4 who fearlessly bombed home a 3-point field goal with 23.9 seconds on the clock closing out the Mavericks and sending the gold-clad Oracle Arena fans into a certified frenzy!
I have had the privilege of watching the development of Matt Barnes since he was a freshman in High School because his high school team played in the same league I coached in Sacramento, California. I also had the honor of coaching Barnes in the Sacramento Pro Developmental League a professional summer league held in Sacramento and I have watched him tirelessly work on his perimeter shooting and ball-handling skills. Both Barnes and this year’s runner-up for Most Improved Player, the Sacramento Kings Kevin Martin, each played all summer under the watchful eye of Sacramento Pro Developmental League Commissioner Guss Armstead who oversaw the development of these talents. Barnes has worked tirelessly to improve his game at his current level and is now reaping the rewards of his labor while positioning himself as one of the top free agents this summer as well as becoming a hoops folk hero in the Bay Area and beyond.
The following interview was taken prior to Game 5 against the Dallas Mavericks.
HoopsAddict.com: After the victory last Sunday giving the Warriors a 3-1 lead against the Mavericks Coach Don Nelson stated afterward, “It was a great win for the franchise.” Discuss the collective outlook of the team after the Game 4 win.
Matt Barnes: We were definitely excited yet at the same time we knew we still have some unfinished business. Dallas was very distressed after that game knowing they played well and still lost. We realize we need to step it up another notch to close out the series and keep aggressive while the Mav’s psyche was reeling.
HoopsAddict.com: Going into tonight’s game is that the mindset to play in the confident/fearless approach that have put your team up in the series against the defending Western Conference Champs?
Matt Barnes: Absolutely. We need to continue to feed off the energy we created and the chemistry we’ve built. Our team mindset is to keep our composure and stay mentally focused…let are talents and skill do the rest. We’re prepared and confident
HoopsAddict.com: You mention composure. The last time you played in Dallas Baron Davis was ejected as well as Stephen Jackson. Is that something that Coach Nelson talked about or is “keeping the composure” something that’s understood?
Matt Barnes: Coach mentioned it (composure) yet did not spend much time going over keeping our cool. As a team we realize what’s in front of us and how much we earned the right to be in this position. Going in to tonight’s game we’re ready to roll and maintaining our poise is a non-issue.
HoopsAddict.com: You have become a visible team leader along with Baron Davis. Is your leadership role something you assumed or something the coaching staff has requested?
Matt Barnes: It’s a combination of the two. I have always been a vocal leader and since Baron and I played together at UCLA we’re able to demand things from our teammates who know we’re seeking the same goals our best performance. As far as being a team leader I’m thankful for the confidence the Coaching staff affords me and the trust my teammates have in me.
HoopsAddict.com: Speaking of Baron Davis, who was your teammate at UCLA, describe Baron’s performance?
Matt Barnes: Baron has shown why he is one of the best players not just best guards in the NBA and we’re building off his lead. Baron and I only played together 1 year at UCLA yet we have a great understanding of one another and are able to demand that each one of us play our best. We can cheer for each other as well as be very critical because we can handle it.
HoopsAddict.com: You are one of the more unique players in the NBA because your roles with the Warrior’s require you to play all five positions both offensively and defensively. Since Coach Nelson utilizes your myriad skills different each game and never the same way describe your pre-game mental preparation?
Matt Barnes: Since I do play all five positions both on offense and defense I can’t mentally overload on any one player defensively or lock into a position mindset offensively. Pretty much I prepare accordingly by having enough knowledge of the opponent and adjust accordingly. My mental approach is open-minded and I merge my skills based on each situation.
HoopsAddict.com: That’s very humble of you because it takes a high Basketball IQ to show up to the Arena and play well professionally at the highest level without a defined position. Elaborate more on the term “mental overload”.
Matt Barnes: Basically most players know going into the game there assigned match-up and all their respective match-ups tendencies so they “load-up” via film and scouting reports. I’m different because defensively against Dallas I’ve guarded Josh Howard, Jason Terry, Jerry Stackhouse, and Dirk Nowitzki. I just understand the big picture from game to game.
HoopsAddict.com: You’re playing for a legendary Coach in the personage of Don Nelson. Describe the experience of playing for “Nellie”?
Matt Barnes: It has been a dream come true playing for Coach Nelson. I was in Philadelphia prior to coming to Golden State and I was thinking retirement. I was disrespected badly by Mo Cheeks while in Philadelphia and was contemplating pursuing a football career. Then over the summer I worked hard on my game and God blessed me with the opportunity to play in Golden State. Coach Nelson has been a father figure, an uncle, a brother, a mentor, a cousin, and more importantly a friend. You can talk to Coach about anything. When he arrived in Golden State he explained my role and allowed me to flourish. He has given me and my teammates a freedom we felt we never had in the NBA and when it comes from a coaching legend its more powerful.
HoopsAddict.com: Since I’ve known you since High School I’m aware football is your first love and you were an All-American receiver as a prep setting National records for touchdown receptions. I find it interesting you were contemplating retirement to pursue the NFL. Elaborate on the 76er experience.
Matt Barnes: I had a bad experience with Mo Cheeks. No Coach ever talked to me in the matter and he did beat down my confidence. I was wondering if his view was how the league (NBA) thought about me. God blessed with this opportunity at Golden State after I worked hard on my game this summer and I feel most fortunate where I am at right here and right now.
HoopsAddict.com: There are thousands of Warrior fans that echo those sentiments. Let’s rewind to Coach Nelson. You used the word freedom to describe his system. Is that the essence of the Warriors approach?
Matt Barnes: No doubt. We have several players coming from different teams like myself. Players like Stephen Jackson, Al Harrington, and Baron Davis all smart players who have thrived in his system. Myself and the other players have brought are collective frustration together and displayed the energy in Coach’s style to play well. We’re jelling at the right time with career Warriors like Jason Richardson and Mickael Pietrus. The young guys like Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins also realize how fortunate they are to play under Coach Nelson. Let me further say you have to earn Coach Nelson’s respect and trust and when that happens he gives you 100% confidence.
HoopsAddict.com: Let’s back track a little bit. I had a discussion about you with Frank Burlison of http://www.frankhoops.com who covered your initial professional playing days with the Long Beach Jam of the ABA. One of your teammates was Dennis Rodman. Describe your relationship with Dennis Rodman and what you learned from him that still impact your game approach.
Matt Barnes: I played with Long Beach for a short time before going to the NBDL yet Rodman was a great teammate. Here was a guy with multiple NBA championships and he was banging the boards playing tenacious every game. I learned from Rodman to play hard every night and never let up.
HoopsAddict.com: Chris Mullin former NBA great and President of Basketball Operations seems to have righted the Warriors ship. Even Commissioner stern recently mentioned he thought the franchise was somewhat “snake-bitten”. What’s your take on the Warriors organization since you’ve played with several NBA franchises.
Matt Barnes: Great organization stacked with great people. The Warriors are not afraid to bring in the best and brightest minds to build great chemistry and a winning franchise at every level of the organization. Chris Mullin, General Manager Rod Higgins, and front office executive Mitch Richmond have one goal which is to be successful and surround the team with great basketball minds and players. I like every player on the team feel like I have found a home in Golden State.
HoopsAddict.com: Speaking of Warrior executives, Al Attles who has over 45 years with the team and also coached the only NBA championship in 1975 the Warriors attained is a Bay Area legend. Do you communicate with Al Attles?
Matt Barnes: Absolutely. Mr. Attles always has an encouraging word to say to you…always. Mr. Attles shares some real insight and then we implement his views into the game plan.
HoopsAddict.com: I have always thought that the venue at Oracle Arena in Oakland was an excellent NBA atmosphere even in the lean years of Warriors success. Describe the vibe at Oracle Arena the last 2 playoff games that set Arena records each game for attendance.
Matt Barnes: It has been the most incredible experience of my life. I’ve played home games at Madison Square Garden, Staples Center, and Arco Arena yet the last two-playoff games at Oracle have been electric, the fans cheer throughout the National Anthem and the final buzzer. Our fans have suffered yet stayed faithful since this is out first playoff appearance in a dozen years. Everything we do a s a team is for our fans and the entire Bay Area is showering us with much love and our fan base is our number one motivation for wanting to advance in the playoffs.
HoopsAddict.com: I know it’s game day so take our readers out on the final question. You’re a free agent after this season and have had an exceptional playoff series and best season as a NBA player. It seems that Golden State is where you want to suit up next year?
Matt Barnes: I want to be a Warrior without question. There are players who say “act tough” like being disinterested in returning to the team is a feeling that’s a bargaining chip for more money. Yet I’m happy and appreciative to be at Golden State and have no problem sharing how being a Warrior is a career priority. Right now though my focus is on winning tonight’s game and advancing through the playoffs. That’s my only objective right now. Everything else can wait to summer.
Hoops Addict: Thanks for the time and best of luck in tonight’s Game 5.
Matt Barnes: I appreciate that and thank you.