The Warriors were doing their absolute best to choke away Sunday’s game to the Nets.
Golden State’s 19-point second-half lead had dwindled down to two, as Brooklyn was red-hot from behind the 3-point arc and the Warriors’ offense had gone ice cold.
For nearly four minutes in the fourth quarter, Golden State didn’t score, and with less than two minutes to play, they couldn’t wait another possession to break out of their funk.
So the Warriors went to the best play in the entire NBA.
Unsurprisingly, it worked.
And the next time down the floor, when the Warriors called the same play. Get this: it worked again.
The Warriors called it a third-straight time, and it didn’t come through — they got too cute with it — but the damage was done. By the time the buzzer sounded, Golden State had its sixth win of the season, 120-116.
The Stephen Curry-Kevin Durant pick-and-roll had worked its magic.
The Curry-Durant combination — it really doesn’t matter who is setting the pick for whom, though it’s more often Durant screening for Curry — is so ruthless, so lethal, that it is often spoken about in hushed, reverent tones. It’s The Play That Shall Not Be Named.
The Warriors play into that mysticism, as well — the team rarely runs classic, direct pick-and-roll, so running it between the team’s two best players is seen as a nuclear option.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr said the play isn’t used often because it makes the game “stagnant”.
“If you do it the whole game, you don’t get the other guys involved,” Kerr said last season. “I know everyone thinks we should just run it every play. But then the other guys would just be standing around and be useless.”
But the reason everyone thinks the Warriors should run it every play is because the play is borderline unstoppable, in a literal sense.
What’s a defense to do when a 7-foot Kevin Durant — who is a mismatch against anyone and can take and make any shot on the court — sets a pick for Curry, who only needs a split second of daylight to shoot from anywhere within 50 feet of the hoop and can penetrate and finish at the basket with LeBron James-like efficiency?
I believe the correct answer is to pray.
The Warriors didn’t even need to get into the wrinkles of the Curry-Durant pick-and-roll in Sunday — the basics were enough to seal the win.
But make no mistake, the personnel that was on the court with them late Sunday, the options that exist beyond the first pass are preposterous. This could be an entire offense — one that could score 200 points a game.
Let’s take a look at the mesh point of the first play:
The split second D’Angelo Russell goes over on this pick and Caris LeVert doesn’t step towards Curry or Durant, the Warriors have suceeded. It’s instant death.
From there, Curry easily hits Durant with a pocket pass — he’s really good at those — and the forward takes one dribble forward before pulling up from 12 feet.
Take a lay of the land around Durant when he pulls up, though.
Andre Iguodala is cutting towards the basket, unabated — Durant could throw an alley-oop. That Iguodala cut leaves Klay Thompson wide open, and Durant’s drive pulled Draymond Green’s defender, Jarrett Allen over towards him. It’s five-on-four, but the only question once Durant picks up his dribble is if he is going to get two points or three. He took two for himself.
Too much room, it turned out. Way too much room. It’s honestly a comical amount of room.
Curry makes this shot 999 times out of 1,000. Game over.
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson immediately knew the Warriors had won when Curry moved around Durant’s pick. This is cruel and unusual punishment.
So when will we see this unstoppable play again? It could be Monday night, it could be February. Despite its potency, it’s probably best for Kerr to keep it under glass and to only break it out in case of emergency (or playoffs).
So credit to the Nets for forcing the Warriors to break it out Sunday. A lesser team wouldn’t have even seen it.