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Explain One Play: The wild ending to WCF Game 1

Durant and Thompson show growth by making big passes in a wild ending to Game 1 of the Spurs-Warriors series.

San Antonio Spurs v Golden State Warriors - Game One
Another lucky basket for the only lucky team
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

For unfamiliar terms, check out the glossary at the end.

What a wild game. And what a shame that Kawhi Leonard re-injured his ankle. The loss of Leonard definitely seemed to knock the wind out of the San Antonio Spurs, and also gave the Golden State Warriors new hope.

So, the Warriors got an unrequested stroke of luck, but still had to make up a 23 point deficit to a squad that, without Leonard, just atomized the Houston Rockets on the road in an elimination Game 6. It came all the way down to a way-too-close end where Klay Thompson fouled Patty Mills for four free throws and also let Mills rip the ball from him for a last minute steal.

Let’s not linger on that ending and instead take a quick look at the last three Warriors baskets, which involved great passing from Thompson and Kevin Durant, who rarely pass in crunch time, and a good isolation play from Stephen Curry.

Q4.1:25. GSW 106, SA 106

This video seems to start a little early, but I began it early since the whole play happens because Thompson runs past Danny Green with 21 seconds left on the shot clock.

Danny Green looked tired in the last two minutes. Here Thompson runs by him and was actually open for a layup, but that was the exact moment that Draymond Green set a drag screen on Curry’s defender.

Thompson, to his credit, doesn’t pout and keeps running hard to use a flare screen from Shaun Livingston. Manu Ginobili is holding Livingston, but suddenly the hunter becomes the hunted when Livingston holds Ginobili back from the flaring Thompson. Ginobili fights through the screen and switches to Thompson as Danny Green takes Livingston.

Draymond Green backcuts behind Jonathon Simmons, but Simmons seems to have it under control until he suddenly panics and loses Draymond. He seemed unsure about whether to help on Thompson’s drive. At that moment, Thompson makes a wonderful pass to the open Draymond for the huge and-1.

Q4.0:52. GSW 109, SA 106

So everybody has been begging for the Durant-Curry pick and roll (recent discussion here) because on paper both stars would have gravity and make the defense unable to help or would leave a fatal opening. This play shows there’s more than one way for Curry and Durant to work together. It begins with Durant isolating on Ginobili in the high post. Curry recognizes the mismatch and feeds Durant. But then...

Curry makes a perfect backcut and Durant shows no hesitation passing. I don’t know why Danny Green turned his back on Curry. Perhaps he was tired or perhaps he was considering double-teaming Durant to help. But the second he turns his head, Curry is sprinting to the basket.

LaMarcus Aldridge is the last line of defense, and he needs to rotate to defend Curry’s drive. Instead, he stays with his man and gives up an open layup.

Q4.0:52. GSW 109, SA 106

This comes after the awful Thompson turnover to Mills turned an almost-sure-win into a must-score, one-possession game. Curry’s goal right now is to run the clock down as much as possible. If they run a read and react play, it may not take the whole time, so Curry goes to the good old-fashioned pick and roll. They get Livingston to set the screen.

Why use Livingston as the screen? The reason is there are four speedy defenders who can harass Curry. The fifth Spur on the floor is Aldridge, so whomever he is guarding gets to set the screen. The Spurs — like most NBA teams in crunch time — voluntarily switch the screen.

Now Curry has Aldridge guarding him out on the perimeter. Thompson and Durant can space out their defenders, but Draymond Green’s defender Ginobili will leave him freely and risk a jumper from him. So Green hangs near the basket, bringing Ginobili with him to under the basket. Livingston makes it worse by taking the switched Mills and snowplowing him down the lane. This leaves the lane very clogged.

So Curry gets Aldridge off-balance, and then side steps to where there is some breathing room at the free throw line, and he gets a serious shooter’s roll off the rim.

The game in tweets

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