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Explain One Play: Curry & Green's Favorite Play

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Video breakdown of the Raptors' many defenses against Curry and Green in the Warriors-Raptors game on Nov 17 2015. 

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

In this series, we've talked about a wide variety of Warriors motion offense plays, but somehow never talked about the absolute basic Warriors' favorite play. We'll do that here, starting with the absolute basics.

Despite the recent fancy schmancy motion offense, in crunch time, they still have a go-to play for when it counts in crunch time. So what is the Warriors' meat and potatoes play, the old dependable they use when they need a quality possession? It is the high pick-and-roll with Stephen Curry getting a screen from Draymond Green high above the arc, a shooter spotted up for 3 in each corner (say Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala) and another shooter at the wing spotted up for 3 (say Klay Thompson).

This is a hard play to guard. The Raptors tried a variety of defenses which we'll survey here.

1. Pick and Roll Defense: Straight

Here is the basic high pick and roll formation. Just watch the first two seconds of the clip. You see Curry with the ball up high, and Draymond Green gets in the way of his defender (the "pick" or "screen").

The defender DeMarre Carroll has to decide whether to go around Draymond to the side closer to the basket ("go under the screen") or the side farther from the basket ("go over the screen"). If he goes under the screen, Curry will have space to launch an open three (benchable offense for most other players in the league, but Curry has established 30 foot range now). So most defenders know to go over the screen, and that's what Carroll does.

But going over means that the defender is a step behind Curry and not between him and the basket. Carroll makes a valiant effort staying with Curry, but he stays a step behind and Curry runs by him. There are three Raptors in the paint who could switch to Curry, but if they leave their men, Curry will pass to an open shot. The closest big does defend, but notice as Curry approaches, he actually jumps out of the way to prevent a pass to his man in the corner. That makes him too late to contest the pretty Curry layup.

It's not all the defender's fault. It's just very hard to guard this play with each defender individually staying with their assignment.

2. Pick and Roll Defense: Switch

Here is another high pick and roll. Here again Curry has the ball and Draymond sets a pick for him. It's a good pick and Curry's defender Lowry is now three steps behind Curry. Draymond's defender Patrick Patterson now switches assignments so someone is still covering Curry. Watch what happens.

Unfortunately, Patterson's let Curry turn the corner and gain speed while he pedals backwards. He is doomed. He has to honor Curry's driving ability and he backpedals in anticipation. This leaves Curry open for his favorite shot, a dribble into a step back into two foot landing which becomes a hop straight into a shot. Pretty rainbow three ensues.

Very few bigs can stay with Curry due to his handle, his smooth step back and his super quick release.

3. Pick and Roll Defense: Blitz

Another high pick and roll. Here instead of having a single defender guard Curry (as in #1 and #2), the Raptors immediately double-team Curry. Some people call this a "hard hedge" or a "double team" or a "trap". I personally prefer "blitz" because it gives a sense that the ballhandler has to make a quick decision under gambling defensive pressure. See what happens.

A newcomer to this play might be amazed at how coolly Curry passes the ball off to Draymond Green, who by the laws of mathematics now is running a play with 4 players against 3 defenders. And it is admirable, but the Warriors spent most of 2014-2015 trying to figure out how to counter this defense ever since the Clippers blitzed the Warriors all through the 2014 Playoffs. Now after a year of practice and the fiery final exam of the Finals (where the Cavaliers almost exclusively blitzed Curry to force the ball to Andre Iguodala), Curry and Green are pretty good at handling the blitz. Here Green tries the unorthodox floater which he first pulled out against Timothy Mozgov in the Finals, and it works.

4. Pick and Roll Defense: ICE

This is the pick and roll defense flavor of the year, called "ICE" (or "Blue" elsewhere). Here, Curry's defender refuses the artificial choice between going over or under the screen and simply stands between Curry and the screen to force Curry away from ever using the screen. In anticipation, Green's defender sinks back to between the basket to contain drives to the basket. This is the correct defense against most ball handlers in the pick and roll because it baits them into shooting an off-the-dribble midrange two point jumper, which is usually not an efficient shot. Curry happens to be good at shooting a basketball in this circumstance. Here's what happens.

Here the Raptors do a not bad job of containing Curry, but Lowry jumps about five seconds too early, this leaves Curry some space behind him to pivot to a beautiful turnaround jumper that was probably not a travel.

Why would Lowry jump so early?  I believe it was in anticipation of a floater from the elbow. Why would he anticipate an elbow floater?  Because earlier in the game, this play happened. He ICEs Curry away from a middle screen towards the sideline (even though Draymond hasn't even close to setting up for a screen). Then this gorgeous shot happens.

Final Thoughts

Many, but I'm in a rush, so I'll just say:

  • Here's another ode to Draymond's good decision making on the 4-on-3 post-blitz: Draymond Green’s 4-On-3 Playmaking Prowess
  • There are notes in a previous One Play about how the Warriors themselves use ICE. Look below.

If you want to read more breakdowns, check out the rest of the series of Explain One Play articles. For the full updated index, go to The Explain One Play series index.