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How the W’s Defend Kyrie Irving

The Dubs throw switches, goalies and traps at the isolation specialist in Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals.

NBA: Finals-Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors
lambada, the forbidden dance
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The Warriors defended well in Game 1:

A rate less than 1.0 points per possession is very good. So the Warriors were doing something right to contain the Cavaliers offense in Game 1. We examined recently how the W’s were containing the efforts of LeBron James to isolate on Stephen Curry in The New Way Stephen Curry Defends LeBron James.

As a followup, here’s a look at how the Warriors defend Kyrie Irving, depending on the defender.

So on the one hand, it’s true that Kyrie Irving is an elite isolation scorer and a very good pick and roll ball handler. On the other hand, Ryan Knaus calculates that the Warriors are good defenders of isolation plays, giving up (0.87 PPP), and even better at stopping the pick and roll ball handler (0.83 PPP). So Irving’s preferred attack modes are relatively low efficiency and, in general, the Warriors will invite him to take these kinds of attacks.

The Warriors base defense will switch most pick and rolls, and Irving as a rule will turn these switches into isolation plays. Both teams accept these terms of engagement, so overall, the Cavaliers’ half-court plays for Kyrie turn into selecting the worst isolation defender on the floor for the Warriors, having them screen for Irving to draw the switch, then attacking them in isolation.

Because these plays turn into baseball-like one-on-one attacks, the Warriors have tuned their defensive scheme to be defender specific. The scheme can be described as a base defense and special cases for Draymond Green, Zaza Pachulia and JaVale McGee.

The very short summary is that they have a goalie backup for most defenders, except for Draymond Green, who seems too proud/confident to have a goalie, JaVale McGee, who tends to play against lineups that are hard to help off, and Zaza Pachulia, who is too slow for even goalies, so he tends to throw double team traps.

For the extended details and videos, check out How the Warriors Defend Kyrie Irving with Goalies and Traps.

For Game 2, I expect more emphasis on attacking the Warriors big men with Kyrie Irving in the pick and roll, and having slower paced post ups on the W’s smalls like Stephen Curry. As Coach Nick noted, Curry did better than you might expect in defending the Cavs pick and roll:


Where will you be watching Game 2?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    At Oracle, baby, I sold the house
    (42 votes)
  • 68%
    At home, fetal
    (430 votes)
  • 4%
    At a party (invite us)
    (29 votes)
  • 4%
    At a bar (tell us where)
    (28 votes)
  • 6%
    Nowhere, I’ll follow the play-by-play on my phone
    (43 votes)
  • 3%
    Nowhere, I can’t take the stress. Let me know when it’s over.
    (24 votes)
  • 2%
    Nowhere, this is too boring to even watch. I’ll listen to Rihanna instead.
    (13 votes)
  • 3%
    Somewhere else public (tell us where)
    (21 votes)
630 votes total Vote Now

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