Play Breakdown: Mavericks Put ‘Elevator’ In Reverse

Near the end of the third quarter of the Thunder’s victory over the Mavericks on Wednesday, Rick Carlisle put Golden State’s “Elevator” play in reverse on an out-of-bounds that created an open layup for Devin Harris. It wasn’t anything particularly tricky — it was just a savvy play call that manipulated one of the more effective plays in basketball.

Part 1: Set-Up

It’s hard to see exactly how the Mavericks started the play, because both broadcasts returned from a replay after the possession began. Nonetheless, what’s important is that a shooter is standing in the corner on the weak side, while the two big men — Dirk Nowitzki and David Lee — set up at either elbows. Because they are both threats 15-feet from the basket, Enes Kanter and Serge Ibaka can’t just hang around the restricted area.

Devin Harris, who likely started on the weak side baseline near Raymond Felton, then begins to move towards the perimeter as though he’s curling off of a pair of screens to receive the ball on the strong side wing — sort of like “Motion Strong.” Notice, too, how Dion Waiters is trailing Harris on the play, which is just what’s needed for this play to work.

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Step 2: Closing Doors

Rather than pop to the perimeter, Harris makes a hard cut towards the center of the basket by running in-between Lee and Nowitzki — just like you’d see from Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson when the Warriors run this play for a 3-pointer on the wing.

Since Kanter and Ibaka are both glued to their assignments, and Dion Waiters is trailing Harris, all Deron Williams has to do is make a pass towards the basket for Harris to get a wide open layup. Somehow, he managed to do it by throwing it between Kevin Durant’s legs.

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Step 3: Finish

With nobody in the picture, Harris receives the pass and goes up strong for a layup. Waiters, for some reason, decides to push him in the back, and the Mavericks get a quick three points on a simple out-of-bounds.

While the Mavericks didn’t need any other options, Lee also set a screen on Ibaka for Nowitzki to pop out for a midrange jumper. Ibaka motioned to Kanter to switch assignments, thereby freeing Lee for a cut to the basket. Had Randy Foye been more aggressive with his help, a skip pass to the corner for Felton would’ve open as well.

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Here’s a GIF of the end of the play, because — again — the broadcast cut off the start.

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Play Breakdown: Mavericks Put ‘Elevator’ In Reverse

Play breakdown: The Threat of Stephen Curry

Stephen Curry isn’t only a threat with the ball in his hands. Because he’s just as dangerous off ball, opponents have to be a step ahead of him if they have any chance of slowing him down. One of the ways the Warriors use that to their advantage is by having Curry set screens on his teammates in the half court to confuse opponents.

Here’s an example of just that from Wednesday’s game between the Warriors and Suns following a timeout.

Part 1: The Set-up

The beauty of the Warriors is that they’re not restricted to one or two players bringing the ball up court. Draymond Green, who is putting up numbers we’ve never seen before, looks like a point guard on paper and Andre Iguodala is capable of making plays with the ball in his hands.

That allows Curry and Klay Thompson to play off ball, which is a nightmare for teams to deal with because they’re amongst the league’s best scorers off of screens.

On this play in particular, Curry and Thompson set up across from each other in the corners. Meanwhile, Iguodala (who has the ball in his hands) and Green stand behind the perimeter, while Andrew Bogut parks himself at the free throw line.

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Part 2: Diversion

Curry and Thompson exchange screens underneath the basket, but Curry breaks before they make contact to run towards Green. The Suns aren’t forced to switch — they’re trailing Curry and Thompson to prevent themselves from getting hung up on screens — and Thompson clears out to the corner.

Notice how Bogut moves from underneath the free throw line to just inside the 3-point line while that’s going on. He fakes as though he’s going to set a screen on Iguodala’s defender, which helps pull Tyson Chandler away from the rim — important for the play to unfold.

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Part 3: The Screen

Iguodala passes the ball to Thompson in the left corner and Curry sets a back screen on Green. With no rim protector in sight — again, notice Bogut pulling Chandler away — Green makes a simple cut towards the basket. Because Curry demands so much attention, Eric Bledsoe is forced to stick with him rather than switching. That puts all of the pressure on Jon Leuer to fight over the screen.

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Part 4: Bucket

As soon as Thompson catches the ball, he turns around and throws a bullet to Green for an uncontested layup. And just in case that didn’t work, Bogut moves towards Curry to set a screen and Iguodala clears out to the weak side.

Those Warriors, always thinking of ways to make you pay.

No. 4

Here’s a GIF of the play:

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Pay attention to Green at the start of the play, too. Standing upright with a hand on his hip, Leuer relaxes and shifts his attention to Iguodala and Bogut. That’s all Green needs to create a passing lane by getting Leuer on his back.

Play breakdown: The Threat of Stephen Curry

Film Room: The Jazz’s defense on Stephen Curry and the Warriors

Stephen Curry finished with 26 points and the Warriors won their 19th game in a row on Monday, but the Jazz did a good job of making them work for 48 minutes. After all, it took Shaun Livingston’s first 3-pointer of the season and some heroics from Curry down the stretch to leave Salt Lake City with a victory.

There were three things the Jazz did well to disrupt Curry and the Warriors leading up to the last six minutes of the game, some of which we’ve seen before.

Tactic 1: Do your homework early

Similar to what the Clippers did earlier this season (for at least one quarter), the Jazz had their bigs run to the 3-point line instead of the rim following a made or missed basket.

It’s somewhat risky since it leaves the paint unguarded, but it worked because Derrick Favors had to guard Draymond Green on the drag screen anyway and Rudy Gobert’s assignment was still running up the court. As long as the two other defenders — in this case Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood — don’t get caught ball watching, it can help teams slow down the Warriors in transition. It also gave Raulzinho Neto some slack when fighting through screens.

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It set the Jazz to trap Curry a couple of times too, one of which forced a careless turnover.

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If Curry attacks off of the pick, three players are in the vicinity to swarm him. It leaves Green open rolling to the rim or popping to the 3-point line, but that’s why it’s useful having someone like Alec Burks — 6-6 with a 6-10 wingspan — guarding Curry to prevent straight-line passes. While Curry can float a pass over the defense, it gives Favors or Trevor Booker time to recover.

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Tactic 2: Turn Green into a scorer

The Cavaliers did a good job of turning Green into a playmaker — a role he wasn’t comfortable with last season — in the finals. He’s made huge strides as a facilitator this season (I wrote about how he’s basically a #PointGod at Sporting News), but I still think the best chance of slowing them down is by turning Green into a scorer inside the 3-point line.

Of course, as is the case with every theoretical scenario with the Warriors, that’s much easier said than done.

It all starts with Gobert, who, like Timofey Mosgov, is a huge and imposing center in the paint. When Green catches the ball on a roll to the rim, he’s able to keep him guessing by staying between Green and his man. If everyone else does their homework, that leaves Green with a midrange jumper or a floater from the free throw line, which are options teams will likely take. In this situation, with Festus Ezeli being covered on the alley-oop, Green opted for a floater.

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Because Green has basically turned himself into a walking triple-double, encouraging him to shoot 15-something times in a game (like he did on Monday) might be the way to go. For what it’s worth, Green still finished with 20 points (8-for-21 FG), 9 rebounds and 7 assists against the Jazz and was +10 when on the court.

I might be spewing nonsense.

Tactic 3: Swarm Curry on the fastbreak

Last thing I noticed: The Jazz did a good job of swarming Curry in transition rather than giving him space to be creative, which prevented a couple of layups. Green grabbed the offensive rebound and converted an And-1 in the fourth quarter (that’s what happens when a big trails the ball handler on the fastbreak), but this one led to a missed shot and turnover.

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Giving Curry any sort of breathing room will make you look silly, so it was nice to see Trey Burke and Burks sprint back on defense to make a play. As a result, the Warriors only scored five transition points in the game.

Film Room: The Jazz’s defense on Stephen Curry and the Warriors

Play Breakdown: Warriors ball movement

Seeing as Stephen Curry is making 5.2 3-pointers per game at a 45.6 percent clip, you’d think teams would do everything possible to cut down his uncontested shot attempts. And yet, while it’s far easier said than done, over 50 percent of his FGAs through 11 games have been what NBA.com classifies as open (within 4-plus feet of a defender).

As I wrote on Sporting News, there are a number of things Curry and the Warriors do well to get him open, like pull-ups from 40 feet, drag screens in transition and nifty plays for him off the ball. But the way the Warriors selflessly move the ball on offense has a way of baiting teams into mistakes. It’s no surprise, either, because the longer the Warriors swing the ball, the more teams have to rotate and make reads on the fly — deadly considering the number of weapons they have on their roster.

One play during the Warriors’ win over the Raptors on Tuesday encapsulated all of that perfectly.

No. 1: Pick-and-Roll

It all starts on a somewhat broken play. Leandro Barbosa curls off of a screen from Festus Ezeli, receives the ball from Curry and takes one dribble before hitting Ezeli rolling to the basket. Because he is quickly double-teamed, Ezeli passes the ball back to Barbosa on the perimeter and they run a pick-and-roll.

Back to square one.

To prevent Barbosa from getting to the middle of the court, Corey Joseph ices the pick-and-roll by funnelling him baseline. (Statistically, this is the right move).

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No. 2: Breakdown

With Bismack Biyombo sagging on the play, Barbosa wisely attacks the basket. While he doesn’t have a great angle towards the rim, Patrick Patterson helps off of Harrison Barnes on the opposite baseline to prevent Barbosa from getting into the paint. Barbosa reads it well by whipping a pass to Barnes, which forces DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry to help out.

While that’s going on, Curry sets a half-hearted screen for Andre Iguodala on DeRozan, drawing both DeRozan and Lowry into the paint. 

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No. 3: Swing

Lowry is in better position to close out on Barnes, so he does. Because the Warriors move the ball so quickly (4 seconds have elapsed since the pick-and-roll), Joseph, Patterson and Biyombo are still underneath the rim. That leaves DeRozan on an island between Curry and Andre Iguodala.

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No. 4: Open 3-pointer

Once Curry catches the ball, all he does is pause to see how DeRozan reacts. DeRozan gets caught up in the moment, hedges towards Iguodala and Curry drains the open shot.

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DeRozan should’ve known who he was dealing with, but moving the ball quickly forces the defense to make quick reads. The Raptors prevented a layup from Ezeli to begin the play, stopped Barbosa from getting to the rim out of the pick-and-roll and shut down Barnes in the corner for an open 3. Then, they were left deciding between Curry and Iguodala shooting a 3-pointer.

Unfortunately for them, one mistake is all the Warriors need to get off a quality shot.

Play Breakdown: Warriors ball movement

Film Room: Clippers Defensive Breakdowns vs. Mavericks (1st Half)

The Mavericks did a good job of exploiting mismatches against the Clippers on Wednesday, especially over the first two quarters. They started the game by feeding Wesley Matthews (guarded by Lance Stephenson) in the post, for example, and put Deron Williams in similar situations against Chris Paul later in the game.

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Beyond that, the Mavericks did a masterful job of moving the ball and finding the open man. In doing so, they exposed a number of holes in the Clippers’ defense, which may help explain why they’re in the middle of the pack in defensive efficiency to begin the season.

Pick-and-Rolls

Not being able to contain Stephen Curry in the pick-and-roll is one thing. Letting Deron Williams waltz into the lane for open opportunities is another.

One of the reasons DeAndre Jordan wasn’t a leading candidate for DPOY last season was because he fails to provide much resistance when defending pick-and-rolls. Knowing this, the Mavericks attacked him several times in the first half, like on this play that lead to a floater from Williams at the elbow:

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Allowing someone to turn the corner with that much space is never going to end well, especially against a team that can space the floor from 1-4. Raymond Felton hit a couple of midrange jump shots out of the pick-and-roll in the first half, too, and Dwight Powell was the beneficiary of Jordan’s sagging defense on a pair of pick-and-pops.

As was the case against the Clippers, their pick-and-roll defense was a problem.

Breakdowns

The Clippers don’t seem to be on the same page at times defensively, which is to be expected seeing as we’re only several games into the season and they’re still figuring out how the likes of Lance Stephenson, Josh Smith and Wesley Johnson fit into their system. However, playing sound defense for 15 seconds before leaving someone wide open for a 3-pointer or drive to the rim is an absolute killer, especially when it’s because of Jamal Crawford and not one of the new guys.

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There were a couple of times when two players closed out on the same player, too. Notice how J.J. Redick and Lance Stephenson run out to defend Wesley Matthews on this possession. Matthews wisely makes them pay by swinging the ball to Felton, who steps in for an open 3-pointer.

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Help Defense

For a number of possessions in the first half, the Clippers basically ignored Zaza Pachulia by shading Jordan over to Nowitzki’s side. The image below is from the same possession as above, just earlier in the play. With Nowitzki popping to the left elbow, Jordan is forced to come out, basically resulting in a 4-on-3. Nowitzki makes the unselfish pass to the corner and everything else falls into place.

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The Mavericks ran the same play less than a minute later, only this time giving Devin Harris the ball instead of Nowitzki. Because Jordan was out of position, Harris found himself wide open for a midrange jumper following a pick-and-roll with Pachulia.

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In the end, the Mavericks scored 118 points on 55.3 percent shooting from the field and 45.8 percent from the perimeter. Other than Nowitzki, only 21 of their 76 field goal attempts were contested and the Clippers wound up with a Defensive Rating of 123.9.

Film Room: Clippers Defensive Breakdowns vs. Mavericks (1st Half)