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Elevator Ride: How Klay Thompson used a classic Warriors set to defeat the Timberwolves

Steve Kerr drew up a Mark Jackson special to get his star shooting guard going.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Golden State Warriors Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

If you place a huge amount of faith on superstition, rituals, and forces beyond scientific comprehension, then you — as a Golden State Warriors fan — was probably confident that the team was going to win against the Minnesota Timberwolves, considering who was at attendance at Chase Center tonight.

You read that right. For 28 years, the Warriors have never lost a home game with the man behind the Warriors Reddit Twitter account attending them, a streak that was in serious jeopardy with the team down by 10 points at one point in the fourth quarter.

But for reasons that cannot be explained by science or logic, the streak prevailed. The Warriors managed to rally from the deficit and beat the Wolves.

(According to the man himself, the streak has mostly consisted of home games against the Sacramento Kings. So there’s that!)

There’s plenty of credit to go around. Donte DiVincenzo (21 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals) had himself one heck of a night, including a 4-of-9 clip from beyond the arc, a couple of finishes at the rim, and hustle plays that included a huge offensive board. The Warriors outscored the Wolves by nine points during his 38 minutes on the floor, a team best.

Kevon Looney (12 points, 17 rebounds) was a force on the boards and flashed the reliability and dependability he’s always provided.

But it was Klay Thompson who came up huge down the stretch. He hit big shot after big shot, a big-game performance that, while not foreign to him or to anyone who’s watched him all these years, still inspires awe and wonder. He finished with 32 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists on 12-of-23 shooting (6-of-14 on threes) and 67% TS.

Except for Thompson and Anthony Edwards, the game was robbed of its marquee names. The Warriors missed the services of Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Andrew Wiggins. The Wolves didn’t have Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert. But there was still plenty of drama to be had, considering these two teams were right next to each other in the Western Conference standings.

In the chaos that is the West, a single win or loss can shoot one’s playoff chances exponentially toward one spectrum. The Warriors needed this win to keep in touch with their playoff chances. Facing a team that was equally depleted gave them a level playing field.

That didn’t seem to be the case throughout most of the game, but when the stakes were at their highest, the big-timers came out to play — and they delivered.

What did the trick was a 20-8 run during the final 6:11 of the game, the first salvo of which came courtesy of this Thompson three — one that may look all too familiar for anyone here who was around during the Mark Jackson regime:

That’s the famed “Elevator” screens Jackson was so fond of running for Curry back in the day, revived a decade later for Thompson. But what was more of note was how the Warriors got into the action, the fake-out, and how they used the Wolves’ own defensive policy on Thompson against them.

Let’s go back a couple of quarters to preface how the Warriors were so successful in its execution.

During the second quarter, the Warriors went to one of their staple 5-out movement sets they call “Angle Pop.” It’s termed as such because they use an “Angle” ballscreen — simply put, a spread pick-and-roll — followed by the screener “popping” out and receiving the ball. That is followed by a handoff for a man running from the corner, which is emptied out by someone “45-cutting” (a cut at a 45-degree angle).

Jonathan Kuminga is the 45-cutter above and Thompson is the beneficiary of the handoff. The Wolves jump out at the threat of a Thompson pull-up and commit two defenders to him — which leaves Kuminga wide open underneath the rim for the dunk.

The Wolves remembered this during the fourth quarter and tried to top-lock Thompson away from any off-ball screening action followed by a handoff. It’s not the same exact set, but it’s similar enough:

Thompson curls the screen by DiVincenzo and the Wolves switch, not taking any chances with Thompson getting loose for a three or a backdoor cut. Edwards ends up on Thompson in the middle of the paint and seemingly, the threat of a three from the Warriors’ best shooter on the floor is temporarily nullified.

But what Edwards doesn’t see is how the Warriors are setting up the “Elevator” doors for Thompson to run through.

By the time Edwards realizes what’s happening, he runs with the urgency of someone who’s late to a meeting — and runs smack into the portion of the closing doors that happens to be the rock-solid presence that is Looney.

Steve Kerr unearthed a play from his predecessor that took advantage of the Wolves’ policy on Thompson, which was to do everything in their power to make sure he didn’t have an open look off of screens, whether that was by top-locking, lock-and-trailing (i.e., staying attached at the hip), or switching.

“Elevator” doors flipped the script by sending the Wolves a curveball — instead of Thompson coming off of a wide pindown, he would cut in a straight line toward the top of the arc and through converging screens.

Edwards didn’t expect it; the Wolves certainly didn’t. Another thing they probably didn’t expect was that it served as the spark for a closing run that brought the Warriors to one game above .500 — again.

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