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Explain One Play: Warriors screen for Klay Thompson's 37 points

The Warriors overwhelmed the Blazers with screen after screen. We breakdown how Big Smokey Thompson scored 37 points (this time taking a whole game, the slacker) in the Blazers-Warriors Game 1.

"All-star powers activate! Form of a triple-double machine! Shape of... uh, what were we talking about?"
"All-star powers activate! Form of a triple-double machine! Shape of... uh, what were we talking about?"
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

First strike, Warriors.  In our micro preview in Explain One Play: The Blueprint to Wins Without Curry, we said:

it's a matter of survival to follow a blueprint to winning without Curry. Here it is.

  • gritty switching defense (with goalie backup) to keep them in games
  • fast break opportunities off stops
  • Klay shooting streaks to get separation
  • making simple plays to reduce turnovers
  • post up smaller defenders to pass to cutters (and score)
  • motion offense to pick on weak defenders without ISOs

On the face of it, the Blazers have vulnerabilities similar to the Rockets'. They have defenders in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum who are so-so defenders on-ball and quite distractible off-ball. Expect to see the offense force them to play alert off-ball defense on whoever they guard, and for them to be posted up often.  On offense, the Blazers can possibly be reduced to a spread-pick-and-roll team by having the Warriors switch all screens. And expect to see occasional double teams of ball handlers if the switch + goalie scheme isn't containing their high scoring backcourt.

This is basically what you saw in Game 1. Let's focus on the Blazers defense on Klay Thompson viewed through the lens of this nice Klay highlights package. I'll annotate each play and then reflect afterwards. Times are game time.

Q1.11:46. Baseline inbounds play. Klay runs around a high screen from Draymond Green and curls around an Andrew Bogut screen. Nice pass, nice shot. McCollum was guarding Klay and couldn't handle the two screens himself. Notice the lack of switching.

Q1.10:04.  Starts as a standard Klay curling around a Bogut Screen (for more details, see Explain One Play: Klay Thompson curls a go-ahead three). Shaun Livingston drives, gets stuck and then Klay curries it in from near the logo. The difference between him and Stephen Curry is that Klay can hit that, but he only allows himself one super deep shot per game, and not in high leverage moments. I think he's growing into it.

Q1.9:40. Klay just keeps going and is pick up by Lillard and McCollum. Neither of them can block his shot, so Klay just rises up and cans the 1-on-5 fast break jumper.

Q1.7:41. The doom starts early on this play. McCollum had a long headstart on Klay on the fast break, but didn't hustle to pick Klay up. So Mason Plumlee has to take Klay, and so McCollum picks up Draymond.  Draymond will post up McCollum 24 hours of the day, and Klay feeds him. Here is an example of what we discussed in Explain One Play: The Blueprint to Wins Without Curry:  you don't have to run an isolation play to take advantage of a mismatch. Klay is faster than Plumlee, and Plumlee is using the league-standard defense on Klay (and Steph) of holding him. So Klay back cuts and Draymond hits him with a sweet pass.  Also good to see Klay finishing those layups, which used to be such an adventure.

Q1.6:40. Klay finds an open Draymond under the basket. In the preceding rebounding scrum, Plumlee and #4 Maurice Harkless got confused and both covered Bogut. Harkless needed to communicate his switch to Plumlee better.

Q1.6:11. Klay posts up McCollum. They could do this all day, but that could bog down the offense, and it's a bit of a waste of Klay's three point skills. Anyway, McCollum gamely bodies up Klay, so Klay resets to Draymond, who immediately gets it back once Klay gets his balance. Did you notice that Dray was starting a second option by waving Harrison Barnes to get a back screen from Shaun Livingston and himself? That's the difference between the Warriors offense this year and last: there are more options and richer improvisation.

Q1.3:27. Really nice find from Anderson Varejao. Allan Crabbe played energetic D on Klay, but here he turns his head for a split second and Klay cut to open space, and makes a tough shot despite the recovery from Crabbe.

Q1.0:12. This is a classic Screen The Screener action. (More: Explain One Play: Curry & Green punish switches.) Klay first screens for Barbosa, then Klay runs off a screen from Draymond. Crabbe tries to recover, but Klay has a very fast shot release and hits the catch and shoot.

Q2.7:15. Klay curls around a Bogut screen (as usual) and gets past McCollum. Bogut's defender Ed Davis sinks back to stop Klay, and he kicks it out to Bogut. Bogut surprises everyone with the baby push shot.

Q2.2:20. This is stabbing Portland in the weak spot. Livingston is guarded by Lillard, McCollum as usual is on Klay. So they run a post-cross split cut (see Explain One Play: Klay Thompson Turns Bobbles Into Points) where the ball goes to Draymond in the post, and S-Dot screens for Klay. Lillard is slow on the switch and Klay gets a simple layup.

Q2.1:05. It's a rule of thumb that if you miss a layup on one end, you give up an open shot on the other. Here McCollum ends up on the floor under the basket. The Warriors push the ball 5-on-4 and mathematics dictates that if players space right, there will be an open man. The Warriors all space about 15 feet apart, and Harrison is the lucky winner of the open lottery. He hits that corner three, which used to be automatic, but hasn't been since his ankle injury.

Q2.0:02. Touchdown pass from Draymond, Klay with a beautiful stepback jumper.

Q3.8:53. Klay runs his defender McCollum off of two screens (S-Dot and Bogut) for the open three. The announcer says McCollum was "right there", but it is hard for him to block the taller Klay from behind.

Q3. Warriors run the sideline out of bounds version of the Warriors Rip play (Klay back screens for a cutter), and then (Screen the Screener!) Klay gets a screen from Bogut to get an open short jumper. Plumlee does not switch out in any way to contest the shot. This is clearly the Blazers scheme: play Klay straight one-on-one with McCollum, no switches.

Q3.3:49. I really feel for McCollum on this play. This is another Post-Cross and Varejao screens McCollum. He fights through the screen. Before he can stop, Klay immediately re-uses the screen and that's another 3 point layup. You can't expect McCollum to handle these screens himself. Ed Davis is Varejao's man and the Blazers scheme has him sagged back in the lane to stop a Klay drive, so C.J. was on his own.

Q3.2:38. This is a mess of a play with Klay driving on Crabbe (with weakside action of Andre Iguodala curling up around a Draymond screen), then Klay charging (as in a foul), dishing to Varejao, and then having Andy canning a midrange jumper. The Blazers could probably take that to the People's Court and get refunded the 2 points for injustice.

Q3.0:31. This is a rare high pick and roll for Klay. Klay is most dangerous cutting and using screens for catch and shoots and back cuts. But this is the end of the quarter, and the W's are up 17, so they don't feel like flashing something interesting from the playbook. The Blazers scheme has Ed Davis sagged back to contain the Klay drive. The problem is he does not contain Klay's drive. Very tough finish from Mr. Thompson.

Q4.6:50. This starts with an irresponsible pass from Lillard. Kind of tired offense from the Warriors. Klay finally does a neat spin on Crabbe, then dishes to Bogut, who again hits the funny baby push shot.

Q4.2:18. This starts with with a Reverse Pick and Pop (Klay screening for Draymond! More: Explain One Play: Reverse Green-Curry Pick and Pop), which is decently covered, so Klay drives and kicks to Draymond. I don't now if Dray was assist-hunting here, but Klay ends up taking a little flare screen from Barnes to rub off McCollum (notice the theme?) for the three.

Final Thoughts: Adjustments

What adjustments will the Blazers make for Game 2? Klay Thompson made a few tough shots, making what was probably a comfortable 10 point win into a 15-20 point game for most of the night. Lillard and McCollum had pretty rough shooting nights, so perhaps they are good for 10-20 more points on a hot shooting night, or if the Warriors run into a lot of foul trouble.  So, they could roll the dice and say that was a bad game and we'll get better production with the same game plan.

They could also say the Blazers needed time to adjust to the Warriors switching defense, as they've just has a whole series of the Clippers blitzing Lillard/C.J. with double teams, and the Warriors will only throw that in for variety.

They could shuffle the lineup and start Allen Crabbe (+2) and Ed Davis (+8).

The biggest adjustment the Blazers could make is to start switching screens. I don't think McCollum and Lillard can fight through screens to stay with Klay off-ball, and I don't think this ICE-ish defense (of having the big sag into the lane) is working. I'm not sure how much experience the Blazers have with the Switching Defense that the rest of the league has adopted against the Warriors (more: Explain One Play: Around the world for a Stephen Curry 3), as I don't believe they've used it against the Warriors. And given the hiccups in defensive communication we saw tonight, I'm not sure the Blazers can pull off Switching.

In any case, I believe Portland, unlike Houston, is capable of making changes. The question is what adjustments will come and how well will they execute.

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