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Explain One Play: Kevin Durant steals and seals the win

We look at two plays from the end of the Warriors versus Pelicans game on October 28, 2016 — a golden oldie with new guy Kevin Durant and cohorts Draymond Green and Stephen Curry, and a solid defensive play with a highly athletic finish from Durant to seal the win.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at New Orleans Pelicans
Two current and one future Warrior do battle.
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Warriors held on to beat the Pelicans in a sloppy game. The Pelicans kept attacking the disorganized Warriors’ defense down the stretch and cut the game down to a 6-point lead twice, with a minute left. But the Pelicans ran out of time and Anthony Davis ran out of energy. There’s only so much of a load you can expect one player to carry.

Let’s look at two plays from the final minute that sealed the win for the Warriors:

Good old High HORNS with brand new Durant flavor

This is the old standby High HORNS — sometimes called 45 because the 4 and 5 set a two-sided screen at the top for Stephen Curry. Let’s go down memory lane for a moment and look at two examples. See the pattern and identify the screeners:

The first has Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green setting the screens, with Curry bombing in a ridiculous three. The second has Andrew Bogut and Green screening and, well, Curry bombing in a ridiculous three.

As the year went on, the league countered this play with three kinds of strategies:

  1. Blitz Curry with a double team. Then, Curry would throw it to Green who then could run a 3-on-2 mismatch.
  2. Switch the screen. So if, say, Curry used Green’s screen, then Green’s defender would switch to defending Curry. This left a big man guarding Curry on the perimeter and in the 2015-16 season (pre-injury), this meant death.
  3. Blitz Curry with a double team and have a defender rotate to cover Green in anticipation that Curry would release to Green. This left Curry with the only option of passing to the other screener — either Barnes (who can’t drive or read quickly) or Bogut (who is immobile, has no long shot and can be overplayed to pass). Not a bad solution.

This solution doesn’t work anymore due to the new Kevin Durant version of this play. Now you can have Durant and Green screening on both sides and they both can make plays and cut to the rim with speed. Watch:

The spacing is not great. Curry is blitzed with the double team and somehow Green and Durant are standing too close to each other. Curry throws a dying quail of a pass, which Green saves.

At this point, Green has almost too many options. He’s playing 3-on-2 with Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala open for 3-pointers in both corners, with their defenders in the paint.

Green picks the hardest option, which is to hit a cutting Durant who gets fouled and (with wiser defense) might have picked up a charge. It’s a very nice cut by Durant, but it also shows the team is still figuring out how to play together.

For more analysis of High HORNS, check out One Play: The W's stop and steal a Clippers play and the many other High HORNS plays (search the Explain One Play index).

Durant steals and seals

After a few whistles, the Pelicans actually have the ball, 6 points down with 49 seconds left. I don’t like this play. You’ll see the ball inbounded to Lance Stephenson, who gets a stagger double-screen across the top from Anthony Davis and Dante Cunningham.

Gosh, I wonder who’s going to get the ball? The Warriors don’t wonder, of course. Watch how Durant guards nobody and waits for the ball to get to Anthony Davis. Then, ask yourself why Davis doesn’t drive past the closing Durant to the basket. See for yourself:

Green starts by covering Davis. But the expectation is that he’ll get a screen. So Durant hangs around maybe a bit too far away from Davis, but he gets to him quickly.

Then, Davis tries a Curry-like step-back three. But Davis is merely a fantastic athlete and not Curry, so he picks up his dribble on the step-back. Now, when Durant contests the first three and manages to avoid fouling Davis, Davis has no dribble and is doomed. He tries to draw the foul but Durant blocks him instead and is off to the races.

Now, I personally think the correct play is to give the ball to Curry’s man and force Curry to switch to Davis. Instead, Curry guards Tim Frazier, who had a nice little game with 21 spinning driving points — but not such a nice game that Curry is going to guard him out on the perimeter (32.4% from 3 for his short NBA career).

Re-watch to see Curry drift off of Frazier to end up smack in the middle of the lane to deter Davis from driving past Durant.

That is one heck of a finish, isn’t it? Here it is again:

Durant has to swing the ball over the hustling Tim Frazier — passing through to the right — then bring the ball back to his right to keep it away from the contesting Davis on his left. He manages this all while taking his two landing steps, and then kisses the ball softly off the glass for the layup. Wow.

Last year, the W’s could only win when Curry produced unstoppable pressure on the defense. This year, it’s good to see Durant creating his own pressure, but still in the flow of the team concept.

If you want to read more video breakdowns — one for every Warriors win this season — check out the rest of the series of Explain One Play articles. For the full, updated index, go to The Explain One Play series index.

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