The game of basketball makes for an entertaining spectator sport. The spectacle of it all is enthralling — two teams try to put a round object in a round ring, while stopping each other from doing the same thing. At its core, the goal is simple: score as much points as possible, until the buzzer at the end of the last quarter sounds off. Of course, the ultimate goal is to win.
Despite the opinions of detractors and critics, the Golden State Warriors have been the shining example of entertaining basketball. Their style of play — fast paced, uptempo, constant ball and personnel movement, and three-point shooting — are the food that feeds the hungry eyes of NBA fans. In a league where entertainment is high in both supply and demand, the Warriors have been the leaders at providing the kind of entertaining play on an almost nightly basis thanks to their highly explosive offense.
Their third duel against the Sacramento Kings proved to be another chapter in providing an entertaining offensive showcase. Against one of the fastest teams in the NBA, the Warriors were bound to go toe-to-toe in a game expected to be full of fastbreak sequences, drives, and a plethora of three-point shots.
While the Warriors have proven to be defensive beasts when they are focused on that end, they have been mediocre in that department so far during this season, ranking 16th in the NBA in terms of defensive rating by allowing 108.9 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. Defense has been a point of concern for them all season long — a far cry from past iterations of the team. During the 2014-15 season, the Warriors ranked 1st in defensive rating; they were ranked 6th during the 2015-16 season; ranked 2nd during the 2016-17 season; and ranked 11th in the 2017-18 season.
Meanwhile, the Kings themselves are not exactly adept at stopping other teams from putting the ball in the hoop. Coming into Saturday night’s game, they are ranked 23rd in the league in defensive rating, allowing 110.7 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. With their fast, uptempo offensive style — ranked second in pace with 105.05 possessions per game — something was bound to give and that was their ability to play solid defense night in and night out.
Combined with the fact that these two teams are ranked 2nd and 3rd in three-point field goal percentage — 38.9 percent for the Kings and 38.4 percent for the Warriors — both Kings fans and Warriors fans who were watching the game were in for another fun and entertaining game between two offensive machines.
Defense does win championships, and its importance during the playoffs exponentially rises. Eventually, it becomes the difference that separates a champion from other pretenders. But on Saturday night, defense became nothing more than a red-headed stepchild.
The Warriors’ first quarter explosion
The first possession of the game was a portent of the shooting extravaganza that was to come. The Warriors attempt to give the ball to Kevin Durant on the post, where he is forced to catch it far away from the right block. As he has often done this season, Durant acts as a post playmaker; Kevon Looney sets a flare screen for Klay Thompson, who receives the ball from Durant and hits the first of 41 threes made combined — an NBA record for most made threes in a single game.
Thompson’s recent preference for shooting mid-range jumpers have elicited a lot of reactions from fans, but when Thompson is in rhythm, he is up there as one of the best mid-range shooters in the league. In this sequence, Thompson curls off of a Stephen Curry screen. He uses one dribble to establish a rhythm, then immediately goes up to bury the mid-range shot.
Curry’s first three of the night comes after an excellent defensive play from Looney, who stifles De’Aaron Fox’s drive. Curry gets the ball, runs toward the line, and uses his patented step-back three over Willie Cauley-Stein.
Draymond Green has been given the “Tony Allen treatment” so far this season. His inability to shoot the three has allowed opposing defenses to virtually ignore him on the perimeter, often forcing him to jack up a three that will most likely not find its target. Green and the coaching staff are well aware that defenses will continue to take advantage.
In these upcoming clips, Green takes it upon himself to put the ball down and drive inside. By calling his own number, Green manages to make defenses pay for sagging off of him on the perimeter. All three of his drives yield points scored: a putback for Looney, and two tough layups from Green.
The Warriors manage to get a lob from Green to Durant in this possession. Curry prepares to screen for a Durant zipper cut toward the perimeter. Durant’s defender anticipates the cut, but Durant fakes him out and instead cuts inside for the lob pass and the easy bucket.
After a timeout, the Warriors look to Curry for another three. Thompson receives the inbound at the top of the arc. Curry starts from the left side of the floor and starts running along the baseline and toward the opposite side, using two staggered screens from Andre Iguodala and Jordan Bell to break free from his defender. Curry catches the ball and shoots the three with a sliver of space — but a sliver is all he needs to deal massive damage.
Meanwhile, Durant continues to be a willing passer by assisting on 10 straight points scored by the Warriors on just three attempted shots.
1. Despite having the much-smaller Yogi Ferrell defending him on the post, Durant opts not to take advantage of the mismatch by passing to an open Thompson, who breaks free from his defender with a little help from Iguodala’s screen.
2. Durant manages to get the undivided attention of the Kings defense by simply having possession of the ball on the left wing. A trailing Curry is allowed to step up to the three-point line, receiving the pass from Durant and knocking down the easy three.
3. Again, Durant draws a lot of attention in this possession, allowing Quinn Cook to step up to the three-point line without any defender in his immediate vicinity. Durant recognizes this and whips the pass to Cook. The defender closes out on Cook’s shot, but he invades Cook’s landing space and commits the foul.
After playing the role of distributor and playmaker for three straight possessions, Durant decides that it’s time for him to eat. After the Warriors force another missed shot, Iguodala pushes the pace in transition, with Durant running to his right. He whips the pass to Durant, who uses his momentum to rise up for the dunk.
When the Warriors get another stop, they immediately look to run. While the Kings may be the poster boys of playing fast this season, the Warriors are eager to remind the young team that it was them who made the fast-paced style of basketball the “hip” trend in today’s NBA. Iguodala hauls in the rebound and pushes the pace, while Cook runs to the left corner. Iguodala crashes the defense toward him, locates Cook in the corner, and whips the ball to him for the open three.
To end the quarter, the Warriors keep it simple: give the ball to Durant. A Green screen gives Durant a better matchup. Like he has done several times in the past, he pulls up from his favorite spot on the floor and buries the three, capping off a 43-point opening period for the Warriors.
The Warriors’ lackluster three-point defense
While the Warriors were firing on all cylinders on offense, the Kings were able to keep up with the defending champions by jacking up a bunch of three-point shots and knocking them down at an extremely high percentage — 20-of-36, good for 55.6 percent. As was previously pointed out, the Kings are second in the league in three-point field goal percentage; playing sub-par perimeter defense against them is asking to be killed by a storm of three-point shots.
In this sequence, Curry unnecessarily leaves Buddy Hield all alone to help Durant on a drive. The ball is kicked out to Hield in the corner, and Curry is made to pay for his momentary defensive lapse.
Curry turns the ball over, and the Kings push the pace. In transition, the Warriors fail to pick up and close out on Nemanja Bjelica — a 43.6 percent three-point shooter this season. He steps into his shooting rhythm and buries the three.
After failing to haul in the rebound, the Warriors resort to packing the interior and watching the ball. A drive collapses the defense even further, allowing the ball to be kicked out to the perimeter and into the hands of a wide-open Bogdan Bogdanovic.
Here is another mistake by the Warriors defensively. Bjelica sets a screen for Fox, but he slips it. Cook and Jonas Jerebko do not account for Bjelica popping out, leaving him all alone for another wide-open three.
In this possession, Thompson and Cook fail to communicate on a switch while defending a split action, leaving Hield — who is shooting 44.1 percent on threes this season — all alone for the three.
The Warriors commit the same mistake, costing them another three-point shot from Hield. The Kings run another split action, with Justin Jackson diving inside and Hield popping out to the line. Thompson and Alfonzo McKinnie both go to the cutting Jackson, which provides Hield all the time he needs to bury the three.
No one even attempts to pick up Hield in this sequence. Nothing else can describe this shot from Hield other than the fact that the Warriors were simply caught unawares and gave up on this possession. Perhaps they were praying to the basketball gods to make Hield succumb to the law of averages, but to no avail.
These were just a few examples of the Warriors’ lapses at defending the Kings’ three-point shots, and it led to the Kings surging ahead to take a lead that ballooned to as high as nine points. The shootout between the two teams continued until the Warriors finally decided to take matters seriously by playing the right amount of defense needed down the stretch.
Curry and a rejuvenated defense lead the Warriors to victory
As is the custom in Steve Kerr’s current rotation pattern, Curry starts the fourth quarter on the court. The Warriors keep it simple by running a Curry/Green pick-and-roll. The Kings make the mistake of playing drop coverage against this action; with no one to pick up Curry after the screen, he gets a wide-open look at the basket.
Green gets switched onto Bogdanovic, who opts to isolate against the former Defensive Player of the Year. Green dissuades Bogdanovic from taking a three, forcing him to settle for a mid-range shot. Green’s contest is excellent, leading to a wide miss and a vintage deep pull-up three from Curry on the other end to tie the game up at 105-all.
A high pick-and-roll between Curry and Looney — where Looney receives the pass on the short roll — draws several defenders toward the paint. Looney promptly kicks the ball out to Durant on the perimeter, who buries the go-ahead three.
In this sequence, Curry sniffs out the bounce pass for the steal, which leads into an opportunity for the Warriors to pull away from the Kings. The ball ends up in Durant’s hands, and he pulls up for the deep three that stretches the lead to six for the Warriors.
After the Kings go on an 8-0 run to regain the lead — and not long after Curry gets called for a travel and puts up the numbers 3 and 1 with his fingers — he scores his 31st point of the night through a 3-1 pick-and-pop. With Durant handling the ball, Curry goes for a screen, immediately slips it, and pops out beyond the arc for the three.
In this sequence, Curry uses Durant’s screen to make his way inside. He makes contact with Cauley-Stein’s body while going up for the tough shot, which finds it way into the basket with a foul to boot.
The Warriors run another 3-1 pick-and-pop for Curry. In what was perhaps the most memorable sequence of the night, Curry’s jab step puts Jackson on the floor, and after one rhythm dribble, Curry buries another three to put the Warriors back in the lead.
The Warriors go back to their bread-and-butter Curry/Green high pick-and-roll. As is expected, Curry passes the ball to Green on the short roll. What is not expected, however, is Curry diving inside after the pass. The rolling Green passes the ball back to the cutting Curry, who makes the tough shot while being fouled for another three-point play.
And to serve as the icing on top of the Warriors’ victory — and the final nail in the coffin that finally put the Kings down for good — Green intercepts a wayward pass from Fox, leading to a fastbreak. With Iguodala running to his right, Green pushes the pace, throws the ball in the air, and puts his trust in the high-flying veteran.
With 103 points combined from the Warriors’ big four — 42 from Curry, 29 from Durant, 20 from Thompson, and 12 from Green — the team’s insurance policy of having four all-stars and two MVPs allowed them to make up for their overall lack of defensive competency. When push came to shove, the Warriors’ class and skill were enough to overcome the resurgent youth of the Kings.
Another noticeable difference — and a huge contributing factor to their victory — was the fact that Curry played the entire fourth quarter without his customary mid-quarter rest. The result: 20 of his 42 points were scored in the fourth quarter alone.
But what else do you expect? Playing the two-time MVP, the best point guard in the world, and a top 2-3 player in the league the entire fourth quarter and letting him steer the ship will give you the win.
That much is obvious. The situation called for it. And Curry answered the call.
Forty down, 42 more to go.
Stay Golden, Dub Nation.