Doubling Durant

The traditional big man post-up may be nearly extinct, but that doesn’t mean throwing the ball in has no value and should be eschewed at all costs. In particular, the Golden State Warriors are heavy practitioners of using the post to facilitate the rest of their offense, especially their split cut actions with Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry. Usually, the Warriors use Draymond Green as the post passer in these situations, even bringing Kevin Durant into the split cuts to create even more devastation. Against the New Orleans Pelicans in Game 5, Golden State went a slightly different direction, leveraging Durant’s immense gravity as a post scorer to open up the rest of their offense.

It began early and remained constant throughout the game—New Orleans were adamant that Durant would not beat them in the post, so they sent double after double at him, usually leaving some combination of Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, and Draymond Green open and dropping Anthony Davis deep in the paint to protect the rim.

The defensive strategy makes sense: they’re not leaving Curry or Thompson open, Green and Iguodala aren’t going to make defenses pay by hitting threes at a consistent rate, and Davis lays back to deter any drives or cuts to the basket. The first two times Golden State got the ball to Durant, Green and Iguodala were unable to convert the 2-on-1 opportunity against Davis:

In both of the above clips, Mirotic comes with the hard double and leaves Green open, but directly attacking Davis with the Warriors’ two worst offensive players fell right into New Orleans’ hands. Green and Iguodala had a lot of trouble converting these chances against Davis in the first half, though Green was more aggressive in the second half and was able to score a few times when Davis played him for the inside pass to Iguodala. After more than three minutes and just four points on the board, Steve Kerr called a timeout to counter the Pelicans’ aggressive double-teams, using Green as a pivot at the top of the key to get the ball to Curry:

Durant posts on the left block and New Orleans defends as expected, with Mirotic coming over and Davis dropping into the paint, leaving Green at the top of the key. Instead of attacking Davis off the dribble, Green turns and hands the ball to Curry, who had just run off a down screen from Thompson. A down screen into a handoff is typically called “Chicago” action and is very common throughout the NBA, but it’s especially effective here because Davis isn’t high enough on the floor to corral Curry curling around the handoff. Ian Clark, Curry’s defender, is too far behind the play due to multiple screens from Thompson and Green, which allows Curry to walk right into a mid-range jumper.

The Warriors run the same action less than a minute later, though this time Curry curls the Thompson screen to get a bit closer to the basket:

Green was also effective without touching the ball as a screener in a twist on Golden State’s famous split cuts. Instead of two shooters coming together to screen for one another, Green exploited the fact that Davis wasn’t guarding him to get Curry or Thompson open on the perimeter with a hard screen:

Thompson misses the wide-open three, but the action worked to perfection—Davis dropped off Green as soon as he threw the ball to Durant, then Green screened for Thompson to generate a great look at the basket. Golden State didn’t run a lot of split cut action in the first quarter but deployed it more heavily in the second quarter and beyond.

Even without Thompson in the game to provide another shooting threat, watch how Green is able to get Curry open with the screen as E’Twaun Moore ventures over to double Durant in the post:

The next time down the floor, the Warriors go to the exact same thing and Moore is caught between a rock and a hard place—he has to double Durant to get the ball out of his hands and execute the scheme his coaches have assigned to him, but he knows that as soon as he does so, Curry’s going to get a wide-open jumper. He ends up in no-mans land and Curry buries the three before Rajon Rondo can recover from Green’s screen.

New Orleans was clearly unwilling to let Durant beat them with post-ups but weren’t able to make the adjustments to Golden State’s secondary actions once Kerr realized that the Pelicans were coming with a hard double and dropping Davis into the paint every time. Mixing up defensive coverages is often the key to stopping high-powered offenses; no one strategy works forever, especially with Kerr on the other bench cooking up ways to pick it apart. New Orleans didn’t alter their scheme in Game 5 and ultimately it led to their exit from this year’s playoffs.