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Harrison Barnes Plays Big and Bold (and Bad): Analyzing Three Plays At The End of the Suns Game

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We break down the three plays preceding Harrison Barnes's gutsy game-winner in the Warriors' 107-106 win against the Suns.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that was an exciting finish to the Suns game! The big highlight is Harrison Barnes's game winning layup. But in some ways, that's the least interesting of the final four plays of the game.  Basically, it's a broken play where Andre finds Barnes and he bulls his way to a layup with a fortunate bounce.  Now, nitpickers may say he should have passed to an open Klay Thompson or Stephen Curry, but in the heat of the moment, with time running down, it's very hard to second-guess.

In fact, I believe Barnes was extra intent on redeeming himself, because he had played a big negative role in the preceding three plays, which we are going to break down here.

0:26, 102-102,  P.J. Tucker makes two point shot

Remember how we recently analyzed Curry's role as the weak link in the Warriors switching defense?  Well, we said Bogut was also a weak link against smaller players, but the Warriors could usually go small with Draymond Green at center to fix that.  For the Suns game, Green was out, so that wasn't an option.  So the Suns managed to get Bogut covering to the speedy P.J. Tucker on the perimeter.  On a first watch, it looks like Tucker just blows by Bogut and that's life...

However, watch the clip again, and watch Barnes. The problem is that Barnes is not used to playing the Bogut goalie role in the Warriors defense. You can see Curry directing Barnes to let his man go to the corner and to play goalie. The Bogoalie usually stands at the edge of the circle ready to cut off baseline drives. So Barnes needs to be right where the left rebounder stands on free throws. Instead, he lets his man go, but too late. Now he's stuck in no-man's land, neither covering his man in the corner, the weak side cutter, nor the driving Tucker, who makes a wonderful finish at the rim.

0:08, GSW 105-104, Stephen Curry makes 25-foot three pointer (Klay Thompson assists)

This crazy play is so epic, it has three phases to it. Here it is.

Part The First. Curry and Bogut run a high pick and roll. (In most games that's a Curry-Green high pick and roll.)  Curry is blitzed by THREE defenders and he throws up a low-percentage layup.  However, this is not a stupid shot, because he sees that Bogut is basically alone under the rim to rebound, so if he throws a soft layup, Bogut is almost guaranteed to get the rebound and putback. Bogut indeed gets the rebound, but he rushes the putback, as if he were afraid to get fouled.

Part the Second. Suns Curse Continues. I think this is objective proof the Suns have angered the Basketball Gods. The rebound is nicely tapped out, and THREE Suns players converge on the ball.  If they can hold on to the ball, it becomes a free throw game and the Suns should win. But instead the Basketball Gods deflect the ball to a hustling Barnes (way to not give up on the play!).  At this point, I believe in slow motion you can see the right play is to pass to Curry who is open in the corner. Or to pull out for the final shot. Instead, Barnes drives into two defenders and misses badly.

Part The Third. MVP. Bogut gets the rebound (is he a foot taller than every other Suns player on the court?). Suns are falling everywhere as Bogut effectively screens three Suns like bowling pins. That leaves Klay and Curry open at the arc. Barnes alertly shoves a defender as he runs by. It's sort of taking Curry for granted that most people expected that shot to go in, but that's life at the top. Swish.

0:05 Eric Bledsoe makes two point shot (P.J. Tucker assists) 106-105

For completeness, we cover the second to last play.  As GSOM's own Andy Liu points out, this is a pretty simple play where Barnes needs to switch. On end of game inbounds plays, the cardinal rule is that every screen is switched -- if you're going to run into a screen, you cover the screener and tell your teammate to switch on to your man. I don't know if Klay didn't call out the screen, but the curl was pretty obvious, so either way Barnes needs to leave his man and cut off Bledsoe and string him out away from the paint. Instead Bledsoe goes straight to the unguarded hoop. I believe on hi-def, you can see Ron Adams shed a tear.


Conclusion

Curry is clearly the MVP. Oops, wrong thread.

On Barnes. Well, he made up for it by getting that last layup to go.

One challenge for him until now has been on-court decision making. Before this year, he was often stuck making no decision, as if slowly reasoning out the best options just as they disappeared.  This year, while one can question his decision making of Barnes in general, and in these plays, I still admire his new decisiveness. Last year's Barnes might have hung his head and become more passive, given that several plays in a row went wrong with him right in the middle of the wrongness. But the cliche is that players need to figure out how to stop thinking on the court. And for Barnes, I'm glad to see him erring on the side of aggressive decisiveness. I hope the game winner gives him confidence that his work is paying off and gives him happiness and energy for tomorrow when Ron Adams nags him about the preceding plays.