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Explain One Play: The bench blitzes and breaks Durant

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This is a deep dive video analysis of plays from the Thunder-Warriors game on March 3rd 2016.

"I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your pass down!"
"I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your pass down!"
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, these Thunder breakdowns have been extra long this year, because OKC, despite getting swept this season, still have a strong chance of being a playoff opponent.

On a night when Stephen Curry's outside shot was mortal, the Warriors bench came through and broke the game open against the Thunder at the start of the fourth.

This is a quick walkthrough of the key plays at the start of the fourth during the decisive stretch. We'll point out the plays the Warriors used on offense, and pay special attention to how they guarded Kevin Durant.

Q4.11:47. OKC 83-82

This is a crucial passage. The bench has as often as not this year dug a big hole at the start of the fourth quarter. Here, the Thunder are up 1. They leave in Kevin Durant in an effort to stagger his and Russell Westbrook's rest.  I don't know about this idea. It seems like Durant ends up getting left in to play big minutes in the fourth and he looks tired at the end of games.

Anyway. the Warriors run a simple pick and pop play where Marreese Speights sets a pick for Shaun Livingston and pops out to the three point line for a catch and shoot. His defender, the famously challenged Enes Kanter stays above the foul circle with Speights and Shaun bullies his way to the basket for a foul. He hits both FTs. This sequence sets up the later pick and pop.

Q4.11:42. GSW 84-83

This is a real nothingburger of a play which devolves into a Kanter setting a high pick for Durant.  Andre Iguodala stays on Durant and Speights steps up to stop Durant's drive. So Durant feeds Kanter with a gorgeous bounce pass, resulting in...

Barnes rotating over to stop Kanter's drive (and Mo coming over to block the shot).  Kanter is a good finisher around the rim, but he is no Draymond Green at running the resulting 4-on-3 when the Warriors double team Durant.  Compare for instance, Explain One Play: Curry & Green's Favorite Play or Analyzing Draymond Green’s Supreme 4-On-3 Playmaking Prowess. The Warriors are truly spoiled to have such a good defender in Draymond also being such a good decision maker.

Back to OKC. Here Kanter runs the 4-on-3, goes for a shot and gets swarmed. In the meantime, Barnes's man Kyle Singler pops to the three point line and waits for a pass that will never come.

Q4.11:25. GSW 84-83.

OKC gets the ball out of bounds and works a play that eventually gives Dion Waiters a layup. Sadly, he seems to have developed a psychological problem with finishing layups and he muffs this one. The Warriors counter-punch and flow into a repeat of the Livingston-Speights pick and pop from last play. Notice how last time Kanter played up closer to Speights, so this time he plays down by the free throw line to discourage a Livingston drive.

So Livingston does a Curry-esque behind the back pass to Speights who cans a three. Folks, this is no longer a novelty act. The Warriors are now running pick and pops out to the arc so Mo can shoot threes. In the past, he would catch and shoot the ball closer to the elbow (the left and right edges of the free throw circle).

Q4.11:05. GSW 87-83

This is another high pick and roll with Kanter screening for Durant. They set up way up high at the logo so Durant can have some room to beat the double team. As expected, Iguodala and Speights double team. While Mo contains Durant a bit, Andre uses his arms to cut off a release pass to the left side. The spacing is weird and the Thunder have Singler under the basket and not spacing at the arc.  Durant misses a tough layup, and the Warriors counterattack...

Did you see that insane bounce pass that Livingston threw?  On the money, right in stride, tight between two defenders. And what a tough finish, but I expect the chaotic good out of Barbosa.

Q4.10:29. GSW 89-85

Durant answers with a dunk when Speights gets mixed up on defense.

The Dubs respond with this familiar play. Recognize it?

This is a sweet little back screen play with Barnes feeding Livingston and getting the instant back screen from Mo. The W's run this semi-regularly. Here's one run the exact same way earlier this year with Andre feeding Livingston and using a back screen from Mo, also for an alley-oop dunk.

More details here: Explain One Play: Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green throw down huge dunks.

Q4.10:29. GSW 91-85

You can probably tell I'm not a fan of the OKC offensive system. I particularly don't like this play they run. There's some clock killing motion ending up with a static Durant isolation on the left with all four Thunder clearing to the right side and standing around. I just don't get it. In this formation, it's easy for someone help off the gang of four on the right side.

For instance, OKC used this "play" at the end of Saturday, enabling the Curry Shot Heard Around The World.  I know you won't mind seeing this again.  On his first drive, Westbrook will end up isolating with four on the right. Just look at the Warriors defenders on the right all jumping and snapping at the chance to come help off their defender.  On Westbrook's first drive you have literally every Warrior sagging into the paint to come help.

Anyway, back to today. KD sets up isolated on the left with four standing around on the right.  How does KD expect to be played?  The same way as from the previous clips in this article. He expects the W's to help into the paint against him, plus for Iguodala to come double team him. If Andre comes to blitz Durant, that will leave Singler, a good 3 point shooter, open for a kick out pass. This is what happens...

Andre pretends to help on Durant and then springs out to deflect the kick out to Singler. Then he hobbles his way down court, looking as old as you possibly can while on a fast break dunking the life out of the Thunder.

The starters would return later in the fourth to destroy a final Thunder rally, but the real damage was done in the early fourth.

Final Thoughts

It's best not to draw too strong a conclusion from this game, as the Thunder were on the second game of a road back to back, and they played particularly tough and demoralizing minutes yesterday against the Clippers. But the Warriors seem to now have a working theory for guarding Durant, and this was the first merely very good game (not the legendary level of the last few) that Durant's had against GSW in recent memory. In crunch time, double him and force him to rotate the ball. Then keep scrambling until the ball gets to Roberson or some other offensive minus and then let him shoot.

Russell Westbrook is too good to be completely solved, but the Warriors are probably feeling comfortable with the current scheme:

Finally, who is to blame for the Thunder not introducing a richer offense?  The old narrative was that Scott Brooks was too dumb to put in a rich offense.  Now are two coaches in a row too dumb?  At some point, it has to be the players holding things back, and you have to imagine it starts with the stars. It's not too far-fetched that Westbrook and/or Durant just don't believe that a motion offense will help them do better. Durant said this exact thing recently defending the isolations.

You can go back to the GSOM boards when Kerr came in. There were a number of strong voices saying that taking the ball out of Curry's hands was the dumbest thing possible, etc etc. Even the Warriors reportedly didn't fully buy in until January of the first season. It's a testament to the savvy of the coaching staff, the willingness of players to trust a new system, the unselfishness of Curry to go to a system that would reduce his direct control of the game, and which might depress his numbers right as he was breaking out as an All-Star.

So, I know Durant is a sublimely good player. But I do wonder how well he will fit into a motion offense with reads and much off-ball play, and how much he'd be willing to sacrifice his numbers and control, for a shot at a ring.

I think the most likely outcome is that Durant signs up for one more year with OKC for $$$ and to sync up his free agency with Westbrook's. Then if GSW wins the title the year before his free agency, I have a tough time imagining him signing up with GSW to be a ring chaser.  If GSW does NOT win the title, then it would be psychologically much more likely he would join, as he'd now be the necessary missing piece.

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.