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Explain One Play: Kevin Durant Passes For Curry Layup and Looney Dunk

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Kevin Durant reads the defense and passes for two Curry layups and a Kevon Looney dunk in the Warriors-Lakers game on Nov 25, 2016.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Los Angeles Lakers
Cupcake, my ass!
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Down the stretch of the Lakers-Warriors game, it wasn’t quite garbage time as the Lakers never stopped fighting, but it wasn’t exactly at-risk either. The game coasted to its conclusion, with the shadow of Draymond Green’s and Ian Clark’s injuries hanging over the proceedings. In particular, it seemed very likely that the Warriors miss Green for the game tomorrow and possibly for longer. This means Kevon Looney would likely get more time as a stopgap power forward.

So, the Warriors ran out the Small Ball Death Lineup (Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala) with Kevon Looney in place of Green, and then did something I’ve never seen before. Down the stretch, they ran the same play three times in a row. You wouldn’t usually do this in a game, as it gives the other team time to get used to it. It was as if they wanted to practice the variations with Looney in a live ball setting.

For the sake of clarity, I’m going to go through the three plays in reverse chronological order.

HORNS Dive/Pop #3

Okay, here’s the last version they ran. The play runs in the HORNS formation, which is two bigs at the free throw elbows and two smalls in the corners and the ball up top. (This is a very common formation in the NBA and you can search the Explain One Play Index for HORNS to see a bunch of Warriors plays using it.)

You’ll see the ball go to Durant at the left elbow. Curry runs to Klay, and Curry and Thompson do what I’ve called a dive/pop action (see Explain One Play: Durant Reverse Dunk and Curry 3 from Next Level Split Cuts). Basically, they come together and one of them dives towards the basket, the other one pops out for a catch and shoot jump shot. Here Curry dives to the basket, Thompson pops up around Looney’s screen and gets a catch and shoot 3.

Thompson misses the shot horribly, but notice Curry did something responsible when he dove to the basket. He immediately turned around and boxed out a Laker for the rebound. Then he out-quicked two Lakers to the ball and tossed in an and-1 which put the wrapping paper on the game. As we discussed last time, because Curry is diving, his man cannot help on Thompson’s pop out.

HORNS Dive/Pop #2

Okay, here is a variation where the pop is covered with an excellent switch. Here, you get the ball to Durant at the left elbow again, and we again get a dive (Thompson) / pop (Curry) action. The Lakers actually cover this wonderfully with Looney’s defender jumping out to switch to Curry on his pop. See how it unfolds.

One imagines the Laker switch happened due to alertness and the fact that this is the second straight time the play was run.

After the switch, Looney has a mismatch with a small defender, but he’s not skilled as a one-on-one player. Similarly, Curry is guarded by a big who is not used to perimeter defense, so Curry cuts hard backdoor and Durant leads him with a great bounce pass for a sweet layup.

This is the point of the Warriors offense. Have a first option. If it fails, go to a second option, or improvise from known principles. As a last resort, let Curry or Durant try to make magic.

HORNS Dive/Pop #1

Now, here’s a version where you have the pop man double teamed, so the screener cuts to the basket. We have (wait for it) the ball going to Durant at the left elbow, and (wait for it) a dive (Thompson) / pop (Curry). But in the confusion, Looney’s defender also chases Curry, so Looney is alone and then...

Looney alertly cuts to the basket and Durant hits him in stride with a fine pass. Dunk. It looks to me that this was meant to be a play where Curry curled down the middle, but when he was double-teamed, Durant and Looney read the play nicely.

It’s great to see Kevin Durant fluidly making such nice reads and passes. He’s having to make more sophisticated reads than he did in OKC, and it’s good to see him rising to the occasion.

I assume we’ll see this play tomorrow! And let’s hope that Green and Clark recover smoothly.