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Explain One Play: Surgical Curry-Iguodala pick-and-rolls finish Clippers

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We look at three surgically precise pick-and-rolls run by Stephen Curry which beat back the late comeback in the Warriors-Clippers game on Feb 2, 2017.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Los Angeles Clippers
I’m in love with the roll-roll, I got it for the low low
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Shades of Groundhog Day, didn’t we have a game just like this last year in Los Angeles when the Clippers had a fierce comeback which fell short?

The Clippers turned a sleepy workman-like victory into an unexpectedly close ending, cutting the big lead to 7 with less than two minutes left. Steve Kerr called a timeout, not satisfied with the general messing around, and ran three straight high pick-and-rolls with Stephen Curry.

The question is always, who should screen for Curry? The answer on paper is that Kevin Durant should screen as he is the best other scorer. But the W’s seem to be settling in on Draymond Green setting the screen, because he sets better screens and he can still make good decisions if Curry is double-teamed and Green has to run a 4-on-3 .

Tonight, the answer was more blurry, since Green was out. Would they now go with Durant as the screener? Surprisingly, no. They went with Andre Iguodala as the screener. Obviously Iguodala makes great decisions with the ball, but he historically avoids contact on screens. Let’s see how it worked out.

#1. Q4.1:44, 124-117 GSW

This exact play has unfolded in the way so many times with Green setting the screen. Here Andre basically barely sets the screen, but both Austin Rivers and Marresse Speights both go to Curry. Here’s the actual play.

I guess this is Speights zoning to contain Curry’s drive, but it’s basically as vulnerable as a double team. I personally believe the only way to counter the high pick-and-roll run by Curry is to switch and take your chances.

Anyway, it’s a soft double team so Curry immediately releases to Iguodala on the short roll and now he’s running the 4-on-3. Patrick McCaw’s man sinks into the lane to stop the Iguodala dunk, so the pass goes to McCaw. Durant’s man goes to McCaw, so the smart rookie passes to Durant for the open 3.

Notice how this whole play happened because of Curry’s gravity, but he won’t get an assist or even a secondary assist for this.

#2. Q4.1.13. 127-119 GSW

So the Warriors run the same Curry-Iguodala pick and roll. Last time, Speights sank too low and let Curry have the easy release pass. This time, Rivers and Speights double team Curry tighter. Curry accepts the double team and drives down the left lane line. But instead of releasing to Iguodala, this happens:

Wesley Johnson has cheated into the lane in case Curry gets past the wall of three defenders. This is gravity! There are four Clippers walling off Curry from the basket. Johnson is too far away to recover directly to Klay Thompson in the corner, but he’s counting on being fast enough to recover if Curry first releases the ball to Iguodala like last play. So Curry short cuts the process and skip passes to Thompson. It’s a surprise pass as he whips it one-handed directly off a quick dribble. What a pass, and a nice clean open shot by Thompson.

Now the game is over.

Again, Iguodala barely sets a screen. I guess the W’s realized that on these plays Green doesn’t usually need to make big contact, so why not try Iguodala? I think the experiment is a success.

#3. Q4.0.53. 130-120 GSW

I’m fairly sure this is a set play the W’s were trying out. Durant will first pre-screen for Iguodala (often called a ram screen) freeing him to come over to set a screen for Curry. Here’s the rest of the play.

The trick is that Curry doesn’t release to Iguodala when he’s double teamed, but rather to Durant on the opposite wing. Then Durant hits Iguodala cutting to the basket. Now you have a 3-on-2 with Curry and Durant spacing at the wings. Iguodala is stopped, so he hits the open Thompson, who misses the ultra-open three.

I’m not sure I like this play. Curry gave up a straight drive in order to double back to reverse the ball to Durant. That reversal pass can easily pressured. Iguodala was open and rolling anyway for the usual 4-on-3. So, interesting play but I think it needs something else to make it a good play.

Final thoughts

I don’t think Curry gets enough credit for his court vision and his passing. Yes, his hot dog passes are sometime irresponsible, but his ability to find the open man is outstanding and his passing generally on point. He’s pioneered a couple of passes which are now being copied: that backwards bounce pass to a pop man, and the perimeter behind-the-back pass.

You can search the Explain One Play Mega-Index for “pick-and-roll” and “pre-screen” for similar plays.