So, what does the Warriors’ crunch-time offense look like? Tonight, it put the ball in the hands of Stephen Curry in the pick-and-roll, as he’s been requesting.
The Nuggets played well, and Nikola Jokic impressed everyone. The W’s survived an awful defensive game and a subpar performance from Kevin Durant, who missed many jumpers and was minus 4 on the night.
Here are the last two plays the Warriors ran in crunch time. The Nuggets made a push at the end to draw within six with one minute left.
Curry handles the ball high, Draymond Green sets a screen, but slips it immediately. Right behind him Kevin Durant is ready to set a screen. It’s a cute little play. If Green doesn’t get free to the basket, then Curry goes immediately into a pick-and-roll with Durant at the free throw line. As it happens, this ensues:
Green’s defender is Jokic, and the Nuggets defend the Curry-Green pick-and-roll by having Jokic sink back to contain Curry’s drive. Curry’s man follows him, so Green has an open lane to the basket. Jokic does a nice job moving laterally to challenge the shot, but Green powers through and gets the lucky roll.
Most normal NBA teams, for better or worse, would run a straight Curry-Durant high pick-and-roll. It’s orthodox for NBA teams to switch assignments when screened at the end of games, and then either Curry cooks a big man or Durant bullies a small.
Even the Warriors did this at the stagnant end of the Raptors’ game. Watch as they run a Curry-Durant pick-and-roll to invite the small Kyle Lowry to switch to Durant, and then try twice to take advantage of the height difference.
Sounds good on paper, but two fading contested isolation jumpers isn’t a great outcome. Recall too that the W’s invited Durant to isolate in late crunch time when he was the enemy. I don’t have the stats, but I’m guessing Durant’s fourth quarter shooting has not been good this year.
So tonight, they got the mismatch again with a Curry-Durant pick-and-roll, but they did something different. This time, after Curry passes to Durant, he gets a flare screen from Andre Iguodala:
I like this play. Even though Curry misses the shot, that’s a good look. And if Curry is covered, Durant can do the isolation game (and preferably drive down the lane all the way to the hoop).
Green does a great job rebounding this ball. Rewatch the video, but watch the second storyline of Green and Danilo Gallinari fighting for rebounding position. Gallinari tries to keep contact with Green to keep him boxed out from the basket. At the moment Curry winds up to shoot, Green gives Gallinari a healthy push closer to the basket.
Why closer? That means Green now has inside position on the baseline side of the rim, and Gallinari is closer to the basket than he’d like, almost under the basket. Green also sneaks an arm in front of Gallinari, giving him a 50-50 chance at balls between them. Indeed, Gallinari is now a little too close and the ball bounces over him. I also believe that at the key moment, Green propels himself up off Gallinari to keep him from jumping. Green bats the ball around and gets a lucky bounce and the basket, sealing the game.
We let Curry have the final word:
In the fourth quarter, [we’re] testing out different sets. And understanding how we’ll close out games when games are tight. And we’ll continue to get better at that, but that’s the biggest thing that you need for the playoffs. For situations down the stretch, you need a couple of buckets in a row, know what play calls you’re going to run, and being confident in whoever’s taking the shot. We create a good shot. At the end of the day, obviously you know I just miss and let Draymond clean it up.
If you want to read more video breakdowns — one for well-nigh every Warriors’ win since 2015 — check out the Explain One Play Mega-Index, searchable and sortable by player, play, team and date.