With Stephen Curry sidelined with a groin injury — and Draymond Green out with a toe sprain — the Warriors were left with two all-stars to depend on for offensive production — which is still a luxury, with most teams in the league not even having a single all-star caliber player to rely on for most nights.
However, with Curry and Green being unavailable, the Warriors were also without two of their best playmakers. Naturally, questions would rise as to who would step up to become the floor general against the Brooklyn Nets.
It turned out that the answer to that question would be Kevin Durant, who finished the night with an excellent all-around stat line: 28 points, 5 rebounds, and 11 assists.
Naturally, Durant got his shots and scored his points, something to be expected of him on a nightly basis. But it was his emergence as a playmaker that was the most notable development. Two of the beneficiaries of Durant’s playmaking was his fellow all-star Klay Thompson and back-up point guard Quinn Cook.
The Durant and Cook two-man game
During the 2017-18 season, Curry was plagued by several injuries to his ankle and knee, and as a result, was forced to be sidelined during the last stretch of the regular season. In sixteen starts for the Warriors, Cook stepped up and held the fort, averaging 15.8 points on a shooting split of .508/.474/.850. This performance led to the Warriors converting Cook’s two-way contract to a fully-guaranteed two-year contract.
With Curry suffering from another injury, Cook was called upon anew to start in his place — and he did not disappoint.
Cook finished the night with a stat line of 27 points, 4 rebounds, and 5 assists, with an 11-of-16 shooting clip (68.7 percent).
An interesting wrinkle in the Warriors’ offensive adjustment to compensate for Curry’s absence was to make Cook and Durant play off of each other. This season, the Warriors have often put Curry and Durant in combination for several pick-and-rolls — perhaps the deadliest combination to have ever existed in the history of the NBA. In this particular instance, Cook was simply plugged in for Curry, and he feasted on the Nets’ lack of defensive adjustment.
What starts as a screen by Cook to get Durant the ball turns into a well-run two-man game, resulting in Cook hitting a mid-range jumper. The Nets try their best to avoid switching the smaller D’Angelo Russell onto Durant, but Durant’s solid screen makes Russell fall behind Cook. Caris LeVert does not step up on Cook to close out, and Cook makes the shot.
Cook also becomes a beneficiary of Durant’s ability to pass out of the post. The Warriors consistently use off-ball cross-screens under the basket — often with Durant and Curry — to get Durant a favorable match-up against a smaller defender on the post. Additionally, it allows Curry the space to roam off the ball to get open for a shot. Cook plays the Curry role in this sequence, getting the ball from Durant and using Jordan Bell’s screen to get open for a jumper.
In a similar play from the first sequence described above, Cook screens for Durant to force a switch. The switch doesn’t materialize, but Durant receives the ball anyway. This flows into another two-man game between Durant and Cook. A dribble hand-off from Durant, coupled with a screen on Cook’s man, gets Cook an open three. Notice that there’s a failure of communication between Durant’s defender and Cook’s defender — the proper way to defend this action would have been to simply switch, but Durant’s defender doesn’t get the memo, letting Cook have a wide-open look for the three.
The Cook/Durant partnership seems to be very promising, especially while Curry is looking to be out for a few more games. Unlike with Curry, teams might be unwilling to close out or risk playing close to Cook, which would mean a lot of open jumpers or mismatches for Durant in their pick-and-roll possessions.
The Klay Thompson curl show
Klay Thompson is arguably the most potent scorer in the league who requires little to no dribbling to get off his shots. During his 60 point explosion against the Indiana Pacers in the 2016-17 season, he dribbled the ball a mere 11 times, and his total time of possession amounted to just 90 seconds. Against the Chicago Bulls this past October 29, he took only 9 dribbles to score 52 points and break the single game record for three-point shots.
Thompson, along with his Splash Brother Curry, is among the best at catch-and-shoot mid-range jumpers. In the 2017-18 season, Thompson posted a zero-dribble two-point field goal percentage of 61.6 percent, per NBA.com. He is on track to post a similar percentage this season, with a two-point field goal percentage of 60.4 percent with no dribbles, per NBA.com.
Against the Nets, Thompson netted two fouls in quick succession, forcing him to sit out the first quarter at a much earlier time than usual. Sitting down that quickly can disrupt the flow and rhythm of a shooter. Thompson, however, remained calm and collected. Courtesy of an assist from Andre Iguodala, Thompson starts off his second quarter by curling off of a Jordan Bell pseudo-screen, and makes the shot without needing to put the ball down.
The Warriors run Thompson off of another pin down, this time set by Jonas Jerebko. He sets a much better screen compared to Bell in the previous possession, which causes Thompson’s defender to fall behind and scramble to keep up. Nevertheless, Thompson again buries the shot without needing to dribble.
With Durant handling the ball up top, Thompson yet again curls off of a pin down. Kevon Looney sets a decent screen, but Thompson’s defender is able to fight through it and stay close. Thompson adjusts by doing a dribble step-back to create space, which allows him to go up for the shot.
In this possession, Durant attempts to post up, but his defender is doing an excellent job of denying a clear entry pass. The Warriors flow into their next option — Cook passes the ball up top to Damian Jones, and Thompson curls off of him to receive the hand-off. Thompson’s defender falls behind, courtesy of Jones’ screen, and Thompson only needs two dribbles to bury the free throw line jumper.
With the Nets having been burned by Thompson’s curls all night long, they get fooled in this next possession. Durant has the ball up top, and Thompson is once again looking to curl off of a pin down. However, Jones has his back toward the baseline, which indicates that a flare screen is being set on Thompson’s defender, who anticipated another curl. Recognizing this, Thompson changes direction and flares toward the corner instead, receiving the pass and burying the three.
By this point, Durant and Thompson have developed a good partnership, with Durant distributing and making pinpoint passes to a curling Thompson. The Nets were rendered helpless and incapable of stopping this simple, yet deadly action. Again, Thompson doesn’t need a single dribble in this possession.
With Durant and Cook working well off of each other, and Thompson’s jumper proving deadly and sharp off of pin down and flare screens, the Warriors’ offensive production is looking like it won’t be missing a step. Despite lacking the gravity and creativity of Curry and the playmaking of Draymond Green, the Warriors were able to post an offensive rating of 124.7 against the Nets, per NBA.com — which is well above their league-leading offensive rating of 119.2.
With a back-to-back slate of games against the Los Angeles Clippers and the Atlanta Hawks coming up, the Warriors will need Durant to stay consistent with his playmaking, Thompson to keep forcing teams to chase him around the floor, and Quinnsanity to take off and soar through the heavens.
Thirteen down, 69 more to go.
Stay Golden, Dub Nation.