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Explain One Play: Stephen Curry cold-blooded go-ahead three

Video breakdown of plays from the Warriors win against the Jazz on Nov 30, 2015.  

Next victim, please.
Next victim, please.
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

This is one article out of a series of Explain One Play articles. For the full updated index, go to The Explain One Play series index.

Well, that was close.  The game was tied at 101-101 with a minute to go when Stephen Curry uncorks this cold-blooded beauty, here for your viewing pleasure.

Just another day at the office for Mr. Curry with a stop-on-a-dime between-the-legs step-back three-feet-behind-the-line three pointer. Folks, we are getting spoiled. I mean, this awesome move and shot would be a career highlight for most people, but I'm not even sure it makes the Top 10 Curry plays of the last two weeks.

This is actually a set play that is meant to create a high pick and roll for Curry with Klay Thompson as the screener. Any play that ends with a Curry-Klay pick and roll is a great idea. This is a good thing, because the Warriors ran a kind of sloppy tired version of this play at Utah and only Curry's icy shake and bake made the play work.  So let's see what the play is supposed to look like.

What The Play Is Supposed To Look Like, Version 1

In brief, it's supposed to look like fake HORNS flowing into a Curry-shooter pick and roll, where each of their defenders gets screened along the way.

As you can imagine, a Curry pick and roll with a shooter is all kinds of pain for a defense, because:

  • it is very hard for one person to guard Curry when he is using a screen
  • but if the other person helps then a good shooter like Klay will have an open shot
  • and the smalls who guard Steph and Klay are used to guarding the ball on pick-and-rolls, not the screener, so there is likely to be difficulty for the two to cooperate on defense

Here is a previous version of the play.

Feel free to rewatch to catch these details:

  • The play starts in a HORNS-like formation with two small shooters (Curry and Klay) in each corner and two bigs near the elbows. This creates a bit of deception as there are many plays out of the HORNS formation.
  • Curry zipper cuts straight up the lane and gets the ball. Along the way the right elbow big David Lee screens Curry's man so he can't deny the pass to Curry. Lee uses his elbow so Curry's defender feels the screen.
  • Klay now comes up and gets a screen from the left elbow big Speights, who kind of slips the screen (which is not a good idea in this play... we'll see a better screen in the next version). Now Klay is going to set a screen for Curry. Klay's man #44 hustles to jump out at Curry as Steph turns the corner, but Klay's man seems to think he's hedging Curry and that he needs to get back to Klay. So he stops pushing Curry to the side and returns to play,  and Curry hits the turbos and blows to the hoop for a nifty floater finish.

What The Play Is Supposed To Look Like, Version 2

Here's another version, where the screener is Andre Iguodala instead of Klay. You will see that:
  • they start in a HORNS-ish formation;
  • Curry gets a light screen from Bogut as he zipper cuts up;
  • Andre gets a solid screen from David Lee as he comes up to screen Curry (notice how Andre's man is trailing behind so he can't trap Curry or hedge);
  • Curry completely loses Corey Brewer #33 on the crossover just as Brewer tries to step around the screen;
  • Jason Terry #31, Andre's man can't come over to help in time since he never recovered from that good screen from Lee;
  • and Curry makes a pretty difficult finish.

Back To The Present

Okay, now we know what the play is supposed to look like, and we saw the Pelicans try to defend the Curry-shooter pick and roll by Hedging (screen defender jumps out and returns to screener), and the Rockets by what looks like a developing trap.  The Jazz defend the play by switching the screener's defender onto Curry.

Here is the Jazz game version of this play embedded again for your non-scrolling convenience.

Now we can see that this is a sloppy, tired version of the play.

  • Curry doesn't go all the way to the corner for a HORNS look,
  • Festus Ezeli doesn't even bother to screen for Curry on the zipper cut (maybe he doesn't know he should?),
  • Draymond Green barely makes contact on his screen for Klay, so Klay's defender #5 Rodney Hood can get right up to the screen and switch onto Curry.
  • For most of the play, Ezeli is wandering around out of bounds under the hoop. I'm not convinced he has any idea what this play is.
  • Ezeli and Andre end up standing next to each other OUT OF BOUNDS BEHIND THE HOOP as the shot goes up. And therefore...
  • Draymond is the only one in position to rebound a miss.
So it's really lucky Curry hit that three. But then again, if the Warriors and Curry get lucky every single game, then maybe it's not luck...

(Added 9:12am) Bonus quotes from Ethan Strauss:

"They switched, which was probably the best way to guard that play," Curry said of the sequence. "But I was able to act like I was turning the corner and get him off balance, and I was in rhythm once I got it to my spot, and thankfully it went in."

Interim Warriors coach Luke Walton explained, "We don’t use it a ton, because there’s not a ton of ball movement in that play. It’s kind of a quick hitter we like to use when appropriate, but it’s two pretty dangerous players that are involved."

Now as cool abstract moving dots:

Final Thoughts

  • In theory this play should rock. It has deception, motion, screen-the-screener action, Curry-Klay pick and roll. And yet, now in three clips we've seen Curry has needed extraordinary Super Saiyan Steph powers to score.
  • Hat tip to @HalfCourtHoops, whose Youtube videos save me hours of searching whenever I need archival footage of Warriors plays.

Bonus Quiz

In honor of Shaun Livingston's first 3 as a Warrior (and from B-Ref, only his 11th three-pointer in 561 NBA games) and by request of @joebw11, we present the play. Quiz: recognize this play and name what other NBA team is famous for running it.

Answer: Acceptable answers are "High HORNS" or "45" which it's sometimes called because the 4 (Power Forward) & 5 (Center) set screens or "That Play the Clippers Run All The Time" or "That Play the Clippers Run That The Warriors Ran To Beat the Clippers Ha Ha".   Thorough coverage previously here.

Utah double teams Curry, leaving Draymond Green open in the middle. Dray drives and S-Dot's man comes to help leaving him open in the left corner. Three points and no pushups owed to Luke Walton.

Now dot version. (HA, I just noticed that this diagram thinks Ezeli is the one who made the 4-on-3 drive and kick. If he could do that, he would be a max player!) (ps. Anyone who uses this auto-generated data better do some sanity checking. I've caught two errors in eight diagrams without even trying hard.)

This is one article out of a series of Explain One Play articles. For the full updated index, go to The Explain One Play series index.

The Explain One Play Series So Far


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