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Explain One Quarter: Stephen Curry Counterpunches The Nets

Video breakdown of plays from the Warriors win against the Nets on Dec 6, 2015.  

"He's sitting on the floor Indian style eating chicken nuggets and tater tots out of a lunch box with Olaf on it."
"He's sitting on the floor Indian style eating chicken nuggets and tater tots out of a lunch box with Olaf on it."
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The Warriors tore out to a big lead and then ran out of gas. By the last three minutes of the third quarter, they had lost their whole lead and were even down by five points. Tired from the road trip and the back-to-back, the Dubs fought back from down 4 to up 7, and the bench turned it into a blowout in the fourth.  How did the Warriors get their mojo back?

Counterpunch! Counterpunch!

If you're old, you might have played Super Punch Out. The secret to the game is to wait for the opponents to attack and then swiftly counterpunch.

That's the story of how the Warriors turned the tide in the last three minutes of the third quarter. This sequence will begin with a good old fashioned play, but then all the other Warriors points this quarter consist of the Warriors getting good stops on defense which flow directly into early offense attacking before the defense can get set.  We saw in Saturday's game the Warriors generated great confusion and chaos with these early attacks, letting Stephen Curry and others find space to make plays. (early offense v Raptors hereIntro to Early Offense here).

02:31. Green Reverse Layup Shot [GSW 74-76]

Okay, do you recognize this play?

Yeah, I ask about this every Explain post, because the Warriors run this practically every game. It's Warriors Rip. (Detailed breakdown here.) If you know the play, you can tell it's a sloppy version of it, but it works well enough. Curry #30 is supposed to screen for Klay Thompson #11, but he skips hat part to the good part where he sets a back screen for Draymond Green #23 at the elbow. Dray cuts to the hoop, Klay passes nicely, and Dray finishes a tricky reverse.

02:17. Larkin Jump Shot; Block: Ezeli; Curry Driving Bank shot [GSW 76-76]

Next you will see the Nets run a cute simple play where Jarrett Jack #2 dribble-pitches to Shane Larkin #0 on the perimeter, who then gets a second screen up high. Larkin will get swatted by Festus Ezeli, triggering a Curry 1-on-2 fast break. Don't I mean a 2-on-1 fast break? No.

That is one sweet finish. Curry knew he had Jack on his heels and he made the geometrically difficult bank shot look easy.

Go back and rewatch the play to appreciate the Warriors' switching defense. Larkin begins the play guarded by Steph, who seamlessly hands off Larkin to be defended by Klay right before Steph gets bumped by a Jack screen. The big Willie Reed #33 sort of sets a second screen before peeling off to downscreen for Jack spotting up for three. Ezeli is guarding Reed whom Festus feels free to leave when he's out of the lane, so he switches over to contest Larkin's drive. Larkin gets a little out of control and goes right into the heart of Swagzeli territory and tries a doomed floater..

Andre Iguodala immediately passes the ball up court and lets Curry create. Curry sees Joe Johnson #7 has the left side covered, so he goes behind the back to get an ISO on Jack. Basket.

01:53. Young Jump Shot: Missed; Curry 3pt Shot [GSW 79-76]

You'll see Jack set up on the right wing for a pick and roll with Thaddeus Young #30. Curry is positioned to deny Jack use of the screen and force him down the sideline to where Ezeli has sagged back to contain a drive.  Pop quiz: what's the name of this defense against pick and rolls?

The Warriors ICE the pick and roll (past explanation here) and allow Joe Johnson to take a contested long 2, which he misses. Then again the Warriors run on the rebound before the Nets can get set up. Andre runs in the way of Jarrett Jack, giving Curry the milliseconds he needs to unleash the pull-up three.

01:26. Lopez Hook Shot. [BKN 78-79] 
01:11. Curry Running Jump Shot: Missed
01:03. Bogdanovic 3pt Shot: Missed 
00:58. Ezeli Alley Oop Dunk Shot [GSW 81-78]

This clip begins with the Nets trying to out-Warriors the Warriors.  They run early offense and have Bojan Bogdanovic #44 run to the right corner for a quick 3, which he misses. Watch how the Warriors run right back at the Nets.

If you rewatch, you can see the exact moment of doom comes at 1:00. At that moment, the Nets have formed a freaking five-man wall to stop Curry from driving. Ezeli is running down the right side unmarked. Look how Bojan #44 calls out Ezeli's presence to Brook Lopez #11 next to him and points to him, yelling that he is supposed to be guarding Ezeli. Lopez does not care. He is looking at Curry thinking I am not going to let your Disney Channel butt get by me. I'm a linebacker, let's go! Oh well. Alley-Oop.

You can really see the 5-Man Freakin Wall in dot format.

00:38. Johnson Step Back Jump shot. [BKN 80-81]
00:28. Curry Layup Shot; Curry Free Throw 1 of 1 [GSW 84-80]

Even when the Nets score, the Warriors immediately push the ball up. The Nets are actually all caught milling around the right side of the court and Draymond runs all alone down the left side. He waves. He pleads. He tries passive-aggression. But no one passes to him. The Warriors reset to a post up for Ezeli, Curry cuts, Ezeli makes a nice pass, Curry makes a nice finish over Larkin, the only guy on the Nets shorter than Curry.

00:08. Jack Floating Jump shot: Missed. 
00:02. Curry 3pt Shot [GSW 87-80]

Okay, so this counterpunch has the Warriors (wait for it) pushing the pace and ends with Curry doing his usual incredible "fake to the left, sidestep, fire a three despite two defenders closing on him" kind of move. Fine, he's absurdly good. I want to focus on the switching defense on the play before.  First, enjoy the clip.

Now rewatch just the Warriors defense. The Nets play begins with an end-of-quarter play that is so standard that it's almost mandatory in the NBA. Jarrett Jack chews up time at the top, the other Nets space out at the three point line so their defenders can't help.  The big Lopez will come out and set a high pick and roll.  The intent for this play is to get a slow big man defender to come out and have to chase the speedy Jack after Lopez screens Jack's defender.

As the play starts, Ezeli is indeed guarding Lopez.  However, Iguodala's man is right next to Lopez, so as Lopez comes out to screen, Andre has already anticipated this move and turned to Ezeli to say he's switching on to Ezeli's man. This way, Jack will have a fast defender on him, no matter how well Lopez screens.

Then as Jack starts to use the screen, Andre immediately switches onto Jack. Shaun Livingston switches smoothly onto Lopez and keeps a hand in the passing lane to prevent the quick pocket pass to him (he would have a straight line to the basket for a dunk). Brook comes over to Jack to re-screen, but Jack decides to take Andre off the dribble. Andre cuts off the drive and puts a hand up right in the perfect spot so the only shot Jack can get past him is too far right to go in.

Draymond gets the rebound. Unlike most people who can defend bigs, Draymond can grab the rebound and run straight up the court with it. If he had to wait to find a point guard to run the break, that would lose a second and the Nets could organize. Instead, he immediately gets the Nets on their heels in a four on three break.  Who will cover Curry?  Larkin picks him up but it's a madhouse. Johnson is running between him and Curry to the right side in a panic to stop Draymond's drive. (Began is busy covering two other Dubs running down the right side.) Larkin cuts off Curry's sideline drive, knowing he has no one behind him to cover. Curry does his thing.


Final Thoughts

This spacy article is an interesting read on the Warriors concept of offense and defense. Sample quote:

The Warriors do not view defense as hell and offense as heaven. Instead, they view the two ends of the court as parts of a circuit.

Tonight's third-quarter-ending surge is a great exemplar of this idea. Good defense drives good offense and gives power to counterpunches.

Savor this wonderful historic streak. Because one unlucky injury and the whole season could go down the tubes. I think most long-time Warriors fans have a part of their heart waiting for the badness to come. That is normal. The opposite of that is a spoiled entitled fanhood. Knowing how close badness is helps you to not take for granted that we get to watch our team play at a historically great level.

It should also help us appreciate LAST year more. After all, last year after 22 games, the Warriors were 20-2! This team is only two games ahead of last year's pace!

The Explain One Play Series So Far


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