Only the night before the Warriors had cruised into trouble at Phoenix, where Barry and Cazzie Russell scored only 27 points between them and Golden State lost 103-97. It was a game typical of Golden State's season: win the hard ones, lose too many of the easy ones. It seems only adversity perks up the Warriors. They had won but eight of their first 13 games when their only rebounding forward, Clyde Lee, partially tore a ligament in his left knee and was sidelined until at least January. Golden State then went on a five-game road trip and won four times on such tough floors as New York's and Milwaukee's.
The Warriors are so deep that Joe Ellis, the sixth man two years ago, is now 11 th on the squad in minutes played. But despite its manpower, Golden State lacks a playmaking guard. Coach Al Attles juggles five men in the backcourt, including, in recent weeks, the 6'7�" Barry, searching for the right combination. And Barry remains the Warriors' top assist man by almost a 2-1 margin over any other player. The absence of a passing guard is particularly evident in games such as the one against Phoenix in which the Warriors did not fast-break aggressively and found themselves operating most of the time from a set offense.
Last season even Barry, who had been an explosive break man and a persistent driver in his two years with the Warriors before he left them for the ABA, was criticized for lack of aggressiveness. He now says a series of nagging injuries and the need to readjust to the NBA and his teammates held him back. In all but four games this season, there has been no holding him.
His 50 points against the Lakers were the most in the league this year and were part of an exceptional overall performance, which included nine assists, nine rebounds and 1:35 spent on the bench icing down his left knee after a hard fall. Using what has become the standard approach to this year's Los Angeles defense, Barry decided before the game to drive at every opportunity. He poured in 22 of his points from short range—the Warriors scored 66 in all from within five feet of the hoop—and added 10 outside jumpers, most of them while the Lakers stood around behind Thurmond picks. Smith started off strongly with three blocks in the first 6:42 and even outrebounded Thurmond 7-4 in the first half, but only got two rebounds thereafter.
No play better exemplified his shortcomings than one that occurred late in the third quarter. Smith had perfect rebounding position after Barry missed an outside shot and seemed to have control of the ball when Thurmond wrenched it from his grasp and snapped the ball out to Barry, who drove to his left past Hawkins and down the baseline. Smith moved to seal the lane, but Barry had already penetrated deep under the backboard. As Smith left his feet for a block, Barry shifted his shot to the far side of the hoop to protect it from Smith, spun it off the glass with English that Willie Mosconi would have been proud of, mass�d it into the basket and stumbled off, glancing over his shoulder as the ball whirled around the rim at 78 rpm before dropping through. It was some show, just the sort Warrior fans hope he will be rerunning often this season.