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Explain One Play: Stephen Curry turns two blitzes into dunks

Video breakdown of plays from the Warriors-Bucks game on Dec 18 2015.  

"I want this side of Oracle to watch me Whip, and the other side can watch me Nae-nae."
"I want this side of Oracle to watch me Whip, and the other side can watch me Nae-nae."
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Bucks played a great game tonight. Consider it a preview of how the Spurs are going to attack the Warriors, with big bruising interior play and cuts, and long-armed quick defense cutting off the first options of plays.

The first decision when game planning against the Warriors is: what do you do when Curry gets a screen on the perimeter?  There are few different possibilities (many of which we explained before), but one of the best options is to blitz Stephen Curry with a double-team and force him to give up the ball. For instance, the Cavs did this all Finals.

The Warriors have had a very simple 4-on-3 plan, which was to let Draymond Green run the resulting 4-on-3 attacks by driving at the hoop. The other three spot up around the 3 point line, or cut to the hoop if they can't hit threes. Then the defense in principle has to either let Draymond score or leave someone open to defend Draymond.

For instance, here is a play we analyzed before.

Notice the other Warriors stand around or, in Andrew Bogut's case, he makes a lumbering cut to the hoop.  This stagnation goes against Kerrism; in fact, this approach dates back to the Mark Jackson days against the Clippers in 2014 Round 1.

Well, this year, the Warriors are trying to go to the Next Level of their offense. Here are two plays where the Warriors deal with the blitz with something more complex.

Next Level Blitz Release #1.  Weak-side Dive.

This is the first time I've noticed the Warriors run this play.  You'll see Curry get a drag screen first from Jason Thompson, then from Draymond Green, who immediately slips the screen and does a short roll to where Curry can release to him.. The Bucks immediately blitz Curry with a double team.  And then...

As usual, Curry draws the two defenders away and releases a pass to Draymond. Draymond is immediately picked up by a defender. But at the same time, Klay Thompson cuts down the lane off a screen from Jason Thompson. Little toss from Green, big dunk for Klay.  Next level.

Here it is in moving dots. Beware that the creator accidentally got #4 Rush and #23 Draymond confused. The shape is right.

Next Level Blitz Release #2. Ezeli Pick, Green Up Top

This play was probably the psychological turning point for the Warriors across two games with the Bucks.  Curry again gets a high screen, but this time it's from Festus Ezeli.  Festus rolls hard to the basket, and Draymond cuts to the top of the arc to receive the release pass from Curry. And then...

Draymond makes a beautiful touch-pass to Ezeli who has time to catch, gather, rotate, think about how well the catching drills with the flashy goggles are working, and then dunk. Why was Ezeli open the whole way on the roll?  Because his defender and Currys defender are blitzing Curry.  The Bucks make the first option hard, since Curry would have had to pass to Ezeli through two long-armed defenders. But he got it to Green who had a much better angle.

Teams are starting to game plan to stop a Green-Curry high pick and roll. The Bucks blitzed Curry and try to pressure Draymond on the release. This twist makes Ezeli's defender have to defend the pick and roll, while keeping Green's decision making (obviously, you don't want Ezeli making the read right now).  This is the first time I remember seeing the W's use this formation, and I expect to see it more going forward. Next level!

Next Level Blitz Release #2 AGAIN.

The Warriors try a similar formation just a couple minutes left in crunch time. They know they're on to something good. Just for a change, I'm going to show it as dots first.  You'll see again Curry #30 getting a high screen from Ezeli #31. Draymond #23 spots up at the top of the key as a release if Curry gets blitzed. Rush #4 and Klay #11 spot up in the corners.  So the blitz comes again and this time...

The big comes at a slightly wrong angle (needs to force Curry more to the sideline, or come quicker), so Curry splits the double team and drives to the hoop for a pretty layup.

Final Thoughts

  • Next Level. To repeat, the Warriors need to continue to master more options out of every play since every team in the league is ganging up to find their weaknesses. You can bet other teams have people memorizing video of the Nets, Celtics and Bucks games.
  • Two plays above, two dunks, zero assists or any normal stat for Curry. But the plays don't happen without Curry's gravity. Counting stats do not measure well a player's contributions. That's why I still think Curry was actual Finals MVP (though I love that Andre Iguodala got it). And this is probably a strong minority view, but I think the Warriors would be at best a .500 team without Curry. I'm so glad this is still a hypothetical question.
  • I would like to see the Warriors shut up more. This is beyond my personal preferences -- it simply doesn't work for them.  They call out the Bucks and threaten a beatdown... they have to grind out a tough comeback win. They trash talk the Clippers, they need big comebacks in two games. Usually when the W's think they are above the opponents, they come out flat. (Compare Memphis series after MVP + Conley injury, Cavs after Kyrie injury.)
  • I'm going to be traveling for the rest of the calendar year, so I may not be able to do these Explain posts until 2016. If you start to miss me, read through the Explain One Play archive. Be safe everyone, and let's go Warriors!

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.

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