The Golden State Warriors won their second NBA title the moment they figured out that simplicity sometimes works best.
The Stephen Curry-Kevin Durant pick-and-roll combination was only unveiled in spurts this season. Often, it didn’t work. Durant sometimes didn’t screen well enough. Curry sometimes wasn’t aggressive enough with his shot. Their timing was sometimes just plain off.
But against the Cavaliers in Game 5, everything was just right. During the Warriors’ surge into the lead, we saw plenty of Curry and Durant playing off each other. The Cavaliers didn’t know what to do.
Despite it being the most basic action in the league, the Warriors can pick teams apart with Curry and Durant as a combination because of the gravity they both hold.
Hang too far back on Durant, and Curry buries a wide-open three.
Switch the play, and you have some type of mismatch on your hands like J.R. Smith matching up with Durant.
Throw a trap at Curry, and he’ll patiently find his way to the open man.
There’s no right approach to handling this play. The Cavaliers found that out the hard way last night when no strategy they had for it worked.
Curry and KD can exploit the trap
The Cavaliers chose to mostly trap the play last night, which gives them an element of control. A properly executed trap allows the Cavaliers to pick the option they want to leave open.
A Draymond Green corner three in the second quarter is something the defense will be able to live with giving up. But the Warriors had a counter punch waiting. They took a page out of the Cavaliers’ book and ran two quick screens at the defense to jumble up their coverage and create the right mismatch.
This is a staple the Cavaliers used last season to slow the game down and find Curry over and over again in last year’s Finals. Now, the Warriors were the team hunting for matchups.
They also used one double screen at times rather than two separate screens. The Cavaliers were running that last year with some combination of J.R. Smith, Kyrie Irving, or another player. But imagine running that with Kevin freaking Durant. It looks something like this.
Thought there was an offensive foul on Zaza Pachulia on the play, Green had an open dive and a great look at the rim. LeBron James could have helped, but that would have left Durant open at the top for a three.
You won’t always see it coming
If the Warriors want to be really mean, they can break out the Curry-Durant pick and roll in transition. The Warriors are known for running small bits of half-court sets on the break, but Durant screening for Curry in the open floor is just nasty. The defense doesn’t have a chance to react.
Pick-and-roll plays come in many shapes and sizes. The Warriors can get even more creative with both guys off the ball. Because both of them are phenomenal three-point shooters, they can run baseline screening action that creates a quasi-pick and roll play.
This isn’t stopping any time soon
This is a make-or-miss league. Every defensive decision requires accepting the least-damaging opening for the offense. But the Curry-Durant duo, combined with the brilliance of the Warriors’ scheme, makes it flat-out unfair for defenders.
The Warriors pummeled the Cavs with these different variations of the play on their way to their second title in three years. If all things play out the way they should this offseason, we could see this same collection of talent down the line for years to come.
The Cavaliers didn’t have the defensive talent to stop them this year and it’s tough to figure out who does. Keep in mind, this is only Year 1 together for these Warriors. They’re only going to gel more and continue to get better.
That means this play will be terrorizing defenses in new ways for years to come, just as we expected this preseason.
Depending on where your loyalties lie, that’s a very scary thought.