clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The stark difference between two ATOs the Warriors ran against the Clippers

The Warriors have lost two games this week where they led by more than 20 points.

Golden State Warriors v LA Clippers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

The Golden State Warriors were once again on the backfoot.

On the verge of blowing another 20-plus-point lead — previously to the Sacramento Kings, this time against the Los Angeles Clippers — in under a week, they were desperate to go to anything that could spark their offense and ward off the surging Clippers.

Every possession was valuable — even those with only 4.7 seconds left on the shot clock. The Warriors challenged an out-of-bounds call that was initially in favor of the Clippers, despite the ball clearly bouncing off of James Harden’s hand before it went out.

The officials didn’t take too much time to conclude that the Warriors should be getting the ball underneath the rim. But with only 4.7 seconds left, Steve Kerr had no choice but to concoct a quick-hitting after-timeout (ATO) set to get a quick bucket, one that would give the Warriors a three-point cushion after having led by as much as 22.

The set: a variation of a staple baseline out-of-bounds (BLOB) set they call “Rub.” Typically, “Rub” has two outcomes.

The first: A layup for the inbounder, who receives a screen underneath the rim after inbounding the ball. The screener is usually the most dangerous shooter on the floor (e.g., Steph Curry):

The second: A three for the screener after setting the screen. This screen-the-screener action involves someone — typically the five — in the short corner setting an “exit” screen for the initial screener:

The inbounder is usually someone who can duck in quickly and get a quick layup off of the screen. The Warriors typically have had Andrew Wiggins and Gary Payton II play that role. Defenses are hesitant to switch off of Curry — whenever he sets the screen, no switch occurs, and Wiggins or Payton are left alone underneath the rim.

But there’s a variant of “Rub” the Warriors have utilized rarely: having Klay Thompson be the one inbounding the ball.

When Thompson is the one inbounding, he merely doesn’t stop underneath the rim. He comes off the Curry screen, and then comes off an upscreen toward the three-point line. This variant is rarely used — most notably, it was unsheathed against the Los Angeles Lakers in the playoffs last season:

The possession above had the ball inbounded to Draymond Green at the top of the key in order for Thompson to get the ball on a handoff. The version they employed against the Clippers had Green in the short corner instead.

The one setting the upscreen for Thompson — Brandin Podziemski:

With Green being the passer — deciding whether to give to Thompson on the upscreen, or to Podziesmki cutting after setting the screen — he chooses the latter. The initial Curry screen for Thompson forces Terance Mann to have to chase Thompson, and while he recognizes that Podziemski is cutting inside after setting the upscreen, he realizes it a split-second too late.

Podziesmki is in position for a layup, and Green finds him.

That was a well-designed and brilliantly executed set. Kerr has a knack for drawing up timely after-timeout sets that get his best offensive players toward spots where they can score. He can also move around chess pieces in ways that uses the pull of his offensive threats to generate easy shots for other players on his team, such as the one Podziemski had above.

But instead of folding — losing a challenge and coughing up a layup can have that effect — the Clippers persevered. They kept things close up until the closing seconds of the game, where their offensive threats took over when they needed them to.

Paul George’s ice-cold three to take the one-point lead for the Clippers — their first and only lead of the game — was the culmination of another Warriors collapse:

However, the Warriors had another opportunity to get a clutch shot of their own — there was still 8.9 seconds left on the game clock. Kerr called his last timeout and had another opportunity to either get his offensive moneymakers into their sweet spots, or use their pull to create a good look for anyone else.

The play that was drawn up — the last shot of the game for the Warriors — ended up being this:

I understand putting the ball into your best player’s hands, letting him create something, and living with whatever happens. Curry is Curry — he deserves all the faith and belief in the world.

But I would’ve expected Kerr and the coaching staff to have come up with something more than just a Curry isolation against Kawhi Leonard, with Green opting not to set a ballscreen and instead settling for being a corner spacer. The Clippers took out Harden and had Russell Westbrook come in for defense; he acted as an extra defender in help position because he had no qualms sagging off of Green in the corner.

That made it difficult for Curry to obtain space in the paint — let alone against someone with the length, physicality, and defensive pedigree. With Westbrook coming over to help, Curry had no choice but to kick the ball out to Green.

Even with Green shooting 4-of-8 on threes — 17-of-36 (47.2%) on the season — the Clippers weren’t about to guard him like he was an elite shooter. They would live with that shot no matter the result — a decision that was justified in the end.

If this really was the intended set, the lack of creativity — in stark contrast to the “Rub” ATO they ran previously — was a bit confusing. Green being a spacer is a waste of his presence at such a crucial moment. Why not involve him in second-side action to put pressure on Westbrook — setting a hammer screen for Thompson to run toward the corner, for example?

Or something simpler: Why not have him just set the screen for Curry? Either a switch will occur — Curry may do better against Westbrook in isolation — or a two-to-the-ball situation can be created, in which Green’s talents as a short-roll passer could be utilized against an outnumbered backline, with plenty of options surrounding him.

If not those — then why have Green be there in the first place? If spacing truly was the intended theme of the last possession, Dario Šarić would’ve been a better option.

The game wasn’t lost on that last possession — it happened way earlier than that, when the Warriors let a 22-point cushion disappear. But the opportunity to rewrite the blown-lead narrative was there for the taking.

Unfortunately, they shied away from it.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Golden State of Mind Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Golden State Warriors news from Golden State of Mind