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Explain One Play: Around the world for a Stephen Curry 3

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The ball whips all around the world and lands in a rainbow in the basket. We look at three further ways the Warriors counter the Spurs switching defense, from the Warriors-Spurs game on Apr 10 2016.

"Back, you demons!" "ONE OF US. ONE OF US."
"Back, you demons!" "ONE OF US. ONE OF US."
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs certainly gave the Warriors their full attention on Sunday night, if not the full use of their playbook. The Spurs played rough strangling defense for the first half with the Dubs playing strong D to stay in the game. I think the offenses were a little hamstrung this game as neither team wanted to show off many new plays and looks.

The Spurs have been defending the Warriors by switching assignments when screened. That's been the story of the last month as the Warriors have needed to go Next Level with their offense to fight this new standard defense copied across the NBA against the Dubs. Last Spurs game, we discussed how the Warriors have countered the Switching Defense by

  1. attacking unforced switching errors,
  2. setting fake screens, and
  3. creating Three Man Games by setting a pre-screen for the screener

(See Explain One Play: Stephen Curry is pre-screened for three pointers for details)

We'll look at two plays from the pivotal third quarter to discuss three further ways to attack the Switching D. The third quarter was pivotal as the Spurs went on a 10-0 run (felt like a 30-0 run at the time), and the Warriors fought back to take the lead, which they never quite gave up for the rest of the game.

4. Posting Up Smalls

Very often when a small like Tony Parker or Patty Mills got switched onto someone with a post game (for example, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Shaun Livingston, Draymond Green), the big would just back them down in the post. This is an okay option when the lineup is offense-challenged (like bench-heavy lineups), but not good for the main lineup, since it tends to make the offense stagnate and people stop cutting as much.  So let's look at the other two ideas.

5. Using Double Screens

Here's the beginning of the Warriors comeback, down 8 with 10 min left in the 3rd. This is an ATO (a set after-timeout play) which the Warriors tried to run on the previous possession, but Danny Green stole the first pass to Klay for a layup. So, the Warriors ran the play again. I haven't seen the Warriors run this play before.

There are some preliminaries, but Andrew Bogut ends up with the ball on the high wing with Stephen Curry cutting hard from under the basket up around three screens, from Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Andrew Bogut, who looks like he'll handoff to Curry. Then the unexpected happens:

Bogut does not handoff to Curry. Instead he swivels and hits Klay for an open 3. He misses, but Draymond gets the putback. How did Klay get open and Dray get the rebound?  It's because of a mistake in the Spurs switching scheme. Curry is getting a screen from Klay and then Bogut.  With a single screen, it is easy to communicate a switch: either you switch assignments or you don't. Now three Spurs have to coordinate switches: Tony Parker (on Curry), Danny Green (on Klay) and David West (on Bogut). Amazingly, ALL THREE Spurs switch to Curry. This is not efficient. I believe Bogut's pass to Klay was the planned first option, but it works great as a live read as well.

Now, why was Draymond open for the rebound?  Kawhi Leonard is guarding Draymond, but he has to jump out to harass Klay's open three. The moment Draymond sees Klay is shooting, he goes straight to the basket with no Kawhi to box him out. Hustle score to break a scoring drought.

How did this defense become a mess?  Why does the Spurs switching kill the Warriors post-cross split-cuts but not this play, which is basically a variant of the split cut? (Details on post-cross split cuts: Explain One Play: Bogut between the legs to Klay 3)  Because the vanilla post-cross has Klay and Curry screening for each other, which is easily defeated by a switch. Since Bogut is threatening to dribble-handoff to Curry and set a screen for him, it suddenly becomes a Three Man Game.

6. Keep Running Your Offense

One big theme that Steve Kerr pushes is to keep the offense flowing. Just because you get a switch and a mismatch, you don't have to stop your offense to take advantage of it.

So this play comes at the end of the first comeback push, and Curry pushes the ball in early offense, running a 2-on-3 break. Patty Mills plays fine defense to stop Curry's drive, but Curry keeps pushing the ball on a 3-on-4 break. He runs around Mills and gets LaMarcus Aldridge to switch to him.  Now a more boring offense, say the Thunder's, would have everyone spread out so Curry could back out and attack Aldridge in isolation.

This is not a more boring offense. Watch what happens.

First Curry keeps control of tempo by going under the rim and hitting Barnes in the left corner for a three. Kawhi closes out sharply, so Barnes quickly resets the ball to Draymond at the top.

Here's where Curry takes advantage of the mismatch of LaMarcus Aldridge. LMA is a big. Bigs usually defend big screeners, so they practice jumping out at smalls, not navigating screens. See how Curry runs out from the basket and gives just the slightest hand motion to Andre Iguodala. Andre, being a wise ancient, knows to step up and set a back screen that takes out both his man Kyle Anderson and LaMarcus Aldridge, who, being big, is already too slow to keep up with Curry's flare. LMA hits Andre's screen and dies on it. He shoves Anderson in the back to switch him to Curry, but it is way too late.

It also just looks pretty watching the ball whip all around the world and land in a rainbow in the basket.

Final Thoughts

Yup, I still get a thrill from beating the Spurs.  The Clippers wins have lost some of their spicy deliciousness, as have the Grizzlies wins. But Spurs wins are still delicious. Part of it is that these Spurs are one of the best teams in history. But beyond that, it's just felt like a curse, this drought in San Antonio.  I know some people point out that the Dubs already beat them once (and nearly twice grrrrr) in the 2013 playoffs in SA. But to be honest, that felt like catching them off guard in an ambush, like a cute and cuddly Vorpal Bunny that goes nuts. Once the Spurs took things seriously and tossed a Holy Hand Grenade, the Warriors were not going to win at SA again.

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.