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Explain One Play: Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson Are The Screen Brothers

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We look at Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala screening for Stephen Curry for open shots in Game 4 of the 2016 NBA Finals vs the Cavaliers.

NBA: Finals-Golden State Warriors at Cleveland Cavaliers
“My shoes are fire, ask any nurse practitioner!”
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Cavaliers played a strong Game 4, but just couldn’t hold on at the end. They looked gassed in the fourth period and their defense and ferocious rebounding started suffering. The Warriors on the other hand re-doubled their efforts on the boards in the second half and turned up their defensive intensity to eleven in the fourth quarter. The pressure, along with some tired CLE isolation offense, fueled a tough gutty road win. Maybe Kerr is on to something with his Strength in Numbers jazz, especially going deep with the patchwork of big men.

Here is a play that jumped out at me (and was analyzed briefly on TV... you know I like it when Jeff van Gundy talks about basketball, strategy and coaching. All the other pundit-y stuff I’d like to unsubscribe from.

The Klay Thompson Screen for Stephen Curry

Okay, this play looks great on paper, works great in NBA2K, works well in real life. Here are a couple of past examples. Basically, Klay sets a high screen for Steph. This leaves the defense troubled. Do you allow Steph to use the screen? Then if you overplay one of them, the other might kill you from 3.

Here’s the most prominent use of the play this year. This is the gamewinner in Utah.

This feels so long ago... Anyway, Utah actually did a very nice job defending this play, choosing to switch assignments. Steph just Steph’ed.

This is a good play.

Try #1. Open Three for Klay

This play came during a crucial part of the game. The Cavs were threatening to put the game out of reach, twice bumping the lead to 8. The Dubs got a good stop on one end and needed a good shot. Watch.

Kyrie Irving guards Steph, J.R. Smith guards Klay. Klay sets the screen but immediately slips the screen. Kyrie stays with Steph through the screen, J.R. switches to Steph. I’m not sure who is right, but from the body language afterwards, it was not the game plan to blitz that.

A huge 3 to bring the W's right back to near-even.

Try #2. Open Three for Curry

Well, it worked so well last possession, why not run it again and see what happens?

This time Draymond does a better job of pre-screening for Klay. The pre-screen makes it harder for J.R. Smith to either stay with Klay (since he’s behind) or to switch to Curry coming back towards him (since he’s hauling butt the other way). This time J.R. and Kyrie do not repeat the mistake of last time and since they both do the opposite of what they did last play, they both run to Klay. As they bump, Kyrie sighs with his whole body. Curry gets an open three and they truly dodge a bullet there with Curry’s miss.

Try #3. Going To The Well Once Too Many Times

Why don’t the Warriors run it every time down? Why do they keep running Steph and Klay around off-ball screens? Well, Steve Kerr and Luke Walton come from the Phil Jackson coaching tree. And Phil Jackson very regularly would run system offense (the Triangle) for three and a half quarters, but then when crunch time came, it was time for the Kobe Bryant - Pau Gasol pick and roll, or the Jordan isolation up top. If you use a play too much, other teams will figure out how to contain it. In the Warriors’ case, the usual key play is the Draymond Green high screen for Steph. But this twist with Klay gets dusted off every now and then.

Anyway, they go to the well again during the stretch of the game where the W’s were so giddy with their nine-point lead that they had multiple terrible possessions (think Klay off the dribble contested 3). Let’s watch.

Even Kyrie and J.R., somewhat spacy defenders, catch on if you run the same play three times in a row. Here they expect the slip, stay with their man, let Curry throw an awful behind the back pass. This would have been the worst pass of the night except for an Andre Iguodala behind the back pass through the lane to a cutting James Michael McAdoo.

Luckily, Klay was able to get back and make a tremendous contest on Kyrie's shot, and Curry made a hard save look easy. Bonus: observe Curry yelling at himself after the save to focus and close out the game.

(If you want to see more breakdown of the Klay-Steph pick and roll, go to Explain 1 Play: Curry Cold-Blooded Go-Ahead 3.)

Bonus Play. Andre and Klay Double Screen for Steph

I like this play a lot. It’s the Three Man version of the above Klay-Steph pick and roll. I’ve harped on Three Man Game a lot this year, as the Warriors have had to complicate their motion offense to handle the now-standard switching defenses. (See the last ten Explain One Plays starting with Explain One Play: Stephen Curry to Open Bogut Dunk.)

Basically, when you have two screeners, it transform the simple switching decision from {"Switch or Not") into something way more complicated. (Each player has 3 players they can cover, so theoretically there are 27 possibilities if you count triple teams, 24 if you don't. Two Man Games have only 2 choices per player, leaving 4 total possibilities.)

For instance, we saw this formation in a big-time moment, in Game 7 (I don’t have to say the series).

From Explain One Play: Warriors bomb OKC bigs with 17 threes, I’ll just quote myself:

This is a nice little Three Man Game play where Curry gets a screen from Klay and Andre, and Andre immediately sets a screen for Klay. This kind of action can confound switching defenses. For instance, on this play, Klay is guarded by Roberson, who sticks with Klay through Klay's screen, and Russ switches onto Andre. But then Andre screens Roberson, so should Russ switch to Klay or not? Russ figures it out a split-second too late.

So tonight during crunch time, we saw the formation again. You’ll see Klay and Andre set high screens for Steph. But we’ll never know if Andre was going to screen for Klay (I think so) because this happens:

J.R. and Kyrie blitz double-team Steph. I don't agree with this defense. This is what the Warriors did to Kevin Durant, saving surprise double-teams for the fourth quarter. (Compare Explain One Play: Bench blitzes and breaks Durant and the immortal OKC Game 6 ending at Explain One Play: Klay and Curry splash to Game 7.)

The Cavs started blitzing Curry for the last part of the fourth quarter every time Channing Frye was guarding the screen. I get the thinking, that Curry can put Frye in a torture chamber if he switches. But Curry and the Warriors have been developing antibodies to double-team blitzes for three years now, since the Clippers series.

And at the end of Game 4, I like this new twist they have on getting out of the double teams. The key issue is this: the first level counter against blitzing Curry is to pass it to a release man who can make a play 4-on-3 (typically Draymond). So the counter to that is to have a third man jump the passing lane to the release. This has been working on and off against the Dubs. You can see here that with a double screen, you now have two release men. Klay comes out high and J.R. Smith tries to jump that pass. So Curry passes to Andre instead, gets the return pass and makes the lovely finish.

If you want to read more video breakdowns — one for every Warriors win this season — 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.