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Steve Kerr draws up ‘Winner’ but the Warriors end up losing to the Pistons

A brilliant ATO is nullified by a ridiculous game winner.

Detroit Pistons v Golden State Warriors Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Like most things in life, magic doesn’t last forever. Consecutive games of having to pull rabbits out of a hat eventually runs into a proverbial wall — and against the Detroit Pistons, that wall was an insanely clutch shot by Saddiq Bey that broke the Golden State Warriors’ five-game home winning streak.

For most of the game, the Warriors looked like they were a team running on fumes. Having to dig deep to win a double-overtime game against the Atlanta Hawks requires huge energy expenditure. Most human beings need several days to recover from a typical pickup game; even though these human beings are several tiers above the layman, having to play the kind of high-stakes basketball the NBA requires — one after the other with little rest in-between — can still take a lot out of extremely conditioned athletes.

Don’t forget that the Warriors are without several of their key personnel: Steph Curry, Andrew Wiggins, Jonathan Kuminga, James Wiseman, and JaMychal Green are all sidelined. That places a cap on Steve Kerr’s ability to play a longer rotation, which increases the minutes of the guys he has left to send out.

It’s difficult to win a game when your opponent shoots 16-of-36 (44.4%) on threes. Some of them (such as the game-winning shot) were of the tip-your-cap-off variety. Others were systematic breakdowns that led to open shots — e.g., a failure to contain at the point of attack leading to weak-side help away from the corner.

Some of that is due to the Warriors’ baked-in proclivity to stop the ball and prevent shots at the rim. Some of it tiptoes ever so slightly toward the overhelp spectrum. A huge part of it may be due to the aforementioned fatigue, both of the mind and body.

Whatever the case, the Warriors almost pulled another rabbit out of a hat that had “loss” written all over it. Klay Thompson hit some huge shots down the stretch, while Jordan Poole also had clutch shots of his own (although his costly turnover with around 10 seconds left in a one-point game is still fresh on everyone’s minds).

One of those huge Thompson shots — the one that tied the game and gave the Warriors another chance to win it in overtime (which obviously never came to fruition) — came on an after-timeout set drawn up by Kerr that had lots of moving parts.

This isn’t the first time Kerr drew up this particular end-of-game special (more on that later), but it’s also the first time that it worked:

This set is one that Kerr lifted from former Boston Celtics’ head coach Brad Stevens, called “Winner.”

The set involves plenty of misdirection — but for it to work without a hitch, the initial inbound pass must be executed perfectly.

The pass being correctly executed and the ball finding its way to the triggerman on the weak side is what makes this play work, simply because the trajectory of the ball serves as the key distraction for the opponent’s big man:

Once the opposing big is distracted, that sets up the crux of the set: his assignment (Kevon Looney) sets the screen for the shooter. With the big man distracted and dropping back, he’s too deep to help on the catch-and-shoot:

To summarize: For this set to work, two things must be present:

  1. A perfectly placed pass to the triggerman drifting toward the weak-side corner
  2. The opposing big man being distracted by the pass and compelled to drop back

This is the second time Kerr ran “Winner;” the other instance came during Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors, a last-gasp attempt to send the series to a Game 7:

The pass wasn’t the best, but it still made its way to its intended target (Draymond Green). Ultimately, what made it ineffective was Serge Ibaka — the big man being targeted in this instance — reading the play at the last minute and contesting Curry’s shot, forcing the miss.

Contrast it with the perfectly executed version above: perfect pass, distraction maintained, and Thompson drilling a clutch shot that should’ve given the Warriors another five minutes to try to win the game.

If not for this shot:

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