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Explain One Play: W’s shut out Blazers 14-0

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We break down the game-opening defense that shut out the Blazers 14-0 and never let them into Game 4 of the Warriors-Blazers series.

Golden State Warriors v Portland Trail Blazers - Game Four
Apologies, your dunk is not valid here
Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

See the end glossary for unfamiliar terms!

Let’s look at the defense that drove the W’s to a 14-0 start in Game 4 and effectively ended any chance the Blazers had of winning the game and series. Once the W’s get a lead, Stephen Curry allows himself heat checks and often gets on game-crushing rolls.

In general, teams want to attack Curry and Zaza Pachulia. The Warriors base defense allows free switching between Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, but the W’s try to not switch Curry or Pachulia. The W’s also freely allow the switchers to help off of anyone not named Damian Lillard or C.J. McCollum.

GSW 1-0

Portland runs a play that looks a lot like the Warriors’ post split cuts (see the Glossary at the end). The play should have the post passer, here #11 Meyers Leonard, getting the ball near the elbow, and #3 C.J. McCollum and #1 Evan Turner converging and splitting. You’ll see the Warriors shut down that play and force the Blazers into a bailout isolation for McCollum.

Yes, looks like Durant’s calf is better.

Notice in the defense:

  • Leonard tries to post up at the elbow and Draymond Green pushes him about six feet further out to the wing. A big part of post defense is just forcing players to catch the ball farther out, and Green seems to relish that kind of dirty work.
  • Curry navigates the split cut very nicely, calling out to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson to let him through to follow McCollum.
  • Leonard mashes Curry with a screen to “force” Green to switch onto McCollum for his isolation. Teams should just stop screening with Green’s defender. McCollum torched Green on a few drives earlier this series, and Green seems to have reluctantly allowed other Dubs to help on McCollums drives. Green wants to force him right, but he gets left anyway. There he is met at the rim by Zaza Pachulia who freely leaves Leonard to help.

GSW 4-0

Okay, Lillard comes down and hoists up a very quick long 3. One hesitates to say that’s a bad shot for Lillard or Curry, but for anyone else, that’s not good. His team hasn’t caught up (McCollum isn’t even in the frame) so there’s no rebounding help.

The W’s counter attack and flow into the latest version of their dive-pop split action. The ball goes to the post passer, Green. Durant and Thompson run at each other, then this happens.

Durant pops to the arc, Thompson dives to the rim. The new formation is having Thompson come from all the way across court for the split. Nicely done.

GSW 6-0

I’m not sure what happened, but I think the Blazers attacked quickly and caught Curry defending the larger Evan Turner. The Blazers see this as a mismatch even though Curry is surprisingly good at defending bigs in the post (compare my old article Steph Curry Is Awesome At Defense).

When you are a small caught on a big, you will be at a great disadvantage if you let them catch the ball. So Curry fights hard to front Turner to prevent the easy post entry pass. I don’t quite know what happened on the pass, perhaps Curry bumped Turner, but he mishandles it and Curry makes a fantastic play to save the ball.

This flows into an early offense high pick and roll with Green screening for Curry. Two men go to Curry, as usual, and Green gets a wide open 3.

Bonus: Pachulia is very amusing this whole play. He is trying to make the play go a certain way and no one seems to understand him. I THINK he is signaling for Durant to clear to the right corner and for Curry to come get a second screen, and then when the ball comes to Green, I THINK he wants Durant to cut across and post up on the left. But frankly, it looks much more like he’s trying to do the YMCA dance mid-play.

GSW 9-0

On this play, the Blazers run McCollum off a screen and then a second screen with Pachulia’s defender to try to get an isolation on Pachulia. In fact the Blazers do end up attacking Pachulia. But the W’s have two goalies behind him.

The paint is absurdly packed throughout this whole play.

It’s a little amazing how little respect the Warriors give to Turner, spotted up for 3, and Leonard, whom they are daring to beat them with cuts or shooting, and Maurice Harkless, whom they dare to beat them with inside scoring or playmaking. Green and Durant freely help out in the paint to back up Curry and Pachulia, leaving Thompson to follow Lillard around.

One subtle thing I liked. When McCollum first swings across and gets the screen from Pachulia’s man, Pachulia does very briefly switch to tag him. But then almost immediately, Curry calls out an unswitch and he takes back the assignment of McCollum. The Warriors seem to unswitch far more than any other team, which makes sense since the W’s have the most experience with a switching defense. If Curry unswitches at the wrong time, it’s an open jumper or an open roll to the basket.

The W’s then come down court and get Klay an open 3 off a simple high pick from Pachulia.

GSW 12-0

Green, seemingly tired of this picking on Pachulia, sees Leonard stepping up to screen, and takes on the assignment of Leonard to leave Pachulia to guard Harkless. This gets Curry guarding the much larger Leonard and the rest of the play becomes a cat-and-mouse game of different Blazers trying to drive on Pachulia or get the ball to Leonard to post up against Curry.

The Blazers do get a baseline drive against Pachulia, but Kevin Durant comes to help, counting on Harkless to not be able to find the open Turner quickly enough. Turner finally gets free but messes up the pass to Leonard.

It’s fun to rewatch the play to see Curry working hard to deny any passes to Leonard throughout.

Final Thoughts

Bonus Curry highlights:

The Blazers were just too beat up to pose a real threat to the W’s. Without Jusef Nurkic or Festus Ezeli, they just didn’t have the interior firepower or defense to threaten the W’s. The W’s dared McCollum and Lillard to isolate and hit difficult shots against them, counting on one of them to not be hot. Then on the nights they both were hot, the W’s started throwing traps at them counting on the other Blazers to not be able to take advantage.

The Blazers are a likeable, well-coached, oddly-constructed team and I’d love to see them in the Western Conference Finals next year, but it’s not looking at all likely. One wonders if they have a Monta Ellis - Curry problem with two undersized guards. And what a tough choice to have to keep only one. They both have excellent jumpers. Lillard has more range and dynamic finishes at the rim. McCollum seems sturdier on defense and makes crafty, difficult shots near the paint. Tough to choose.

Next round!

Poll

Which team would be a harder matchup for the W's ?

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  • 64%
    Utah Jazz
    (569 votes)
  • 4%
    Los Angeles Clippers
    (40 votes)
  • 30%
    Kiki Vandeweghe
    (273 votes)
882 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which team do you WANT the W’s to face?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    Utah Jazz
    (90 votes)
  • 66%
    Los Angeles Clippers
    (529 votes)
  • 21%
    I don’t care, it’s quiet uptown...
    (172 votes)
791 votes total Vote Now