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A Tale of Two Threes: Key Plays from Game 3 Warriors/Pelicans

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We break down two contrasting key plays at the end of Game 3 of the Pelicans-Warriors series.

That game had to hurt.
That game had to hurt.
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

That was some ending, huh?  And what highlights: from Harrison Barnes's swooping thunderous outback dunk, to Marreese Speights's hustling offensive rebound to Stephen Curry's desperate fast corner three as he gets tackled by two Pelicans.

Well, we're not going to break those plays down. Here are two different key plays from the wild ending that get overlooked, but which I consider absolutely key to the whole game.

4th Quarter, 0:17.4 left, Pelicans up 107-102

Obviously, the Warriors need a three here.

The context is that from the middle of the 1st to the middle of the 4th quarter, the Warriors have looked gummed up and discombobulated on offense. The Pelicans are running them off the three point line and gumming up the passing lanes on the pick and roll plays.  But through sheer hustle (and the Pelicans tiring/tightening up), the Warriors have hope. So they know they have to execute basic offense.

And here, they go back to the granddaddy of all of the New Warriors Offense, the very first play installed in the preseason: the post-cross (as I call it and analyze in this old tutorial) set. To quickly review, the play begins with a passing big getting the ball. Then two shooters cross and one screens for the other and then the screener releases.  See if you can recognize the post-cross in this play.

As you can see, the ball goes to Green (the post) near the elbow. Curry goes to screen for Thompson. Thompson then cuts down the lane, but he's covered well.

Most importantly, Curry's screen forces Jrue Holiday (doesn't he have a broken limb?) to switch onto him and Quincy Pondexter (who has been beating the heck out of Curry all series) has to follow Klay. Now Curry can get a little space and give the highly-effective shot fake, make the Side-Steph, and coolly drain the three.  Wonderful stuff, and without this play, there is no miracle three from the corner next time down.

Overtime, 0:32, Warriors up 119-118

Immediate context: Draymond has just fouled out (on a bad call on a subliminal touch on the back on *another* offensive rebound).  The Pelicans smell blood in the water. They call a play. Only Monty Williams knows for sure what the play was, but I have a very specific guess. First, let's see Eric Gordon hoist up a quick three with 15 seconds on the shot clock.

My real-time reaction was to yell out, THAT'S A TERRIBLE SHOT!  I was upset on behalf of the basketball gods. But of course, I was delighted as a Warriors fan. Basically, if they are going two-for-one, they have to do it faster. If they are going to get it to AD in motion, they have to DO IT.

Okay, what the heck happened?  Let's establish the facts. You can see Anthony Davis specifically goes to locate and screen Curry and Gordon times his cut to get the ball. So the play is definitely meant to get Gordon at the wing, with Davis located at the top of the key.  Now, here are the possibilities.

1. This is a play to get Eric Gordon a three.

If so, this would be a very dumb play call. They only need a 2 and Ryan Anderson has been channeling video game Dirk, and Anthony Davis's main antagonist has just fouled out. It's true that AD looks very tired (he's entering minute 46), but still... (especially since they went to him later for the last play anyway).

2. This is a play to get AD the ball in the middle, at the free throw line, in motion.

If that sounds familiar, that means you read my Adjustments piece and you know the big adjustment by the Pelicans in Game 2 was to get the ball to AD in this manner. You can see multiple videos (in the parts about Monty's Move #3B and #3C) that begin in the same way this play does and end with Davis in motion down the middle getting great shots.  And you can see he is hugely open for a drop off pass from Gordon and Bogut would be in trouble, stuck in the middle of the lane with no real help (Andre is wrestling Ryan Anderson and is not likely to help off).

In this scenario, Gordon just freelanced what he thought was an open three.  But I find it hard to believe that Gordon would just break a set play for his MVP to chuck a three. So my best guess is...

3. This is both.

It's probable that the play was to get the ball to Gordon at the wing and if he was wide open, to shoot the jumper. And if not, he was to drop off to AD for a drive down the middle. And he made a judgment call in the heat of battle and it didn't work out.

Final Note

No matter what the play call for the Gordon three point shot, Curry does a decent job getting around the screen and contesting the three without fouling, and this miss should have sealed the game for the Warriors.

However, the "intentional foul" fiasco would give the Pels one last shot. They call an isolation for AD at the elbow against Bogut. You may recall from that same Adjustments piece that this play has been proven to not work (see Move #2). This seemed like a bad call at the time, and as Warriors fans, we should be grateful.

Looking Ahead to Game 4

Do not expect this loss to crush the Pelicans. They seem resilient, and will have nothing to lose next game.

It will be very interesting to see if the Warriors can capture some flow in their offense. The Pelicans have done a great job of forcing the Warriors away from their initial actions. They've particularly shut down the passing lanes on pick and rolls, bumped cutters, driven people off the arc, and sent Anthony Davis as a general wrecking machine on the perimeter.

The Warriors as a general scheme don't send more than one man to get offensive rebounds, opting to shut down opponent transition, but in desperation time, behind with time running down, they hit the boards hard. And with Davis exhausted and often on the perimeter, offensive rebounds were up for grabs.  I wonder if the W's will be more aggressive on the boards in Game 4 when AD is on the perimeter.