It is a requirement that whenever Stephen Curry dunks, this column has to analyze it. After all, it only happens once or twice a year.
The play begins with a high pick-and-roll with Taj Gibson screening for Russell Westbrook. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green guard the attack. Thompson starts off on Westbrook, but on the screen Green switches to take Westbrook. (Related Hint: don’t screen with Green’s man.) Watch as Westbrook tries to slip a pass to the rolling Gibson.
Thompson quickly recovers from switching to Gibson by racing over to cut of Westbrook with arms up in the passing lane. Green also has arms in the passing lane and either one of them gets a piece of it, Gibson is distracted or Westbrook throws the pass behind him. If the pass had gotten through, Zaza Pachulia was waiting to stop the drive.
Pachulia is a competent man-to-man defender but not good when defending someone quick in space. All night the Golden State Warriors had good luck guarding the Westbrook pick-and-roll, with switching, forcing Westbrook towards help and making him throw difficult passes. In the end, Westbrook was 4-for-16 for 15 points with five turnovers and a game low -25.
In reality, Curry picks up an easy steal and throws down his best dunk, in the sense that he doesn’t hit the rim. It’s been reported that the W’s keep track of Curry’s dunks but dock him fractions for hitting the rim. He throws in a dab for the entertainment of the bench.
Westbrook wanders on defense
Let’s look at a couple of other plays. Westbrook is a good man-to-man defender but gets careless and distracted when guarding off-ball. When he’s guarding a ball-dominant player, like many point guards, then it’s not as much of a problem since his attention is fixed on-ball. But the Warriors use Curry and Thompson off-ball and their constant motion keeps defenders on their toes.
In this first one, the Warriors make very elementary motions on the right side to distract Westbrook, who is guarding Curry. Andre Iguodala sets a quick flare screen for Curry, letting him pop out for a spot-up 3.
Westbrook just seems happy to be within five feet of Curry and is taken by surprise by the flare. He uses his impressive athleticism to explode past Iguodala’s screen and barely deflect the pass. Westbrook can get away with this kind of effort sometimes, but over the course of a Warriors game, he’ll pay.
Later, there is an interesting play where Westbrook plays 18 seconds of strong defense until his attention fades. Follow Westbrook and how he first cuts off passes to Curry and then follows him around two screens.
When the ball is passed to David West in the post with six on the shot clock, most teams would just let West isolate. Not the Warriors. Curry never stops moving without the ball and he cuts tightly by Pachulia, imagining that Westbrook is still tight on his tail, and then tight by West to possibly get a second screen. In reality, Westbrook is not tight on his tail, having decided to chill once he thought West was posting up, and Curry gets the nice pass and the wide open corner three.
The play itself is interesting, as I believe it was some set play that was blown up when Victor Oladipo busted up the handoff to Iguodala right at the start, and when Westbrook denied the initial passes to Curry. I believe at this point, the Warriors started to improvise options. Iguodala and Pachulia ran a half-hearted pick and roll, which the Oklahoma City Thunder blew up by doubling Iguodala. At this point Curry starts cutting close by every big he can hoping Westbrook will get lost, and he does.
Come on man, basketball isn’t supposed to work this way. Instant karma, Curry style.