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Inside the coaching chess match between the Warriors and Pelicans: Slowing (and freeing) Anthony Davis

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Anthony Davis is very good at basketball. What adjustments do the Warriors and Pelicans make to slow (or free) him?

The Main Event: Draymond Green versus Anthony Davis
The Main Event: Draymond Green versus Anthony Davis
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Anthony Davis is clearly the key to the Warriors-Pelicans series. GSOM's own Andy Liu gave us some scenes of the damage he wreaks on defense.  Now let's watch some of the chess match between Team Kerr and Team Williams as they try to stop (and start) Anthony Davis on offense.

Game 1

Move #1. Draymond Green Guards AD One On One (With Backup)

First move is for Kerr is to defend Anthony Davis with Draymond Green solo. Overall there has been very little (direct) double teaming of AD, and this is already a huge risk, in that AD is very good at basketball in close and midrange, and is much taller than Green. It's also a huge gain if it works, because double-teaming messes up your defense and frees up 3 point shooters. Kerr is willing to give up inefficient contested twos as opposed to letting the Pelicans get open threes. In general, it's working.
DG has the speed, length and cleverness to stay with AD. AD's only big advantage is height, and his offensive game doesn't exploit this, because AD tends to face up and beat you with speed and athleticism, rather than backing down and turning and shooting.

You'll see that the Warriors do indirectly double team Davis by sending a player to act as goalie to back up Draymond, since it's hard to stop AD one on one.

So the general theme of the chess match is: how does AD get in good positions and avoid having to beat Green and Goalies?

Move #2. AD At The Elbow Isolates Against Green

If Green is going to guard AD one on one, then AD should go right at him, right? (Spoiler: it doesn't work.)

In Game 1, AD gets the ball multiple times at the elbow (the areas to the left and right of the free throw line). Often the rest of the team clears out and lets AD isolate on Green.  I'll omit the opening play where AD ISOs at the elbow and Green just rips the ball out of his hands.

Here is a very interesting play. AD gets the ball at the left elbow and appears to just get swallowed up by Green who aggressively plays up on him, right?

Well, it takes a village to swallow up AD. Behind Green, notice how Andrew Bogut directs Klay Thompson to leave his man to play goalie at the left low post?  This is a kind of zone double-team of AD.  On the weak side, Curry gamely tries to defend two shooters at once, until Pondexter (un)helpfully cuts through the paint right to where Klay can guard him and right to where AD was driving. Bad possession.

Here, AD will get the ball at the elbow again and stop to survey the countryside.
This is another example of Green playing right up on Davis, knowing there is a goalie behind him. In this case, Green knocks the ball free, and Bogut steps up as goalie to finish the turnover.  Notice how enthusiastically Bogut leaves Omer Asik, trusting that he won't catch too many passes.

Game 2

Move #3A. AD Gets Off-Ball Screens To Get Rid of Green

So, Game 1 ended with AD effectively neutralized. He only got points in garbage time, but the Pels saw something they tried to exploit more in Game 2. Mainly, having people set off-ball screens on Draymond Green to force someone else to guard AD.

For instance, at the beginning of this play, Green (of course) is guarding AD.  By the end of it, Bogut is out on AD in space, and AD drains a jumper. What happened? Watch and focus on AD the whole play through.

You see AD sets up on the right side, and Asik comes over to set a cross-screen on Green. AD now strolls across the lane and Bogut has to pick him up.  Judging from how long it too for Green to get around the screen, I suspect Asik helped Green hang around with some loving hugging arms.

Move #3B. AD Gets The Ball in the Middle at the Free Throw Line

Okay, so we've seen the elbow ISO simply does not work for AD against Green and his Village of Goalies. In Game 2, the Pels abandoned that set, except occasionally against Speights and other lesser defenders.

Notice where AD catches the ball here, and look for where the goalie is. 

AD catches it in the middle of the court (not the elbows).  The Goalie should be Marreese Speights, who is stuck on the right side of the lane, so AD drives left.  Barbosa follows his man, either unaware of the Davis freight train behind him, or perhaps knowing he will be crushed if he tries to play goalie.

When AD gets it at the elbows (above), the D can guide him to a goalie at one side of the low block. When he gets it in the middle, he can choose which side to go and avoid a goalie.

Here's another play where the Pels get AD the ball in the middle with a very nice pick and roll action, then reset and get him the ball AGAIN in the middle. Where are the goalies?

The closest thing to goalies on the court are Barnes (on the right side) and Andre (who hasn't really taken contact in two years), so AD drives left, blowing by Bogut while Barbosa stays with his man to ensure no open three pointer and, of course, his own physical safety.

Move #3C. AD Cuts Down Middle From FT Line

The muffed first play in #3B was a kind of pick and roll between AD and Norris Cole, where AD is supposed to get the ball at the Free Throw line.  It's worth re-watching with this in mind. The Pels are taking advantage of the Warriors' ICE pick and roll defense scheme. The defender drives the ball handler away from the middle towards a goalie who sags into the lane away from the big (AD). In this case, the goalie is Bogut. This leaves open a bounce pass to AD with momentum at the free throw line in space.

Here's another one which is only thwarted by Ezeli's being aware and very large.

Here the Pels pass to AD again cutting down the lane. Notice how he wanders up to the free throw line to get a headstart.

The Pels drive on the wing, which causes Green to anticipate cutting off at the baseline. Instead, AD gears up for takeoff. Green shoves Andre Iguodala towards AD to stop the feed at the free throw line, but it's too late. Green slams the ball at the end... I think he knows he shouldn't have left AD.

Quiz

Here are the two flavors together. See if you can see Move 3A, 3B and 3C in this same clip.

You'll see Asik bulldozer Klay and then buzz Green with an off-ball screen (3A). Green calls for Klay to switch (rashly, unnecessarily).  Then AD swats Klay away like a fly, gets the ball at the free throw line in motion (3B & 3C) and gets fouled.

Game 3

Move #4. ???

So, it's still early in the series, and we've seen Kerr throw an excellent defense that is containing AD (when Green is around to lead it), and Monty W counter with sets that put Davis in the middle of the court, in motion and when possible with Green switched off of him.

I'm eager to see what new wrinkles the coaches put in. I would think Kerr would be relatively happy with the D on AD, but possibly cooking up a different help scheme.

The Dubs can get some simple wins by not going under screens on the perimeter (Curry let Gordon have two open 3s in the first quarter that put them in a hole), and tightening up to switch off AD only when necessary. The Dubs might not ICE pick and rolls in order to stop the passes to AD down the lane. Or, when AD gets the ball in the middle, the W's might force him to one side.

I'd guess the biggest adjustments from the W's won't be on defense, but rather on offense to try to either shake Curry free of the bumps and swarming, or force the Pels to overcommit to Steph Curry to free up others.

In any case, I think the twists haven't stopped coming, and if there are interesting ones to report, we'll check in after Game 4.