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Explain One Play: Stephen Curry and Next Level Offense close out Blazers

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We break down a sweet three-option, crucial play in the fourth quarter of the series-sealing Game 5 against the Portland Trail Blazers.

I hear you, Dub Nation, and I obey with the trey.
I hear you, Dub Nation, and I obey with the trey.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Blazers played with intensity and hustle, and their role players stepped up and shot the lights out from the three point line. A great series from a good young team that will only get better.

Let's look at a key play in crunch time that gave the Warriors just enough separation to let Curry carry them home. This is a nice play that has three different options built into it, which we've never seen because the first option always has worked. This is an example of the Warriors going to the Next Level with their offense this year, combining existing parts into smooth sequences.

We'll do a quick review of the first two options before looking at tonight's version.

Option 1. Weakside Rip Cut and Alley-oop

Here is the first option from two previous games. Three men stand across the top. The ball swings from one side through the top to the other side. Then the man in the middle cuts towards the basket and gets a back screen on the original side. The ball handler hits the middle cutter for an alley-oop. Here are two times that it worked like gangbusters (both with the same awful on-court camera angle, sorry).

And again, same play:

More details:Explain One Play: How Marreese Speights got his buckets.

Option 2: Warriors Rip

This is a quick review of Warriors Rip. Basically, a big (like Harrison Barnes) will get a back screen from a shooter (like Curry) to cut straight to the basket. The shooter's defender won't want to switch, so the big can get a layup. Here's an example:

More details:  Explain One Play: Stephen Curry Screen = Harrison Barnes Dunk DEJA VU!.

Tonight's Version

Well, in tonight's game, the play comes with the Blazers storming back on a 7-0 run to slice the Warriors lead to 1 point with about 4 minutes to go.

You will see that the Blazers defend Option 1!  Amazing what you can do with good coaching and scouting. Klay Thompson is the middle man cutter. Draymond Green sets the screen, but his man Aminu alertly hedges on Klay until his defender can catch up to him, which prevents the alley-oop.  The Warriors will then smoothly flow into a Warriors Rip for Harrison Barnes. This too is defended, so watch what the Warriors do after the first two options.

Okay, so Option 1, the alley-oop, was covered. (Actually a perfect pass could have gotten to Klay, but Harrison Barnes may not be the person you want making that tricky and subtle decision.)

Option 2 has Barnes throwing the ball to Draymond and immediately getting a back screen from Curry to cut hard to the basket. The Blazers actually do not switch the screen!  In fact, Barnes gets open and forces Ed Davis to leave Andre Iguodala in the corner to stop the rip cut.

So, Option 3 is Get The Ball to Steph. Now, this could just as well be a first option, and in fact in the last two minutes, Get the Ball to Steph and Steph Get the Ball became legitimate and very effective options. Why not just give the ball to Steph and let him go work all game? Well, for one thing, up until this season he was not as proficient a one-on-one isolation player. He really hit a new peak this year. Second, you don't want to force Steph to create from scratch every single play. It's tiring and the defense can start to key on him.

In this play, they give the ball to Steph, but not as a static bailout option, but after the defense is compromised from the first two options. Here, Curry gets the ball with his defender scrambling and closing out hard (so Steph can easily attack the closeout and go by him), and he also has Ed Davis away from Andre due to Option 2 (so Steph has a good second option if Davis stays home to stop his drive). Curry smartly drives straight at Ed Davis to force a switch to him, and then dishes to Andre who cans the huge three point shot.

Final Thoughts

A system offense usually only gets you so far in the playoffs. At some point, you need a player that can create good shots out of nothing. But a system offense can carry a team along and keep them in striking distance until the last half of the fourth quarter, when top players can work their magic. This is the lesson of the careers of Michael Jordan (no rings during his isolation days, six rings with the triangle offense), Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal (similar), LeBron James (no rings in isolation days, two rings with pace and space offense).

Plays like the one analyzed above put the Warriors in position to win, as did some very fine shooting from Klay Thompson, but Stephen Curry's individual isolation brilliance put them over the top at the end. So, here are some Stephen Curry highlights.

The Warriors need some rest now, with Stephen Curry obviously still limited by his injuries (it seems to take three quarters for him to warm up), Draymond Green dealing with a sprain, and Andrew Bogut likely out for the next series or more. So this was a win of outsize importance.

I think I speak for all Warriors who look forward to Spurs-Thunder going to triple overtime tonight, and then quadruple overtime in Game 7.

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.