Draymond Green and Kevin Durant made huge steals and blocks on Anthony Davis down the stretch of a close Warriors-Pelicans game. 4th quarter defense was the key to the win, as the Pelicans went up 105-102 with 7:13 left in the game, but then were held to 4 points for the whole rest of the game, including no field goals for the last 4:46 and only one point for the whole last 4:11 (which came on an intentional foul).
Let’s look at a few defensive plays against Anthony Davis down the stretch that led up to the dramatic turnovers in the last minute.
3:00. Klay Thompson forces a jump ball
All game the Pelicans used screens to force Anthony Davis to be guarded by Klay Thompson (as opposed to Draymond Green). Here, they force Thompson to switch and he does a great job cutting off Davis’s drive and tying him up. Key question: who does Green guard during the play?
The official answer is that he was guarding #11 Jrue Holiday. But notice how once Davis gets the ball, Green leaves Holiday to stand around in the paint as a goalie behind Thompson in case Anthony Davis gets past him. In fact, Green was on the verge of getting a defensive three second violation if Thompson hadn’t gotten the jump ball.
This goalie defense is the standard Warriors scheme on Davis (and any other outstanding one-on-one player). This is often called “shadowing” or “overload”, but I think “goalie” is much funnier. We discussed this in much greater depth in Explain One Play: Curry finishes the And-1 layup and Slowing (and Freeing) Anthony Davis: A chess match. Tonight, Green and Kevin Durant played goalie against Davis.
2:50. Draymond Green steals the entry pass
Pelicans win the jump ball. Because it’s a jump ball, all the assignments are scrambled and Durant ends up guarding #2 Tim Frazier (who is my kind of scrappy underdog) in the near corner which makes it hard to play goalie. Luckily, Draymond does this:
2:27. Kevin Durant as goalie
This play shows Durant as goalie, but also highlights a Warriors defensive weakness: sloppy perimeter switching. First, watch the play and see how Durant keeps one foot in the paint and when Davis gets free on a roll to the basket, Durant leaves his official man to be goalie.
Luckily, Jrue Holiday misses the open three. How was he open? The problem is the Stephen Curry and Green don’t negotiate their switch correctly when Davis screens for Holiday. Curry doesn’t want to switch since he’d then be guarding Davis. Green thinks they switched, but notices Davis is open behind Curry, so he drops back just as Curry drops back. So they both leave Holiday unguarded. Notice all the pointing they do to try to get on the same page with their assignments.
0:37. That KD block
This play shows the two themes set up above: bad Warriors switching and Durant as goalie. Davis will set a screen and then dribble pitch to Thompson’s man to force Thompson to guard him (again). But Andre Iguodala and Thompson don’t negotiate their switch quite right and Davis gets inside of Thompson to roll to the basket. But watch how Durant has been lurking, one foot in the paint, as the goalie.
I like how Durant gets a piece of the ball but doesn’t send it flying into the stands. The best blocks are ones where you keep possession. I also like Durant’s celebration while lying on the ground.
0:06. That Draymond steal
This play starts with a free throw miss. This is one of the few ways that the “foul when up 3” strategy can fail, and here Anthony Davis makes a great hustle play to gunk up the rebound and then Kevin Durant lets little E’Twaun Moore get around him to the rebound. In general, I think Durant has room to grow in the boxing-out dimension.
Because of the chaos of the play, the Pelicans get Davis guarded by Green, and go with an isolation. Notice how Durant is still lurking behind Green as goalie.
(Added 8:42m). Bonus Ronnie Nunn, ex-head NBA referee on if it was a foul:
Correct-no-call: Appears a lotta ball steal by Green. Davis places ball near hip shortening length & opportunity for Green get to the ball https://t.co/gfTUiX9oEv— Ronnie Nunn (@NunnBetterRefs) December 14, 2016
I’m starting to believe this “Draymond Green for Defensive Player of the Year” hype. Last year I don’t see how you deny Kawhi Leonard, the spear’s point of the historically great Spurs defense.
Matt Moore wrote about how Leonard has weirdly had bad defensive statistics this year.
Welcome to the Kawhisland: The Spurs' defense is worse by the numbers with Kawhi Leonard on the floor. Why?https://t.co/1XiCfSgBNH pic.twitter.com/UxyJDJZFdb— Matt Moore CBS (@MattMooreCBS) December 13, 2016
One reason is that teams are starting to put whomever Leonard guards far away from the play so that they play 4-on-4. Now why don’t teams do this to Green? Because he usually guards a big who is not a credible threat from outside. Why doesn’t Leonard guard a big? I’m not completely sure, since Leonard and Green are officially the same size. Here’s one thesis:
@EricApricot Draymond's low center of gravity combined with his long arms I think— (@theshrillest) December 14, 2016
Also throw in that Leonard is now a major Spurs offensive engine, so he can’t afford to be physically wiped out from banging down low.
The end result is that even though he continues to be a stud, this year teams have neutralized Leonard’s defensive effectiveness with a strategy that cannot be applied to Green. For me, this gives a strong advantage to Green for Defensive Player of the Year, and it also makes me wonder if the Warriors will try something similar against the Spurs.
If you want to read more video breakdowns — one for almost 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.