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The Golden Breakdown: How a familiar play sparked the Warriors’ valiant — but futile — comeback attempt

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The Warriors tried to come back from another late game deficit by relying on a play designed for Steph Curry.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

On the back end of a two-game trip in high altitude, the Warriors almost clawed their way back to another win, but it was not meant to be — despite Stephen Curry hitting the 30-point mark for the third straight game.

Entering the fourth quarter down by ten — and being down by as much as thirteen — the Warriors needed another big prime time performance from their captain, and he delivered.

Curry lights the comeback spark

In this sequence, Curry and Kevin Durant go into their patented pick-and-roll, with Durant being the ball-handler, and Curry being the screener. With Curry being the one setting the screen, it might be more appropriate to call this a Curry/Durant pick-and-pop.

Instead of switching, two Nuggets defenders opt to double the driving Durant:

This leads to Curry being left all alone on the perimeter, a cardinal sin when defending the best shooter in the world. Juancho Hernangomez — ignoring lesson #2 of the Curry lesson plan — tries to recover, but to no avail.

The Warriors go back to a familiar play

In the Warriors’ comeback victory against the Jazz, they used a certain play that had the goal of freeing up Curry for a clear shot — a double high screen for Curry, leading to a favorable switch for Durant on the post, where he receives the ball. Meanwhile, Curry tries to get free from his defender through a flare screen:

They ran the play again during the last two minutes of the fourth quarter, this time with Damian Jones in the flare screener role:

In both of the sequences above, Rudy Gobert was rendered unable to help or switch onto Curry, since Durant’s mismatches down low — both against the much smaller Ricky Rubio — forced him to drop down low and patrol the paint. Meanwhile, Curry’s defender gets hung up on the flare screen, and Curry springs free for the three.

Against the Nuggets, they ran the exact same play for Curry:

Off of the double high screen, Durant doesn’t get the favorable switch they wanted against Jamal Murray. Despite that, Nikola Jokić chooses to stay down low anyway to shadow behind Durant, much like the way that Gobert did previously. Again, no one is there to help pick up Curry after Murray gets absolutely stopped in his tracks by a hard pick from Jones, and Curry makes the three.

With around three and a half minutes left to go on the game — and the Warriors being down by four — they run the play again. This time, the flare screener role is played by Andre Iguodala — but they decide to go in a different direction with the play.

Durant receives the ball again while posting up, while Curry and Iguodala prepare to set up a flare screen action — but Murray recognizes the play, and immediately cuts Curry off from using Iguodala’s screen. However, this has the consequence of providing an open lane for Curry to cut toward the basket, which he does. He receives the pass, and two defenders immediately rotate to cut off Curry’s drive. It seems like the play has been stopped in its tracks. But then, this happens:

Coming from the weak side wing, Klay Thompson suddenly cuts toward the basket, receives the pass from Curry, and has an easy layup. A sequence such as this is a testament to the Warriors’ multiple options available within their sets. Unlike other teams, the Warriors’ sets are multi-layered; if one action gets shut down, they flow straight into another option — if that option also gets shut down, then they have another contingency option for it. Quite simply, they have a plan A, a plan B, and a plan C.

Curry makes more shots...but does he get fouled?

Off of a missed three-pointer from Jokić, Green hauls in the rebound and pushes the pace. A trailing Curry receives the ball and pulls up for the three:

He makes the tough shot, but vehemently protests right after, claiming to have been fouled during the shot. Let’s take a closer look:

Curry does stick his legs out in order to make Murray touch him down low. Up top, Murray seems to make contact with Curry’s hand soon after the release. It’s a close call, but was it enough to warrant a four-point play? You be the judge.

On another drive, Curry manages to get the tough floater in, with what seems like body contact from Paul Millsap:

Again, let’s take a closer look:

It seemed like Millsap was still bumping into Curry while he was floating towards the basket. The referee might have construed that as Curry initiating a bit of the contact, hence why he swallowed his whistle. Again, you be the judge.

Curry tries to push the pace for the win

In what was the last possession of the game, the Warriors opt not to take a timeout after a made free throw by the Nuggets — instead, Curry receives the inbound and pushes the pace. At the time, it seemed like a good — yet risky — decision. Curry speeding toward the basket against a defense caught off-guard was a recipe for a game-tying bucket:

In what was perhaps the intended effect, Curry’s drive draws a lot of attention, leaving Jones open under the basket. He gets the ball from Curry and goes up, but Hernangomez astutely recognizes the play, and rotates off of Durant to get the game-winning block on Jones. Game, set, match.

In another heroic effort, Curry finishes with 30 points, 4 rebounds, and 6 assists. He carried the team in the fourth quarter, but was unable to lift them to another come-from-behind victory.

Three down, 79 more to go.

Stay Golden, Dub Nation.