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That Wild Ending of Warriors-Rockets Game 2

Both the Warriors and Rockets double teamed their stars at the end of the game. One team got a good shot, the other didn't.

Barnes tries a reverse layup.
Barnes tries a reverse layup.
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

That was a great ending, huh?   It was interesting to see how each team dealt with the surprise double teams at the end of the game.

First, the Rockets pulled out a double team of Stephen Curry for the last three possessions of the game, and the Warriors didn't deal with it very well.  For most of the game that I saw, the Rockets switched screens freely and dared Curry to shoot over their big men (which he did very well).

That Backcourt Trap, 0:41 left, GSW 99-96.

The second to last double team was a very effective backcourt trap of Curry. If this video looks familiar, it's traumatically similar to the way Curry turned it over against the Bulls, when they stole a game in the last seconds.

That's something that the Warriors can and should clean up.  If you freeze the play when Curry gets doubled, you can see that Curry had nobody to release to. Then he tries an unwise pass which is deflected. And by the time help came, it was too late and they got the 8-second violation.

I believe the Warriors will never be caught this way again, as there are plenty of inbound sets against the full court press. It was just the element of surprise and I imagine they will walk through one or two basic options tomorrow.

That Barnes Drive, 0:13 left, GSW 99-98.

The Rockets double Curry with Dwight Howard and James Harden at the top of the key and this time the Warriors deal much better with the double. Curry passes off to Andre Iguodala and at the start of this clip, you can see the Warriors are playing 3 on 2 below the free throw line. Andre tries to pass it so Harrison Barnes in the corner so he and Draymond Green can go two on one against Corey Brewer, with Klay spacing in the opposite corner.  Watch it unfold.

First, Andre throws a weird dying quail of a pass. I think the ball slipped. (This fan video gives a clearer view of Andre's maimed fauna pass.) Anyway, the ball takes two bounces to get to Barnes and Brewer almost picks it off. In the mean time, it gives Dwight enough time to hustle over to contest the Barnes layup.

Second, what should Barnes do here?  It is very easy for us to pick it apart in slow motion, so I don't want to criticize split-second judgment calls. I'm just glad Barnes went up strong and decisively. Now Bobbita, Starbury and I had a little back and forth on this drive. We all agree that Barnes can make that reverse layup, though it would have been a really outstanding finish. I also know Bobbita thinks that the refs wouldn't call a foul on Dwight, and Starbury thinks Dwight might have blocked it cleanly. I see their side, but I still believe that as a general principle on plays like this, the player should go up hard and try to dunk it. Dwight is probably in the restricted circle and doesn't have position. Make the refs make a call.

That Harden Turnover, 0:09 left, GSW 99-98.

Here is the rest of the play after Barnes just barely misses what would have been the best shot of his career. Harden takes the rebound and pushes it without taking a time out.

I think this is a great decision to not call timeout. The GSW defense is very strong when set, they can try to deny Harden the ball or trap him, and Draymond is supernaturally good at deflecting inbound passes.

The Rockets initially briefly have a 4-on-3 fast break, but everyone on the Warriors hauls butt to get back. Curry and Klay double team Harden and force him to pick up his dribble. I don't know if they planned this in any way... it looks  like two great defensive instincts at work and years of teamwork at play.

At this point, the Rockets were probably best served taking a time out. Instead, this happens...

After he's forced to pick up the dribble by the Splash Trap, Harden passes off to the trailer, Dwight Howard, and gets it right back. But the clock is working against him and he is Splash Smothered again. Curry and Klay stay with Harden even when the ball goes to Dwight. They know there is no way the ball is going anywhere else.

Final Thoughts: Curry is the MVP

I don't know how Houston usually deals with crunch time Harden double teams, but they looked quite unprepared for it on that last play. Curry and Klay played it as if Harden would never let anyone else take the shot, and that paid off.

In contrast, the Warriors have been dealing with Curry blitzes for two years now, so on their last play, Curry freely gave up the ball, and trusted three complementary offensive players to make the play.  Andre made a smart play (terrible pass), and if the pass were normal, Barnes would have had a dunk.

This might be a case of confirmation bias, but I happen to believe that if a team relies on a single scorer/playmaker (here Harden, or think Russell Westbrook without Kevin Durant, or Michael Jordan before the Triangle Offense, Lebron James before the Heat spread attack) then the rest of the team loses the sharpness to contribute offensively, and they are vulnerable to having their star blitzed.  We saw it with Curry last year, we saw it with Kobe Bryant and Jordan (without the triangle), and we saw it with Harden at the end of this game. Steve Kerr has spent the year building an offense where everyone on the court plays a part, cuts or screens, and throughout the game, everyone has to make decisions and reads. This offense isn't to help Curry. He can score in any offense. It's to help Klay become an all-star, and the others to become stronger. Curry's willingness to give the ball up has given his team a chance to grow up, and that's why the talk of Curry's having a stronger supporting cast has always been a point FOR his MVPness, not against.

Curry's willingness to give the ball up has given his team a chance to grow up.

The Rockets have an offense where Harden often isolates, he makes the decisions and the others space and they shoot if Harden draws help. During the huge Rockets comeback without Harden, more than one observer noted that the team played with better flow and confidence without Harden. I know that one defensive principle of the Warriors is to not double-team a small, but I suspect in Game 3 they are going to mix in surprise double teams here and there, and force different members of Rockets supporting cast to make pressure decisions.

Bonus Video

I really have to embed this video that I previously merely linked to.  In it you can see a few things more clearly than the TV angle.

First, you can see the Rockets try to disguise the double team.  The obvious Clippers style blitz would have been for Curry's man Brewer and Howard to just trap him.  If that happens, Curry knows to either beat the double team by splitting or going around it, or if trapped, release to Green at the top of the key and let him make his usual excellent 4 on 3 decisions. Instead, the Rockets have Brewer switch onto Green, and Harden comes up off of Iguodala to double with about 5 on the shot clock. Really well timed and a bit of a variation on the usual blitz.

Second, you can see Andre read this very early. As soon as Harden starts sneaking away towards Curry, Andre turns to Barnes and yells and motions for him to come up to the wing so Andre has a better angle to swing a pass to him.

Third, you can really see Curry embrace the double team. When Harden comes up to double, Curry actually has room to go around Dwight on the right.  If he makes it past Howard, he has a clear lane to the basket. Instead, Curry dribbles right towards Harden to force the double team to come to him, and therefore trigger the swing pass to the corner.

Fourth, you have a great view of Andre's flubbed pass to the corner. It's really a miracle that it got through.

Fifth, I don't think it matters, but from this angle, it looks like it's Curry who gets his hand in on Harden's left side to get the steal. It doesn't matter since it required two of them to get the stop.

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