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Well, that turned out to be a fun game after all. The W’s defense allowed them to storm back from 16 points down to win Game 3 in Portland. The real movement happened in the third quarter when the W’s started throwing double-team traps at Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, causing live turnovers and stops. The W’s, for all their press about great shooters and motion offense, are at their best when counter-punching in chaos and turning defense into offense.
Let’s analyze an interesting fourth quarter sequence which basically decided the game where the W’s had to defend the same play three times in a row, and the W’s twice counterpunched with Andre Iguodala dunks. It begins with 5:24 left in the fourth, and Portland with the ball, down 102-98 and ends at 4:05 with the W’s up 108-100.
Option 1: Lillard to McCollum flare
I like this play. You’ll see Lillard with the ball on the left wing, and McCollum runs by to threaten a screen for LIllard, but he immediately slips the screen, taking the W’s by surprise.
The W’s are running a defense which involves switching all screens, and keeping a shot blocker (here JaVale McGee) in the paint as a goalie against drives. Occasionally they throw in a trap on the Blazer star guards. Here McCollum slips the screen and catches Klay Thompson stuck between trapping LIllard and switching to McCollum (Stephen Curry has already switched to Lillard on the screen).
So Lillard hits McCollum with the pass and Thompson makes an incredible effort to contest McCollum’s shot perfectly. McCollum bails out very late in the shot, and throws it to Curry. On the one hand, this is a very easy steal for Curry. On the other hand, Curry is always in the middle of these kinds of plays. (For Game 1’s Explain One Play: Draymond’s five massive blocks, we admired Draymond Green’s incredible dunk block, but it would have been for nothing without Curry’s hustle rebound.) When focused, he plays high quality defense, and is alert, quick and in the right place.
Iguodala’s three point shooting looked dreadful, but his dunks were electric.
Option 2: Lillard high pick and roll
Okay, the Blazers run the play again. This time, you’ll see Thompson properly navigate the switch when McCollum runs by Lillard. So the Blazers flow quickly into the second option, which is pick and roll with whomever JaVale McGee is defending. You’ll see Draymond Green stop Lillard’s drive, and then when Lillard passes to his cutter, Green tries to rotate and...
... and as Green rotates, he gets clobbered by his own man McGee. Well, you win some and you lose some with McGee, and the W’s win more than they lose.
You can see the Blazers want to attack McGee with the pick and roll. Green is playing goalie by leaving his man Noah Vonleh open in the right corner. Vonleh does the right thing and makes himself a threat by cutting to the basket.
If you look at Green’s body language, he looks irritated that he was taken out by McGee because he had the play sniffed out. But he doesn’t seem to chew out McGee. I don’t remember him ever getting on McGee like that, and Green has done that to almost everyone else on the team. If that’s so, I think that shows a psychological savviness. McGee strikes me at a player whose temperament and history may make him extra sensitive to getting chewed out.
I guess we’ll never know if Green could have rotated back to stop Vonleh... or will we?
Option 3. Lillard high pick and roll, again
The Warriors respond by running the simple Thompson loop to an elbow jumper, so the lead is 6 again. The Blazers go back for the third time in a row to the same play. Why not? It got a dunk last time. You’ll see the McCollum screen (which the W’s switch again) flowing into the high pick and roll with McGee’s man (which gets played awkwardly by McGee in space) with Green rotating to stop the drive again... so far this is deja vu all over again.... and Lillard passes to the cutter and...
...this time Green does not get nailed by McGee, he rotates, and gets a sweet block on the cutter. Green reportedly has a basketball photographic memory, so if you run the same play a couple of times, he’s going to figure it out.
Bonus enjoyment: Andre Iguodala also sniffed out the play... This time, he completely abandons his man to stop Lillard and then rotates to try to block the Vonleh dunk.
The rest of the play
The Warriors counter-attack. See if you can see why Iguodala gets free for the dunk.
It’s actually due to Curry! In all of the chaos, Iguodala ends up with the ball at the wing with Curry running by him to get a handoff. Lillard, at least, believes that’s what’s coming and he cheats out to switch onto Curry as he comes up. Instead, Iguodala fakes the handoff, turns and drives straight to the basket.
W's lucky to be only down 13. Clearly, all the W's need to gather round the Holy Toaster and sign it again. *clap clap* lets do this people— Eric Apricot (@EricApricot) April 23, 2017
The first half really felt like it was a twenty-point blowout, but the W’s just kept hanging around.
No matter the outcome of this game, I think Patrick McCaw leveled up.— Eric Apricot (@EricApricot) April 23, 2017
By far this was Patrick McCaw’s most composed, aggressive, hustling game. I suspect this is a big step forward for him.