Back in the Zone / Back to OKC

Was that a zone defense Golden State played?

zone defense, Golden State, Warriors, Steph Curry, Steve Kerr, OKC, Thunder, Westbrook, Durant

not a zone

Watch along the baseline in the clip above. #40 Harrison Barnes chases Durant to the corner. If defenders chase the man they are guarding to a different part of the court, you’re looking at a man-to-man defense. If defenders point to each other and pass off offensive players to each other to guard, then you’re probably looking at a zone. At the end of this play, it sure looks like Golden State is in a match up or 2-3 zone, but they aren’t.

Extra note: In Golden State’s man-to-man defense, usually everyone not guarding the ball has a foot in the lane. They are really packed in, and when you combine that with the fact that sometimes the Thunder players don’t move (happening less in the playoffs) it’s easy to think that Golden State is playing zone.

zone defense

match up zone defense 

In the clip above, watch ponytailed #12 Steven Adams in the blue for the Thunder. When he runs away from Golden State’s Bogut in the paint, Bogut just lets him go. He points to Curry to pick up Adams. Switching every screen has a lot in common with playing a zone defense.

In a zone, you match up with the person in your area. Theoretically, this means Golden State could have someone like their center Bogut match up with Durant when he tries to post up in the lane but have someone faster and more mobile like Draymond Green defend Durant when he is on the perimeter.

I remember Coach Bob Knight saying that the offense’s advantage versus a zone is that they get to pick who they want to attack. Want to play your little point guard on top of the zone? How about we put Dirk Nowitzki up there to shoot threes over your little guy? The defense’s advantage is that they get to pick where their players play.

zone defense, Golden State, Warriors, Stephen Curry, OKC, Thunder, Durant, Westbrook, NBA, Western Conference Finals

looks like a zone

On TNT, Chris Webber sounded like he was in disbelief that Golden State went to a zone. I tend to agree with CW’s assessment that this is indeed a zone. The aspect of this play that gives me pause is when Golden State’s Andre Iguodala seems to beat a screen and chase Durant to the top of the key. I think A.I. probably abandoned his post for a second so that Durant wasn’t left running free or else Kanter came down and tried to pin him inside so Durant could get free for a shot.

It might be interesting to see if Golden State tries to play more zone in Game six.

Yeah, Golden State played some zone, but Curry was back in the zone as a shooter

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Curry back to his old MVP self

In the upper right hand corner, first Curry goes back door off a down screen. Then he runs off a down screen on the other side of the court to the perimeter. Adams can’t decide if he should chase him or not. This is the kind of play where the defense pays so much attention to Curry that the screeners are left open.

Although Curry’s percentage was below average, he was 10-10 from the line, making circus moves around the hoop we are used to, and scored 31 points.

What do I mean the screeners get open?

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#12 Bogut screens for Thompson

 

It’s most impressive when the player with the ball realizes the screener is open and find him. In this case, this is most likely a set play out of a timeout. Pay attention to #12 Bogut. He is heading to screen for Thompson, a fantastic three point shooter. When everyone runs out to the shooter, Bogut gets free for the dunk.

When Ezeli hits two, you know it was Golden State’s night

Festus Ezeli, Golden State, Warriors, Curry, Steve Kerr, OKC, Durant, Westbrook

Swish, swish!

Festus Ezeli shot 53% from the line during the season and 42% in the playoffs. Here, near the end of the third quarter, he makes the both. Game six coming right up on Saturday night in Oklahoma City!

What to Watch When You Watch Golden State on Offense

There are only a few teams in the NBA that I’m interested in watching on a regular basis because they do something interesting with their offensive attack. Golden State’s open-post motion offense is one I pay attention to. I’ll use the video clip below to help explain some of what has caught my interest:

Four things to notice:

1. No player is in the lane.

I call at least this alignment by Golden State “open post” because no player has a foot in the yellow lane area. You might be right to argue and say it’s 4 out motion with a post player playing high. What this alignment does is allow all players space to cut to the basket. This works great for Golden State because when you start worrying about their shooters coming off of screens, everyone (shooters and screeners) has room to cut backdoor to the basket.

2.  Players weave with the ball.

What’s the weave? Watch how a dribbler heads to their teammate, the teammate goes behind, and the dribbler flips the ball to their teammate. After a dribbler gives it up, they can cut to the edge of the floor and come back for another handoff. Golden State mostly uses the weave to get the defense moving before they do the thing on offense they really want to do.

3. Players have choices.

Part of what appeals to me about the motion offense is that players have choices. Instead of telling players exactly where to go when, they can set screens and cut and decide what they will do based on how the defense plays. If you’re watching Golden State and Oklahoma City in the 2016 Western Conference Finals, look to see what the players do on offense without the ball. I think you’ll notice a lot more movement from the Golden State players. One way isn’t better, but if I’m playing or coaching basketball, I prefer the kind of team play I grew up watching with Bob Knight’s use of the motion offense or Phil Jackson’s triangle. As a player, I hated having to go stand in my spot and wait to run the coach’s play. As a coach, I hated yelling, “Set it up.” I prefer to empower players to use what they know to make decisions on the fly.

4. #23 Draymond Green’s Down Screen

The action in this video is worth watching multiple times. Check out the screen Green sets for Thompson. I especially like the way he heads toward mid-court to get a good angle before he heads back toward his basket to get the screen.

A Few More Plays from Warriors Offense

Golden State, Warriors, NBA, OKC, Thunder, Western Conference Finals

Watch Curry. Rather than come off of the down screen, he cuts back door to the basket.

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Bogut and Curry set down screens. Then Bogut screens the screener Curry.

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Golden State, Warriors, Screen and roll, Westbrook, Curry, Bogut

Westbrook stops on the screen and roll. Did he think they were supposed to switch?

 

The Curry Brief

Thoughts on the NBA’s Western Conference Finals

Back on February 27th, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Golden State Warriors played in what was probably the best game of this year’s NBA season. Five Western Conference All Stars competed. OKC’s Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook scored 37 and 26 while Golden State’s Steph Curry and Klay Thompson went for 46 and 32. The fifth all star, the Warriors’ Draymond Green, had fourteen rebounds, fourteen assists, six steals, and four blocked shots. Although the Warriors trailed by seven points with less than five minutes to go and by four with fourteen seconds left in regulation, they still managed to win in overtime on a long Curry three-point shot he stroked from beyond thirty feet with less than a second remaining.

I recently took a look back at the game and came up with a few ideas for slowing down the two-time reigning MVP.

1.  Crowd Curry When He Has The Ball

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Just about everyone gives Curry space believing that this will help contain his drive. If Curry has any room at all, he will unleash his pregame warm up on the defender in varying combinations. Against Singler, Curry goes between his legs into a crossover dribble, between the legs again, crosses over, and then crosses over one last time before stepping back for what seems like an impossible shot. While Curry will hurt teams with his drives, at least he won’t make twelve threes. 

2. Make Curry Pick Up The Dag Gum Ball

Every chance Curry gets, he’ll let the ball roll up the court without touching it. This allows for the Warriors to maximize all of the time on the shot clock. During the OKC / Warriors game back in February, there were several times Curry didn’t pick up the ball until it was near mid court.

3. Attack Curry on Defense Whenever You Can

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Sure, it’s old news to make the star offensive player work on defense, but OKC needs to do this even more. It’s not just attacking him 1 on 1 as Westbrook does above, but I’d try and put him in as many screen situations as possible. Who Curry guards should be screening for the ball or a shooter on a downscreen. During the regular season match up, Curry spent too many defensive possessions standing in the corner doing nothing.

4. When You Attack Curry, Be Prepared for Lots of Help

You’ve got to do more than isolate Curry; you have to plan for where the help is going to come from. The Warriors usually defend isolation plays by putting every single player in the lane and this often causes Westbrook or Durant to call off the attack, kick the ball to a low percentage shooter, or attack too deeply into a double team that often brings Warriors center Andrew Bogut, once an all NBA defensive team selection. Recently, instead of putting their big men in the corner, OKC has been filling both blocks for offensive rebounds and lob dunks.

5. Don’t Switch

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Double team Curry on high ball screens if you have to, otherwise you’re going to see a lot of what is pictured above.

Of late, OKC has had a lot more ball movement on offense and made use of their players NOT Durant and Westbrook. I’m looking forward to seeing how OKC tries to defend Curry when he has the ball and the ways they try to make him work on defense. It should be a great series!