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Explain One Play: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson mix up J.R. Smith, Kyrie Irving in Warriors win

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Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson ran an old play to catch the defense napping in Game 2 of the NBA Finals between the Warriors and Cavaliers.

Utah Jazz v Golden State Warriors - Game Two
we’re not sacrificing excrement
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Cavaliers have been criticized for their defense all year, posting nearly the league’s worst defensive numbers since the All-Star break. Two important Cavs who get a large part of the criticism are Kyrie Irving (ESPN Defensive Real Plus Minus -2.26 good for 80th out of 91 point guards) and J.R. Smith (-0.74 DRPM ranked 47th out of 99 shooting guards).

For context, DRPM ranks Klay Thompson at -0.53, 41st for shooting guards and Stephen Curry at +0.46, 14th for point guards. This statistic clearly isn’t the end-all number, as it consistently underrates Klay Thompson.

The eyeball scouting on Irving and Smith is that they can be good defenders on-ball, but are very distractible off-ball. For instance, J.R. Smith blew a switch in the last play of the Celtics-Cavs playoff game, which accounted for the only Eastern loss for the Cavs.

With Steve Kerr’s return, the Warriors ran more motion in Game 2, and unearthed this old Floppy play. This is a common play in the NBA (in fact the Cavs used this a lot in David Blatt’s 2015 Finals offense for J.R. Smith). The Warriors don’t run it as much as they used to, as their flow offense has gotten more complicated. Still, it’s a good basic play that forces the defense to execute a switch for best coverage.

Here’s an example. Curry and Thompson will come together in the paint and then Curry spins out to use the left floppy screen. See how the Magic defend it.

Victor Oladipo switches from Thompson to Curry and defuses the cut.

Here’s an example from the MLK Day game. Again Curry and Thompson will come together and Curry will set a cross-screen for Thompson. Watch how the Cavs defend it.

This is not good. Iman Shumpert and Irving mess up the switch. Irving thinks he’s going with Thompson, and so does Shumpert. That leaves a happy Curry to run to the left wing for an open 3.

This is the kind of defensive communication that the Cavs need to improve. But it’s getting a little late in the season to work on it. After all, they made it all the way to the Finals without having to defend well off-ball.

So let’s look into Game 2 to see if they defend the Floppy any better, Curry and Thompson will come together under the basket. See how Irving and Smith manage to cover it.

Almost exactly the same result. Irving thinks he’s switching this time and he goes with Thompson. J.R. Smith cleverly takes a shortcut by going over Zaza Pachulia’s screen and meets Thompson on the other side. Unfortunately for him, this leaves Curry alone on the left side. He cans the open three.

Game tweets