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Explain One Play: Warriors defy Barkley, switch and win anyway

Plus, Golden State’s defense clamps down, defying Barkley and the old conventional wisdom, in Game 1 versus the Utah Jazz on May 2, 2017.

Utah Jazz v Golden State Warriors - Game One
chorus if you crash on me again, I will kick your virtual butt
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

If you don’t understand the vocabulary, check the end glossary.

Let’s look at a play from the start of the fourth quarter where the Warriors got their final separation from a game, scrappy Utah Jazz team.

The key lineup in Game 1 was Ian Clark (+7), Klay Thompson (+23) , Draymond Green (+19), Andre Iguodala (+9) and David West (+14). The +/- numbers are striking on a night where Stephen Curry (+5) and Kevin Durant (+2) didn’t post their usual big +/- numbers. It wasn’t so much that Curry and Durant played badly, but that they mostly shared the floor with Zaza Pachulia (+6) and JaVale McGee (-1). These two centers got singled out for repeated attack by the Jazz by having their man set screens for the pick-and-roll, and forcing them to defend against speedy drivers in space.

West, in contrast, was able to stay with the smalls he got switched onto, and that forced the Jazz to go to less advantageous offensive sets.

Q4. 10:14, GSW 90, UTA 73.

The W’s began the quarter up 12, but a lucky Green and-one plus a Green three have put them on the verge of putting this away.

This play was filled with very high-level switching. The Jazz actually run a version of a Warriors’ staple play: the split-cut dive-pop (see glossary). I’ll just roll it and see how many switches you can see in the video.

The ball gets thrown to Boris Diaw in the post to let him pass to cutters.

The play begins with Klay Thompson guarding George Hill (#3), Ian Clark on Dante Exum (#11), Green on Derrick Favors (#15), West on Diaw and Iguodala on Rodney Hood (#5).

  • Thompson switches off Hill to Clark and takes Exum (there’s the split cut).
  • Exum cuts to the basket, so he’s smoothly taken by Green, so Thompson switches to Favors.
  • Favors sets a screen for Hill, so Thompson smoothly takes Hill and Clark takes Favors.
  • Favors has a mismatch and pile-drives Clark into the paint to post him up. But watch Green yelling at Clark that he will take Favors. You can see Green point out where Exum is so Clark can switch to him.
  • By now, the shot clock is winding down and Diaw tosses it to Favors. (Notice how Green pushes him several feet out on the catch.) In the end, the Jazz get Favors hoisting up a mid-range shot against Green, the real Defensive Player of the Year.

That’s a lot of smooth switching in 12 seconds.

An interesting subplot to the telecast was that Charles Barkley spent the whole TNT halftime show complaining about modern switching defenses. He got Dominique Wilkins to agree with him that the mismatches would kill you. A good rule of thumb for TNT commentary is that their notes are relevant circa 1990, when those commenters were learning the game. Back then, post play was more important since teams rarely shot three-pointers and, furthermore, there were rules to force teams to play one-on-one defense. So, back then, it was a great outcome to have a big guy isolated on a small he could back down and score on.

But this is the modern day, and teams have to defend against more sophisticated offenses. The Warriors have pioneered the switching defense, and more teams are adopting it because (a) it works and (b) it is the only known defense against the Warriors’ offense. The Cavs used switching against the injured Curry to fuel their Finals comeback. So the TNT folks are woefully out-of-date.

Here’s Jazz Coach Quinn Snyder on the Warriors’ defense: “They switch a lot against the pick-and-roll; they switch a lot of screening actions ... how quickly they think and connect.”

So, in other words, the TNT folks are completely wrong, and a better rule of thumb is to not watch the halftime show at all.

Bonus play

By request:

This play starts in confusion but ends up being standard W’s action:

Basically, a screener (usually JaVale McGee) sets a pin-down screen near the low post and a shooter (usually Thompson or Curry) curls around it. They expect the screener’s defender to step out to stop the curl, and then the screener cuts in for a thunderous dunk.

Tonight’s play looks like it’s supposed to be the same idea, but run by Durant curling around Pachulia. Since it’s Pachulia, you know it’s not going to end in a thunderous dunk.

Early on, Curry waves Thompson through. He gets grabbed by two Jazz men, like in a cheap gangster movie — where do you think you’re going bucko? — and Joe Ingles holds him the entire play. So I’m not sure where Thompson is supposed to be.

Anyway, Durant cuts down the baseline and curls around Pachulia. Rudy Gobert looks like he has Durant contained, as well as Pachulia, but Durant throws a highly ambitious pass that magically slips by into Pachulia’s hands.

There was a lot of holding off-ball in general, to the extent that Curry’s defender actually got a foul call for holding.

Game tweets


The Warriors will lose their next game in

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Game 2 - letdown
    (12 votes)
  • 12%
    Game 3 - Jazz home last stand
    (141 votes)
  • 9%
    Game 4 - Jazz do or die
    (111 votes)
  • 30%
    Western Conference Finals
    (351 votes)
  • 11%
    (128 votes)
  • 20%
    2017-18 - fo fo fo fo
    (238 votes)
  • 15%
    after 2018 - fo fo fo fo 82-0 baby
    (178 votes)
1159 votes total Vote Now

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