The Suns played a strong, energetic game with bonus good play from the old ex-Warrior God of Chaos, Leandro Barbosa. But in the fourth quarter, the Warriors turned up the defensive intensity and blew open a very close game with back to back plays where Stephen Curry and Draymond Green ran pick and rolls. Each time, they forced the Suns to double team Curry, and Green made them pay.
1. Early Offense
Three and a half minutes left, GSW 119-115. The Suns are starting to wear down having played at full hustle all game on a back-to-back. The W’s have rattled their half court offense with surprise double teams. Here, the Suns toss up a quick shot which turns into early offense for the Warriors. The key moment comes when Draymond Green sets a hard screen near midcourt very early on (:20 on the shot clock). Watch how this little screen causes a series of faults in the Phoenix defense until Klay hits a three pointer.
There are so many little things in this play that make the difference. At the very start on defense, Shaun Livingston does a good job boxing out a larger player to get the good rebound. It’s harder to do this when running back on defense.
Then Stephen Curry attacks quickly in early offense before the defense can get set. Green sets the little drag screen on Stephen Curry’s defender. This happens very early in the play, before Green’s defender can step up to, say, trap Curry with a double team. At this moment the Suns defense is in trouble and Curry knows it. He dribbles hard right at Draymond’s defender to force him to commit to guarding Curry’s drive. In the meantime, Curry’s defender comes over to double team Curry.
I personally always welcome this blitzing approach to defending Curry because Green is very skilled at running the resulting 4-on-3 attack.
At this point, the math says Draymond is now attacking 4-on-3 . Klay Thompson in the corner and Kevin Durant at the wing cannot be left unguarded. That leaves Green and Livingston attacking one defender under the basket. Green gets the ball to Livingston, but the spacing is just a little off, so Livingston now has the ball too deep under the basket and the Suns have recovered defenders to the paint.
At this point though, Livingston basically has deep post position and in the chaos, Thompson’s defender has to keep an eye on Livingston and also Thompson in the opposite direction. Watch how Thompson stands around casually until the split second that his defender (Booker I think) turns his head and then quietly and swiftly cuts to the corner. This gives him the split second of confusion to get off a shot. Bang, 7-point lead.
This play happens because Curry compromises the defense. And yet, Curry doesn’t get the points (Thompson does), the assist (Livingston) or EVEN the hockey assist (Green). In a properly functioning Warriors offense, there will be a lot of assists, but no one person will accumulate them, even if someone like Curry is the force that makes the plays possible.
2. Ye Olde Curry-Green Pick and Roll
Next play, GSW 122-115. The Warriors force another miss and Curry again attacks in Early Offense. Because of Curry’s (ambitious and reckless and marvelous) dribbling, the Warriors actually end up with a 4-on-2 attack. But Curry’s move to split the defenders is so unorthodox that even his teammates don’t expect it and three of then dive together into the lane. It’s a spacing mess.
So Klay Thompson attacks the close-out from the corner and is well-defended. At this point, in the spirit of the chaos, Klay heaves a soaring wobbly hippopotamus of a pass that Green barely saves from a backcourt violation. At this point, the Warriors reset to the good old dependable Curry-Green high pick and roll.
As soon as Green sets the screen, the Suns are doomed. Green’s defender tries to contain Curry, but Green rolls hard and Curry passes to him in stride. Now it’s the same logic as last play. No one can help off of Durant in the corner and Thompson on the wing, so Green and Livingston are 2-on-1 under the basket. Green puts in the big dunk. I always worry Draymond Green jumps a little too far out on his big dunks, but he gets the job done.
On the original 4-on-2 attack in the second play, with the benefit of slow motion, probably the correct play was for Kevin Durant to pop out to the right wing, because Klay definitely needs to go to the corner (this is the standard fast break attack) and Livingston, bless his heart, does not have a proven 3 point shot, so he has to dive to the basket. This is the kind of thing that will work itself out in time. Also, I suspect the Small Ball Death Squad isn’t used to playing with Livingston instead of Andre Iguodala.
We haven’t seen that much of the Green-Curry pick and roll this year. I believe Coach Steve Kerr has been wanting to expand the playbook with emphasis on involving the new guys. In this sense he is willing to sacrifice efficiency in the regular season for a wider playbook and stronger depth and teamwork by playoff time.
Sometimes people wonder why Steve Kerr doesn’t run a Curry-Green or Curry-Durant or Curry-Thompson pick and roll every single play down. First, this would give a defense time and repetitions to get better at defending it, and it also would give the whole league repeated chances to develop an immunity. Second, unless you have interesting weak-side action, you end up having people standing around not involved in the offense. This is bad for the group spirit. It’s almost as bad as isolation heavy offense. This is something both of Kerr’s mentors emphasized: Popovich ran the fully operational Death Star version of system offense with his 2014 Spurs; and Phil Jackson with the Lakers rarely ran pick and rolls with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal (and later Pau Gasol) until the 4th quarter.
- Explain One Play: Advanced Stephen Curry - Kevin Durant Pick and Roll
- Explain 1 Play: Curry Cold-Blooded Go-Ahead 3 (Klay-Curry Pick and Roll)
- Explain One Play: Curry & Green's Favorite Play (High Pick and Roll)
- Explain One Play: Harrison Barnes Tries To Be Not "Terrible" (Seven Seconds or Less Suns Early Offense)
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.