Tonight we look at Stephen Curry hitting a 3 and Kevin Durant dunking out of a play that is the latest model of the oldest play in the book — literally. It’s a hot-rodded version of the post-cross split cut which is the first play Steve Kerr installed on his arrival.
Ye olde post-cross
Let’s nostalgically look back at those ancient days of 2014 when Steve Kerr arrived. He was determined to bring half-court motion offense as a foundation for the Warriors offense. The very first play he put in during the preseason of 2014 was what I called “post-cross” and others eventually came to call split cuts. The original play was simple. You have two shooters. One throws the ball to a player in the post (back to the basket). One shooter screens for the other. Catch and shoot. It’s an old idea. Here’s an example of Steve Kerr himself running the play in the triangle offense (where it is called Guard Squeeze):
You see Kerr throw the ball to the post, then run over to screen for the next shooter over.
Here is a very early example with Klay Thompson entering the ball to Draymond Green in the post, then signaling Leandro Barbosa to use his screen. Catch and shoot for Barbosa.
You can read my contemporary analysis of this new motion offense at Notes on the New Warriors Offense, Part 1: The Post.
It took the NBA a year to catch on to the play and start copying it. The Warriors shocked the league by winning the title in that 2014-2015 season, and once the Warriors came screaming out of the gate in 2015-2016, the rest of the league took them seriously and started game-planning together against the Warriors.
The anti-Warriors solution invented by the rest of the league is Switch Everything. The Warriors have created a number of counters to this, including Three Man Games that are harder to switch, Let Durant Destroy A Small, Let Curry Scoot Around A Big, and others. However, the Switch Everything defense works very well against the original simple post-cross. If one shooter comes to screen for the other, just switch assignments.
The new hotness post-cross
So this year the Warriors have been using a new version of the post-cross. Just like before, the ball gets to a post passer (sometimes the “post” might be up high above the arc). But instead of one shooter screening for the other, the new play has one shooter cutting hard towards the basket and one popping out for a spot-up three.
Let’s see what it looks like. This is an example from the Lakers game. Durant passes the ball to the “post”, Zaza Pachulia. He and Curry run together, then one dives to the basket, and one pops out for a three.
Here Durant gets a step ahead and the spacing gives Durant a free path to the basket for a casually gorgeous reverse dunk. In theory, Curry’s defender Jordan Clarkson could switch over to help contain Durant. But in this play it’s impossible since Curry is cutting hard the other direction to spot up for 3. That’s the whole point of this little dive/pop action.
Here’s another example from the Bucks game this week. Curry enters the ball to Pachulia as the post passer. Then Curry and Draymond Green run at each other and, well look for the dive/pop combination.
It works well on the Bucks because they are prepared for the old post-cross. In fact, I believe Jason Kidd was the first coach to copy the post-cross from the Warriors. You can see as Curry curls to the right around Green’s screen, Green’s defender steps over to switch to Curry who pops out for a three. That lets Green dive to the basket, getting a sweet pass and a highlight reel dunk.
What happens if the dive is contained? Well, you still have a great shooter popping out for a three. Here’s a play from the Lakers game. Here the “post” passer is Green, who brings the ball up himself. Klay Thompson and Curry are the crossers. Watch for the dive/pop action.
Thompson dives, Curry pops out and gets two more screens, and cans the very open three. Nick Young has no chance to catch up (and he tends to get easily lost for off-ball defense anyway). In the original recipe post-cross, Thompson would have screened for Curry and Thompson’s defender would have switched to pick up Curry. In the dive/pop action, Thompson’s defender is running top speed the other direction, desperately trying to catch up with Thompson’s backdoor cut.
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.