Some observations following the night:
Golden State’s Switch-Happy Defense
A huge part of what makes the Dubs so successful on defense is their versatile personnel. Switching on screens might generally be looked at as a component of a lazy or bad defense. Yet given the appropriate pieces it’s a quirk that can stall offenses for those extra five or six seconds to put them in an uncomfortable situation where a bad isolation player is going one-on-one late in the shot clock.
Golden State employs said “appropriate pieces” with players like Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston on their roster. They can freely exchange assignments on the wing and not end up in a bad match-up.
Meanwhile, Atlanta thrives on its ball-movement and capability to hurt you on offense with all five players. They want to fizz the ball (copyrights belong to Leigh Ellis) around the court in an effort to find the best shot while defenses have to decide whether they really can’t do any better than giving up an open mid-range jumper to Al Horford.
Kyle Korver might break SportVU’s cameras one day by somehow generating a gravity score greater than 100.
(David Lee, by the way, lived up to his infamously bad status on defense throughout the game)
Andre Iguodala-featured line-ups were especially ready to switch on such simple plays as a screen set on the side of the floor by one wing for another. Here’s Stephen Curry calling out for the switch in a very timely manner:
The Warriors staff had visibly planned for using Curry himself in a lot of switching on screens as well. The point guard was left in a match-up against Paul Millsap after a pick-n-roll a few times and it did produce the results the Dubs hoped for. Atlanta seemed out of its niche when attempting to force the ball into Millsap’s hands so he could use his size advantage in a one-on-one:
If we do see the two teams in the finals, in what would be at least my dream match-up scenario this season, do expect a lot of of switching on pick-n-rolls as well. Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green are quick enough on their feet to keep up against an isolation drive by a Hawks guard, while screen setters like Mike Scott or DeMarre Carroll don’t scare Golden State’s staff with their post-up potential against smaller players:
Hawks still got over the edge thanks to a couple of ballsy buckets by Dennis Schroder in such scenarios and an overall great effort from the bench, with Mike Scott, Kent Bazemore and Baby Rondo making all seven of their threes. That seems like a performance that would be impossible to duplicate again.
Yet this is not meant as a column to write off Atlanta against such a defensive game-plan. No matter how suited Golden State might be to employ such principals, it carries inevitable risks. Guards will have trouble rebounding after being left on bigs, especially if coaches make the appropriate adjustment on crashing the glass more during a seven game series.
An isolation three might sound like a bad shot but a Jeff Teague will still have enough space to launch it up over a bigger guy who has to worry about Teague penetrating (and if he does so, the big might stay in front of him yet have trouble at denying the middle). Those jumpers might just go down enough times over the course of a smaller sample size that is a play-off series.
Constant switching presents small gaps of space that the offense in turn can now expect. The Warriors had plenty of possessions last night where it seemingly played a perfect dozen seconds of switching defense before breaking down:
And, of course, you can’t dismiss that Coach Budenholzer will come prepared as well. Al Horford is skillful and big enough not to be left as a match-up for a guard, unlike Paul Millsap (from whom you would also expect more than he offered last night against Curry). Putting him in the equation creates a scenario where a switch becomes a way more awkward technique to consider.
Just look at this Horford screen for Kyle Korver, who also, of course, has to be handled with extra care. Andre Iguodala, worried about Korver, is okay with almost turning his back at all-star Al Horford just to keep his wingspan in front of the shooter to deny a possible pass:
While a Thompson-Iguodala transaction between assignments where one of the players is Korver can be executed somewhat smoothly, you can’t switch when Mo Speights is involved (and he is involved because Al set the screen) and evidently Horford will punish you as well, if forgotten about:
The Stephen Curry-Another Guard Pick-n-Roll
The Atlanta Hawks themselves had to face a play where switching assignments is a possible answer.
This Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson pick-n-roll is almost more devastating than a play where the screen is set by a deadly stretch-four. On this particular play, Bazemore had enough courage only to make a light “show” before getting back to Thompson:
A Stephen Curry lay-up was the result of this:
The Hawks followed this play up with three unsuccessful attempts of switching the two assignments, whether both players didn’t properly communicate or the screener slipped away at the right exact moment:
Only in the fourth quarter did Atlanta finally pull this task off and not give up a basket:
This is very relevant considering what I just wrote about Atlanta facing a defense that switches a lot.
It’s a great example of how perfectly timed the switch has to be and that there can be plays that break such a system. When I said that Budenholzer will specifically plan for this type of defense in the play-offs, this is something that comes to mind. A Jeff Teague – Kyle Korver pick-n-roll might be just as dangerous as one between Curry and Thompson.
Atlanta’s Full-Court Press
Half-hearted full-court presses is something that I guess you could call a small NBA pet peeve of mine. You have seen the type. The center or power forward steps in front of the point guard after a made free throw and denies the passing line before the two-guard retreats closer to the base-line and receives the inbound pass. The press at that point basically dies and the big has to hurry back up to the defensive side of the court. It will force a time-out from time to time but usually it just seems like a pointless exercise with little creativity.
That’s why it was so fun, refreshing and unexpected to see the Hawks successfully execute two of these beauties during one such important (if inter-conference regular season games can indeed be called “important) game:
Golden State did return the favor, however, as Atlanta fell victim to its signature inbounds play that still catches opponents sleeping. I cannot imagine a world in which the Hawks coaching staff hadn’t prepared their players for this…
Atlanta’s Rebounding Woes
Even though the Hawks shouldn’t be exactly as worried about its defensive rebounding problems as, let’s say, the Mavericks (currently the second worst team in defensive rebounding percentage), it still could present itself as an issue come post-season time. Last night they posted a very bad DREB% of 64.2 as Draymond Green repeatedly went over Atlanta’s bigs for second chances.
Definitely an aspect of the game in which teams could look to hurt Atlanta. Had it not been for Bazemore’s and Scott’s huge threes, Green might have sealed the game with his ten offensive rebounds.