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Explain One Play: Patrick McCaw dunks on the Mavericks

Come for Patrick McCaw’s springy alley-oop dunk, stay for the fine defense in the Warriors-Mavericks March 21, 2017 game.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Dallas Mavericks
the battle for the headband... there can only be one
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Patrick McCaw has been maturing before our eyes. He’s still a rookie (a second-rounder, let’s remember every other team rejected him), with the hesitation anyone would have about taking shots away from four All-Stars. But he’s been stable on defense and getting more aggressive on offense.

McCaw was in the middle of the run at the end of the second quarter that gave the Warriors a cushion they never gave up. Let’s look at three plays in that stretch.

Q2.3:18. GSW 49, DAL 41.

Dallas has the ball, eight down. It’s still a close contest. You’ll see Dallas run Wesley Matthews curling around a Dirk Nowitzki screen at the right elbow. Klay Thompson will be caught on the screen and Draymond Green has to switch to contain the drive. Matthews passes out to a wide-open Nowitzki when suddenly...

McCaw reads Matthews’s weak kickout all the way (see him start to run even before Matthews releases the ball). Then a fine push in early offense and a solid basic find of the open Thompson for three. Nowitzki was showing his age on defense today, getting lost on several occasions. Here either him or Harrison Barnes has to run out to guard Thompson.

Q2.2.20. GSW 52, DAL 44

Dallas trying to make a push, again with the ball, eight down. For your first viewing of this play, see how McCaw holds his own in the post defending against the big strong Harrison Barnes.

Good job, rookie. Did you notice how the Warriors twice brought a double team to help McCaw? First with Thompson swiping at Harrison Barnes, then with Matt Barnes preventing Barnes from spinning to the middle for a clean look. The Warriors have become good at quick strike double teams.

Did you notice how freely Steph Curry un-switched? This deserves its own article, but the Warriors have become the masters at what I call un-switching.

For example, notice how this whole Dallas play starts with Nowitzki setting a screen on Steph Curry? That leaves Curry switched onto the much taller Nowitzki. Trouble, right? But the Mavericks don’t immediately feed Nowitzki. So look at Curry look around for someone shorter to switch to, and look at Draymond Green pointing him to Barnes. So Curry un-switches off of Nowitzki to Barnes and Green taking over Nowitzki. Nowitzki, by the way, looks pretty pissed that he didn’t get the ball while guarded by the mouse in the house. He actually turns mid-play to complain to the bench, can you believe this schnitzel?

Anyway, Steph Curry is stuck guarding Barnes, right? Well, the Mavs don’t feed Barnes quickly, and Seth Curry is cutting baseline, so Curry shoves Barnes over to McCaw — he’s your problem now, rook — and follows Seth out of the play. Good communication, cooperation and a sense of when and where to switch and un-switch. In the future, I’ll write a fuller account of this concept and pull together a few more clips of more daring un-switches.

Q2.2.02. GSW 52, DAL 44

Then see on the counterattack how McCaw creates a mismatch with Nowitzki guarding him. He will dish to Steph who then does something simple and effective.

On the counterattack, McCaw cuts hard to the basket and actually could have had a layup contested only by Nowitzki, so probably a foul or a clean shot. But he’s still a bit tentative, and he kicks out to Stephen Curry. McCaw’s speed cut did make Nowitzki switch to guarding him.

So Curry drives baseline with his sneaky speed and forces Nowitzki to rotate to him. McCaw has wisely cleared out to the corner and Thompson spaced out to the wing to make room for him.

Look at how Curry uses his eyes and body to sell Matthews on expecting a pass to Thompson. Instead, it goes to the corner, and McCaw hits the Harrison Barnes Memorial Corner Three right in Harrison’s home corner.. Curry makes sure to high five the rookie.

Q2.0:35. GSW 60, DAL 47

It’s starting to get away from Dallas. This play starts with Klay dribble pitching to McCaw, who centers the ball to Matt Barnes. From there, this is a play the Warriors have run plenty of times with different personnel.

I did not know McCaw had McHops like that.

This is an old staple of the playbook. Here’s an old example following the same pattern. Livingston at the right wing passes to Curry at the left wing, then rip cuts straight past a back screen from Marresse Speights for an alley-oop dunk.

Tonight, they ran a special for McCaw, perhaps to reward him for his shooting and defense. McCaw at the right wing passes to Matt Barnes, then rip cuts past a back screen from Steph Curry. Bonus points for Steph getting to nail brother Seth with the back screen.

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.

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