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Explain One Play: Stephen Curry Closes Out the Thunder

This is a deep dive video analysis of the exciting ending of the Thunder-Warriors game on Feb 6 2016.

This guy's pretty good, but nothing that we haven't seen. -RW
This guy's pretty good, but nothing that we haven't seen. -RW
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

If you want to read more video breakdowns, 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.

Stephen Curry had, up until the last three minutes of the Thunder game, been shooting at a subpar level, missing open shots and a number of layups. I think there are some analytics that question whether clutchness exists, so maybe this was a coincidence, but I happen to believe in it, and also believe Curry went to a new gear for the ending of this game to close out a surprisingly tense game. After the Thunder tied things at 104-104, the Dubs outscored them 12-4 the rest of the way, with Curry scoring or assisting on all scores.

Let's go through the key plays at the end of the game. I was only going to discuss one play, but the game got me pumped up, so I just did most of the last three minutes.  If you are in a rush, the first two and last two plays are pretty short, but the middle play is awesome, but opera length. I didn't want to move things from chronological order though...

02:24. Curry Driving Layup Shot: Made (22 PTS) Assist: Green (5 AST) [GSW 107-104]

The score at the start of this is GSW 105-104. OKC has been blitzing Curry whenever possible, and generally loading up its defense on Curry. So one way the Warriors get Curry some space to work is to put him off the ball. He gives up the ball and immediately sets a back screen for Harrison Barnes (this is a common move in the Warriors offense, compare Explain One Play: Curry Screen = Barnes Dunk AGAIN). This make Curry's defender, Russell Westbrook, hesitate a second to see if he has to pick up the cutting Barnes. Then he lunges to cut off a pass to Curry. Here's the rest of the play.

Curry immediately flares out get some separation. Westbrook closes out athletically, but a ball fake from Curry keeps Westbrook off balance and gives Curry a driving lane. And oh what touch on that layup finish.

01:59. Durant 3pt Shot: Missed / Green Rebound (Off:4 Def:9)

This was a quick heat check from Kevin Durant. He's capable of making those, but he'd been pretty hot all game, and he'd been in most of the fourth quarter.

01:40. K Thompson 3pt Shot: Made (18 PTS) Assist: Curry (9 AST) [GSW 110-104]

This play ends with a sublime find and pass from Curry. But it starts with an interesting new play. It's kind of a Snowplow High HORNS. Basically, on screen-roll plays, how do you keep the Thunder defenders from leaving the screener and doubly-teaming Curry?  One way is to have Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala push their big defenders like slow snowplows into the paint. Then Andre suddenly runs way back to set a screen for Curry. His defender is two steps behind and has to pick up Curry while off balance. Curry gets double teamed and then...

Andre rolls to the basket. The far side defender is left alone to defend Andre and Klay Thompson on the far wing. He chooses to cover Andre. At this point, Curry makes a great read and a risky looking looping hook pass skipping across court to Klay. Swish. Just a magnificent find and pass.

01:32. K Thompson Foul: Personal (3 PF) (2 FTA) / Westbrook Free Throws 2 of 2 (27 PTS) [OKC 106-110]

Westbrook tosses in a couple of free throws. A good game from him, though he got into trouble a few times charging into a Warriors defense that packed the paint against him.

01:20. Curry 3pt Shot: Missed

01:18. Green Rebound (Off:5 Def:9)

Curry makes a zipper cut up the lane, getting a screen from Draymond Green to try to knock off Curry's man, Westbrook. Westbrook bulldogs through and blasts out a little too hard at Curry. A subtle sidestep gets Westbrook off balance and Curry enough room for (nobody else but) him to fire a three. One millimeter away from sealing the game, the shot instead rattles in and out. If OKC gets the rebound, they will have plenty of time to come back from 4 down.  And they SHOULD get the rebound, because the Warriors' offensive rebound strategy is this: everyone run back and prevent a fast break. If you happen to be the man right under the basket, give it a try. In this case, that man is Draymond, and...

That guy can rebound. Durant looks tired, but he still has inside position and 5 inches on Draymond. Doesn't matter. What a great hustle rebound. This gives the Warriors another 24 seconds (huge) and a chance to extend their 4 pt lead.

00:54.2. Curry Layup Shot: Made (24 PTS) Assist: Green (6 AST) [GSW 112-106]

This next clip continues where we left off, with Draymond resetting to Barnes. This play is so interesting and epic, we broke it into three clips. We'll show the whole play at the end.

The first part of the reset play has Westbrook aggressively (does he do things any other way?) denying the pass across to Curry, so Curry cuts backdoor. He's actually open for Barnes, but Barnes passes to Draymond in the corner. Curry is so open, he's STILL open for Draymond, but it's risky for Draymond to get the pass through Durant.

So Curry resets the play again (watch his hands -- he directs most of the Warriors plays when he's on court), and sends Draymond to the top of the key. Curry AGAIN sets a back screen for Green on the other side (this is the mirror reflection of the play above at 2:24 where Curry screens for Barnes). In this case, they are trying to exploit Draymond Green posting up Dion Waiters, so when Green is covered on the rip cut to the basket, Andre swings it to Barnes on the wing to enter the ball to Draymond posting up. Then...

Barnes actually plays this as if the Warriors are doing their standard post-cross pattern (see One Play: Warriors + Triangle Offense = Barnes 3), which would have Barnes screening for Andre for a jumper (see him motion "use my screen"?). Andre doesn't seem to want anything to do with that option and just stands there, so Barnes clears out. At this point Draymond has no choice but to back Waiters down. Waiters proves all the skeptics wrong and deflects the ball away from Draymond!  But Draymond has transformed into a being of pure hustle energy and gets the loose ball AGAIN. (This whole saga started with his offensive rebound, remember?)

OK, so now we have 4 seconds on the shot clock, and Draymond out on the perimeter with no one to pass it to and the play is completely broken. He needs to hoist up a shot, right?  Dray calmly realizes he still has an advantage in that he's got a big guarding him on the perimeter. He trucks past his defender, Steven Adams. Russell Westbrook, of all people, rotates over to cut off Draymond's drive. And if Russell has rotated over, then where is Russell's man?

Curry sees his man rotate over, and wisely cuts to the hoop. Draymond sees Westbrook rotate, hits the cutting Curry with an absurdly lovely pass under physical and time pressure and Curry hits the layup with 1 on the shot clock.

This play is just the distilled essence of how far the Warriors have come since 2015. All the off-ball movement, the multiple offensive options, the emphasis on back cuts. Plus, the hustle of Draymond and his fine playmaking.  So at this point, the game is over.  Here's the whole epic play again.

00:50.5. Green Foul: Personal Block (5 PF) / Durant Free Throw 2 of 2 (40 PTS) [OKC 108-112]

This Durant guy is good. Maybe the Warriors should make a run at him in free agency?

00:33.6. Curry Pullup Jump shot: Made (26 PTS). [GSW 114-108]

The goal of this play is to chew up most of the shot clock and not turn it over. Even if the Warriors come up empty, they will soon be playing the foul game with OKC. This is a simple screen-the-screener play... Andre screens for Draymond who comes up to screen for Curry. Now Curry has Durant on a switch.  Curry knows your entertainment value is at stake here. The game is basically sealed, so Curry has no excuse to not go 1-on-1 with Durant. I mean, freaking Beyonce is watching. So he does.

Durant never fully squares up Curry, and seems to be angling Curry to force him left. Curry goes left and then throws a vanilla crossover and fires a stepback jumper with his lightning fast release. Game.

00:22.9. Durant Jump Shot: Missed

00:21.9 Curry Rebound (Off:1 Def:5)

00:16.8 Iguodala Running Dunk Shot: Made (8 PTS) Assist: Curry (10 AST) [GSW 116-108]

The game is basically over, but you can imagine if OKC hits a 3, and the Warriors turn it over or miss free throws, then it might get close.

Here, the crunch time play is: give the ball to Durant at the top of the key. Everyone else including Westbrook stands around. Klay is the nominal defender, and his job is to play Durant tight even way above the arc in Steph territory and NOT let him launch a three. Draymond Green is waiting to play goalie for when Durant gets by Klay. Curry and Barnes keep a foot in the lane to be ready to overload the lane if Durant drives.

In all the mess after Durant's miss, Curry sneaks around and grabs the loose rebound. (I love his rebounding. He actually out-rebounded Westbrook today, and Westbrook is the one of the best PG rebounders on the planet.) Curry now gets triple teamed on the sideline. OKC is gambling they can steal the ball instead of giving up 1.8 expected points by fouling Curry. They are wrong.

Final Thoughts

We have been tracking the evolution of the Warriors offense this year and two of the main themes have been:

You can see how these principles set up the Warriors to get Curry off the ball to get him the ball in better positions to score in the clips above. Do you remember all the initial outcry of how stupid it was to take the ball out of your best player's hands?

In contrast, the Thunder's dynamic duo of Westbrook and Durant don't have a scheme by which they can be consistently dangerous off-ball, and in particular, dangerous in the same play. I know OKC does pretty well with its ISO offense, but so did the 2013 Warriors. I really think if OKC had off-ball roles for its stars, they would be insanely dangerous.  Can you imagine if they did? Thank goodness they either can't or won't adopt such a system.  And thank goodness Curry was wise and willing enough to go along with the new offense.

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