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Explain One Play: W’s Defense Lassos Brook Lopez

We look at how the Warriors focused on stopping Brook Lopez in the second half of their game against the Brooklyn Nets on Dec 22, 2016.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Brooklyn Nets
This play was sculpted by Rodin.
Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

The Warriors learned the hard way that the “Brook Lopez can shoot threes” phenomenon is real and it’s spectacular. In the first half, the defense was sluggish and left Lopez open on the three point line on plays like in this play:

Zaza Pachulia gets stuck sinking into the lane as goalie against a possible Jeremy Lin drive, and ends up watching Jeremy Lin fake a jump shot while his man Brook Lopez drifts over to the corner. Nice deceptive pass, nice shot.

For the second half, the W’s came out with fire and force on defense, and this charged up their offense with easy fast break layups. Let’s look at some of the ways they disrupted Brook Lopez’s offensive attack.

Cut off the passing lane

On this play, the Nets set a double screen straight across the free throw line for Lin (this is sometimes called an Iverson Cut, after the gutsy practice-averse Hall-of-Famer). This is not a bad play, as Brook Lopez pops out unguarded to the top of the arc. But then...

Kevin Durant putting the “throw” back in “throw down”. This is Curry’s defense at its best: getting the deflections with hands and anticipation rather than jumping out of position. Curry did rack up 5 steals tonight, so it’s great to see the effort coming back.

(Side note: Curry’s Defensive RPM, which has been miserably low, below -1.00, has slowly drifted upwards to -0.78, which is right about middle of the pack for point guards.)

I also like how Pachulia has hands up to prevent the pass to the cutter, while the rookie Kevon Looney anticipates the kick out and begins closing out on Lopez.

Good switching and close-outs

Okay, next play. This is when I knew the W’s were serious. You’ll see the Warriors bust up a pick-and-roll with Lopez, then temporarily let Lopez pop out for a three. But unlike last quarter, the W’s don’t concede the three...

The Nets run a Motion Strong play from the Spurs (Nets coach Kenny Atkinson was assistant for four years under Mike Budenholzer, who was an assistant with the Spurs). Ball swings left and back right straight into an instant pick by Lopez for Lin. I like how Curry fights hard through the screen, and Pachulia hedges hard. Notice how Curry works to force Lin to drive up and down, not to the middle.

After Bojan Bogdanovic gets past Looney, it’s a sequence of hustling switches. Pachulia switches to cover Looney’s man, Durant hustles out to cover Pachulia’s man Lopez, Pachulia covers Durant’s man, Klay steps up to cover Pachulia’s man, Curry covers Klay’s man, Klay covers Curry’s man as Lin fires up a long contested three.

I let the play run all the way to Curry’s off-the-dribble three. just because I miss these. These have been missing in action ever since his knee injury last year, and it’s the difference between Curry being an All-Star point guard this year and the greatest offensive player in NBA history last year.

Strong defensive plays to start the second half, and in just over a minute, the 16-point lead is only 8. The W’s used their defense to fuel a dominating performance the rest of the way.

Surprise double teams

Here’s one more way the Dubs threw Lopez off his game. Lopez is going to end up posting up Pachulia while the Nets cut and let him create. Instead...

Durant springs the surprise double team and Lopez panics and throws the ball away.

Double-teaming is hard. First, you need to be smart to scramble around and recover to the open man. The W’s do have that ability. Second, it’s exhausting. Third, if you do it ALL the time, like the Clippers did 2013-2015, teams like the Warriors adjust and can counter it. That’s why you only see the W’s spring double-teams with some element of surprise.

I like how Curry and Pachulia navigate the initial dribble pitch. At the start of the year, teams were ruthlessly attacking these two in pick and rolls. They’ve gotten better at handling them. I like how Pachulia steps back and lets Curry take a short cut between him and Lopez to meet Lin on the other side.

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. And I might have a breakdown myself trying to keep up with the W’s this year.

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