The Warriors and Suns played a sloppy and hard-fought game which came down to the end. On back-to-back plays with two minutes to go and clinging to a five-point lead, the Warriors created enough of a cushion and ate up enough time to coast to the end.
Let’s look at the two plays that turned the game. We’ll see they are Kevin Durant versions of an old Thunder and Warriors play.
1. Kevin Durant Baseline Backdoor Cut
First, let’s look at the original Thunder version of the play. You’ll see the pattern here is that each play ends with Durant getting a dribble-pitch handoff at the right elbow and Russell Westbrook surprise cutting to the basket for a layup.
It’s a nice little play. With Durant coming around the corner, it’s understandable that Westbrook’s defender would be distracted, allowing Westbrook to cut to the basket. Also, Westbrook 95% of the time wants to have the ball, so it’s extra shocking that he would cut away from the ball.
Anyway, the Warriors run their own version of this play where Durant gets to be the cutter. The Thunder version begins with a long preliminary where Westbrook brings the ball up the the Thunder go into a HORNS formation and then flow into the kernel of the play. This makes sense because OKC runs other HORNS type plays so there is a bit of deception.
The Warriors version of deception is to start this play looking like a Stephen Curry - Draymond Green high pick and roll. (See the whole breakdown of their old bread and butter play at Explain One Play: Curry & Green's Favorite Play.) Then it looks like a Green to Curry dribble-handoff. Suddenly, Draymond will veer away the other direction and... it should look familiar.
Yes, Green dribbles towards Durant, Durant fakes the cut to the wing and suddenly goes backdoor. Nice pass, very unkind foul, two points.
In theory, the W’s could run this play with Curry cutting baseline backdoor, just like Westbrook, if Curry can regain the touch on the floaters he mastered last year.
2. Stephen Curry backscreens for Kevin Durant alley-oop
One of the uncelebrated things Curry does is screen. I love his screening. Point guards don’t usually screen, and when they do they usually don’t make strong contact. They usually merely sort of interfere. So if you’re Stephen Curry having the best offensive season in NBA history last year, you really aren’t expected to throw your body around to take out defenders. But that’s what he would do, and it was so unexpected that it often led to easy shots.
One frequent example last year was Curry screening for dear departed Harrison Barnes. For instance in this play you see Curry coming up to apparently use a screen from Barnes. Surprise! He’s screening for Barnes who walks to the basket for an open dunk.
This Warriors Rip play worked for one easy Warriors bucket a night for most of last year. (See Explain One Play: Curry Screen = Barnes Dunk AGAIN for more analysis.)
There’s another play the Warriors ran for alley-oops last year. The play is simple. The ball goes to one side wing. On the opposite elbow a player will screen for the dunker who rip cuts straight to the basket. For instance, here the ball goes to Curry on the left wing, dearly departed Marreese Speights sets the screen at the elbow and Shaun Livingston dunks off the alley-oop pass.
Tonight, the ball went to Andre Iguodala on the right wing, and — surprise — Curry got to set the screen at the left elbow. Durant curls around Curry’s screen while Curry drives his defender into Durant’s defender.
The defender T.J. Warren (who had a fearless offensive game) does well to catch up but unfortunately seems to whack Durant in the face. Durant finishes the awkward shot and the game is basically sealed.
And as a bonus, three end-of-game plays made the NBA.com highlight reel and EVERY SINGLE ONE was the direct result of a Curry screen. And the darned announcer didn’t mention that at all.
For your homework, look at these three highlights and see if you can spot how Curry’s screens directly lead to Klay Thompson and Durant getting open.
Show me a highlight reel from any Thunder game with three Westbrook screens leading to scores. I’ll wait...
Welcome to Golden State, Mr. Durant. It’s kind of a mess right now, but at least your superstar point guard will do the unnoticed dirty work for you.
The offense still looks rough and there were numerous miscommunications. You can see the new principles in rough form: Durant as an off-ball threat, plays where Curry’s gravity opens the court for Durant. Durant has been scoring with extreme efficiency, but it hasn’t been a series of phenomenal one-on-one moves. Much of it is casual and in the flow of offense.
The Suns have a promising young team, and Alex Len feasted when getting deep post position. Whenever Zaza Pachulia is on the floor, smalls attack him in the pick and roll. Today’s pick and roll defense scheme was ICE (refresher at Notes on the Warriors' defense), so Pachulia was often left to contain a small driver and, for all his wiles and passing and grindy defense, he seems to have negative shot blocking ability. His aura seems to embolden drivers and to funnel the ball into the hoop. Teams will continue to regularly torture Pachulia and Curry in the pick and roll.
Another big problem was Draymond Green’s refusal to shoot threes. The Suns began leaving him at the arc, inviting the shot and clogging up the middle. Having both Green and Iguodala with unreliable shots hurts the spacing of Small Ball Death Lineup 2.0.
But the energy and defensive/rebounding effort was there in the second half. And in the end, it’s a good sign that the Warriors, on the road, shooting badly, still learning each other, losing their only offensive motor Curry to foul trouble, still managed to overcome a bad start and big lead and win. As they say, it’s better to learn lessons in wins than losses.
If you want to read more video breakdowns — one for every Warriors’ win since 2015 — 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.