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Explain One Play: Kevin Durant torches Gobert with the pick-and-roll

The Warriors attacked Gobert in the pick-and-roll repeatedly down the stretch of a closely contested Game 3 versus the Jazz.

Golden State Warriors v Utah Jazz - Game Three
“Je vais torcher le petit Gobert” - M. Durant
Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

What a slugfest! Stephen Curry (23 points on 6-20) and Klay Thompson (6 points on 1-9) had bad shooting nights, and last year that would have resulted in a loss. But this year, Kevin Durant is there to take up the slack, and he came through with by far his best game since joining the Warriors. Golden State has not even needed him this postseason, or for the last twenty games or so, since Klay signed that toaster ... until tonight.

Let’s look at some plays down the stretch, in the fourth quarter, when the game was decided.

Q4.6:25. UTA 79, GSW 78

Here’s what turned out to be when the Warriors took the lead for good. JaVale McGee was in, so they ran one of the four plays they have for him: the Motion Strong wing pick-and-roll. In case you forgot this play, here’s a memorable example:

The Motion Strong starts with passes across the top, and the screener always dribble-pitches away from Curry, then backtracks quickly cross-court to screen for Curry.

Here’s tonight’s version with McGee screening. The Jazz have to cover it a little differently than most teams. But these are the two main defenses teams use on Curry pick-and-rolls.

  1. Double-team Curry. I think this is a mistake, but I welcome it, since it usually turns into a 4-on-3. Also, the Motion Strong start means the big defender is usually trailing the screener, so Curry can just run through the double team.
  2. Curry’s defender chases him over the top while the big sinks back to try to force Curry into a tough mid-range shot. Curry is good at mid-range shots, so this isn’t great either. If you cover the mid-range shot, that means the screener can roll to the basket. Here, that means McGee can jump up for an alley-oop dunk.

So, the Jazz don’t blitz. Instead, they sink Rudy Gobert back and instead of challenging Curry, he sticks with the rolling McGee!

They have Boris Diaw leaving Draymond Green to serve as a goalie against Curry’s drive. Green could have faded to the corner for a very open three, but instead he cuts to the basket. Curry, of course, finds him and Green makes a tough layup. Curry’s court vision and passing are outstanding and underrated. (Where he gets into trouble is his overly ambitious, careless, or irresponsible passes.)

Notice, again, how McGee’s threat of the alley-oop (“vertical spacing”) created space for Curry’s drive.

(In case you’re wondering what the primary four plays are that they run for McGee, there’s the Motion Strong PNR, Motion Weak PNR, the straight high pick-and-roll to a lob, and the straight high pick-and-roll with big-big passing.)

Kevin Durant vs. Rudy Gobert in the pick-and-roll

Okay, for many of the rest of the plays in the game, the Warriors would run very simple high pick-and-rolls for Durant, with the screener being whoever Gobert is guarding. The Jazz were not double-teaming Durant, so there was no need to be artful about the action, such as using the Motion pick-and-rolls. In contrast, in the past, the W’s would double-team Durant in the fourth quarters. I am expecting teams to start doing this to Durant.

Q4.5:49. GSW 80, UTA 79

Here is a simple high pick-and-roll. The screen from McGee is not solid, so the defender gets partly through, enough to contest a three ...

Durant drives right at the back-pedaling Gobert, getting into his body (preventing him from winding up for a block) and powers in the layup.

Q4.4:11. GSW 84, UTA 79

Another high pick-and-roll with a more solid screen from McGee. Gobert has sunk back a step to prevent Durant from blowing by him again. So ...

Durant enjoys the extra space and pulls up around the elbow for an open jumper.

Q4.3:09. GSW 89, UTA 84

Now, Gobert guards Andre Iguodala. But that previous play worked so well, so why not try it again, but from above the three-point line? So Iguodala comes up and sets a good screen on Gordon Hayward (you know it’s the playoffs when Iguodala makes solid contact on his screens). Gobert is still sagging back to prevent Durant from running by, so ...

Durant again pulls up and this time the jumper is worth three points.

Q4.2:14. GSW 95, UTA 86

Tired of getting torched by these pull-up jumpers, Gobert plays up closer on this pick-and-roll, up over the three-point line. So ...

Durant crosses over, gives Gobert a loving nudge, and has an open right elbow jumper. He is good at bounce ball.

Game tweets


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