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Explain One Play: Stephen Curry finishes the And-1 layup

Curry snakes his way to a sweet and-1 layup, and the Warriors make life hard for Anthony Davis. This is a deep dive video analysis of plays from the Pelicans-Warriors game on Mar 14 2016.

To defend the basket, visualize yourself eating the basketball. Now, chew on the other side.
To defend the basket, visualize yourself eating the basketball. Now, chew on the other side.
Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

The Pelicans hung tough with the Warriors for most of the first half. Then Warriors ignited for the last two minutes of the half and got some separation, and the Pelicans never challenges after that.  Let's look at the sequence that took the game from Pelicans down 4 with the ball to the Warriors going up by 7.

Part 1. Defending Anthony Davis

The Pelicans are hurting and have never really gelled. But Anthony Davis is still really good, so the Warriors defensive scheme is based around switching on almost all screens, and defending AD with a goalie. The Warriors of course have a lot of experience defending AD from the 2015 First Round. There they honed their goalie defense, as described at Slowing (and Freeing) Anthony Davis: A chess match.  Some people call this a strong side overload or a shadow, but I think the name Goalie is funnier and more apt.  Basically, AD is always guarded by some primary defender, but someone (usually Draymond Green) acts as the goalie who will switch onto AD if he should get past the first defender.

In this play, you'll see the inbounds pass to Davis (after what looked like a body check to James Michael McAdoo), and some meandering action that ends up with AD posting up at the left elbow, guarded by McAdoo. Stop the video when you see Anthony Davis turn around and raise his right hand to receive the ball. (This is right after the peculiar sequence where Davis motions for #44 Dante Cunningham to come curl off his screen, and #44 clears out instead.)

This looks like a designed play to get AD the ball at the elbow. See if you can spot what Goalie Draymond is doing.

Draymond Green leaves #15 Alonzo Gee in anticipation of trying to sneak to AD's blind side to steal an entry lob.  Who's guarding Gee?  Klay Thompson has to guard both Jrue Holiday #11 and Gee on the right wing. This is easier to do because they are just standing around near each other.  Toney Douglas alertly sees what's happening and swings the ball to Holiday who gets a bit of separation from Klay and clanks a contested three pointer.

Part 2. Defending Stephen Curry

Directly after part 1, Stephen Curry pushes the ball in early offense to hit Klay on the wing. McAdoo cuts hard down he lane, but he's picked up by three Pelicans, so Klay skip passes the ball to Harrison Barnes. Barnes is picked up quickly, so he resets to a high pick and roll with Steph and Draymond. Watch what happens.

The Pelicans overplayed the three point line tonight, leaving Davis to discourage drives, and also to switch assignments when screened. They seemed to invite the switch where Anthony Davis plays Steph one on one.  Draymond comes over to screen and Steph's defender Douglas drops Curry like a hot potato and follows Draymond when he slips the screen.

Steph's crossover has become absolutely deadly. Tim Hardaway's crossover was more showy, the dribble version of "IN YO FACE" as the great poets once wrote.  Curry's seems almost mathematical in its efficiency.  Once AD is isolated on Curry, Steph takes one dribble right and when AD turns his body, BAM, Curry crosses over to the left hand so he's suddenly behind AD and waltzing down the lane. AD is one of the better defenders in the league and Curry just walked by him.

Jrue Holiday #11 takes a step towards cutting Curry off, but then gives up.  Dante Cunningham #44 plays him really well... I didn't see the foul. Then Curry hits the sweet double clutch toss-a-half-hook layup.

Draymond Green gets credit for boxing out Toney Douglas (remember he switched to Draymond early) to keep him from contesting Curry's shot.

(Update: dantabo points out the foul was on AD for a push in the back. Which still looks pretty light to me.)

Final Thoughts

Now, I remember last year, in principle, Anthony Davis was a good defender of Steph. He was fast enough to keep Curry from the basket and long enough to contest jumpers.  That was last year. Steph 2016 has become explosive to the hoop and has become one of the best finishers around the basket.  In 2016 I've not seen any big man stop Steph from driving to the hoop, though many have tried. In fact, very few defenders can keep Curry away from the basket.

Somehow 2015 MVP Curry added a turbo button to his drives which means he's now become a really effective isolation player.  One of the little secrets of 2015 Curry was that he wasn't that great an ISO player, so if his stepback three wasn't falling, he could be taken out of the game with grabbing off-ball and playing him physical and tight on-ball. Nowadays, he has become one of the top drivers and finishers, and when the Warriors need a high percentage shot (i.e. not a three), Steph can usually get all the way to the rim and finish creatively.

(And actually, Steph had been having trouble finishing layups for a few games there, so it's nice to see the layups are back.)

Update: Ethan Sherwood Strauss hit some similar notes in his writeup:

In Monday's win, Curry deployed one of his less-heralded skills, something he's assiduously developed over recent offseasons: The shot that certainly isn't from 100,000 feet. Amid a cold shooting start, he compensated with slashes into the interior and crafty finishes around the rim (Curry finished the game 6-of-7 in the paint)....

On the season, Curry is shooting a hair under 58 percent on his 2-point shots, something that's mostly gone unnoticed due to his historic 3-point shooting. Of his proficiency in the paint, Curry said, "Just have the confidence being able to finish with either hand if I have the opportunity to. I'm not an above the rim guy obviously, so I got to have creativity and a little feel."

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