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Explain One Play: the fabled Curry-Durant pick and roll

GSW closed crunch time with the much-awaited Curry-Durant pick and roll, and wrapped up Game 2 against the Jazz on May 4th, 2017.

Utah Jazz v Golden State Warriors - Game Two
smile on your brother / everybody get together / try to screen one another right now
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Warriors fans, writers and analysts have all clamored for the Stephen Curry - Kevin Durant pick and roll play. Looks great on paper, right? Two MVPs in motion, the defense off balance, somehow a good look is coming. It works on NBA2K, right?

In real life, it hasn’t set the world on fire, so the Warriors rarely run it. For most of the year they barely used it except for funky versions, such as Curry screening for Durant and decoy pick and rolls. And the stretch when they could have really played with it, Durant got injured.

Q4.2:00. GSW 109, UTA 102

Down the stretch of Game 2, the lead meandered down to 7 points with two minutes to go. The Warriors had proven to themselves that they could crush the Jazz in the first quarter and played with no urgency for the rest of the game.

But now it was almost crunch time. So Mike Brown (or the players themselves? it’s hard to tell how much the players themselves are calling the shots) called for the legendary Curry-Durant pick and roll.

Here, Curry begins the play guarded by 6’ 3” Shelvin Mack. It’s quite typical for crunch-time defense in the NBA to call for switches on all screens, so if Durant screens for Curry, there is a good chance that Mack will switch to Durant. This will be a mismatch since Durant is way taller than him, and can back him down in the post and shoot a short turnaround jumper. See what happens.

Durant screens for Curry, and slips the screen before any real contact. If I were the Jazz, in the future, I would have Mack fight through the screen and force Curry to hit Durant as the roll man. Durant doesn’t seem as comfortable at that as you’d think.

Instead what happens is the Jazz defense has a total meltdown. First, Gobert decides to go double-team Durant. I am guessing this is not the coaches’ scheme, since right after this play, they take a timeout and come out with a different coverage on the same play.

Rudy Gobert is hidden on defense on Andre Iguodala, because Andre currently cannot hit any shot that’s not a dunk, so Gobert can freely leave him to defend the basket. Gobert leaves Iguodala who immediately cuts to the basket. Durant finds him with the nice pass, and iguodala dunks.

If you look at the rest of the defense, it’s a mess. Curry cuts after passing and he’s immediately double teamed by Joe Johnson. This then leaves a second Warrior wide open: Draymond Green, “The Marksman”.

Q4.1:41. GSW 111, UTA 102

The Jazz call timeout to straighten out their coverage, and then inbounds the ball. Watch Durant try to navigate all the switches.

  • Durant begins on Joe Johnson.
  • Gordon Hayward sets a flare screen for Johnson, so Durant switches to Hayward and Klay Thompson switches to Johnson.
  • Hayward immediately zipper cuts up past Gobert, so Durant switches to guarding Gobert and hands Hayward off to Draymond Green. I think Draymond wanted to be sure he was guarding Hayward on this crucial possession.
  • At this point, the switching defense has wiped out two screen actions, so Rodney Hood flows into a simple high pick and roll with Gobert. Durant motions like he wants to switch to Hood, but Iguodala doesn’t think that’s what’s happening, since he stays with Hood.
  • Gobert the slips the screen and cuts open to the basket. Durant and Iguodala both first think the other is dropping back to cover Gobert, then then both think they should drop back, and that leaves Hood semi-open for a 3. Lucky miss and lucky rebound, as Gobert was in position to dunk putback any bounce close to the rim.

Q4.1:29. GSW 111, UTA 102

The W’s come right back and run the Curry-Durant pick and roll again. You’ll see the expected Durant post-up of the small Mack, but peek at the off-ball action too.

Again, Durant slips the screen before any contact. As Durant backs Mack down, you see Gobert doesn’t double-team this time. Instead, he acts as a goalie shadow, waiting near the basket to come help. Gobert waits a beat too late and arrives after Durant puts up the shot. Even though he missed the bunny shot, it’s a good shot that the W’s will accept.

If Gobert arrives sooner for the double-team, Durant had two other options off-ball. First, Curry gets a back screen from Green and he cuts down the lane. He is open because Gobert is focusing on Durant and Hayward is pointing for Joe Johnson to switch to pick up Curry. Johnson is busy looking at Durant guarding no one, which can’t be the plan.

Second, on the left, the ignored Iguodala sets a flare screen for Klay to cut to the corner, and as a result gets completely open on the left wing.

The game in tweets

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