It’s a given that if any popular NBA team passes more than three times in succession and the result is a made basket, the Internet will go nuts. We’ve done it with the Spurs for years, and the Warriors are the new darlings of this. It’s important to note that this happens all the time on any given NBA night. As much as people act like most every other NBA team is just slogging through possessions, not everyone is Carmelo Anthony. But if the Hornets, Grizzlies, or even the Raptors pull off such a sequence, no one so much as raises a Vine.
However, the play that made the Internet “ooh and ahh” on Wednesday night, as the Warriors dismantled the Clippers for the seventh consecutive time 115-98, is a great example of a larger insight that’s important.
You can see the play above, and here’s a version you can play back:
Holy ball movement, Batman! Right?
The unselfishness here, for Durant not to just pull up, for Thompson not to force the layup, for Green not to force the layup, for Pachulia to not take an open short-range jumper, for them all to pass up good look after good look to get a great look from the second-best player in the NBA is a shining example of what makes the Warriors great.
But we get lost so much in the razzle and dazzle, and the sheer “Man, Kevin Durant is wide freaking open” element that we lose sight of how they create these kinds of opportunities …
The Warriors have always played fast. They were No. 1 in pace and defensive efficiency in 2015 when they won the title, the first team to ever be tops in both categories. They were second last season when they finished first in offense and won 73 games. And they are third so far this season.
Adding Kevin Durant means they have yet another forward who can grab the ball as a rebound and push the pace. Draymond Green’s passing ability becomes devastating when he does so; teams are forced to commit to either stopping Green’s bowling ball frame bearing down at the rim, or stay home on two of the best shooters in NBA history. Durant is like taking Green, making him 7 feet tall, and giving him the shooting ability of the Splash Brothers.
But it’s not merely the individual talent or size, it’s the insistence with how the Warriors push. They are constantly at your throat — attacking, pressing, causing you to panic and fret. And as a result, often you wind up with matchups you simply cannot live with as they begin to attack the basket.
Here, take a look at the matchups when the play first starts after Durant passes to Thompson coming up the wing.
The Clippers are already at a disadvantage. It’s not DeAndre Jordan’s fault — he can move only so fast — but four Warriors are ready to engage offensively while only three Clippers are really where they need to be.
When Pachulia gets covered up as Jordan recovers, the big problem is that Griffin-Thompson matchup:
Now, generally speaking, when you’re guarding a guy who just went off for 60 points, you might want to face-guard him. But Griffin’s trying to keep an eye on the rest of the play because he knows if he’s guarding Thompson, someone smaller is guarding Green.
So naturally, Thompson cuts, and catches Griffin off guard:
Now the Clippers defense is collapsing. And against most teams, that’s a good thing! Bring help! Protect the paint! But the Warriors are exceptional and once you start collapsing, that means someone’s open, and the Warriors, more than any other team, commit themselves to hunting down that open man.
And that’s how it happens. Now, if Durant grabs that rebound, holds, and calls for a play, they never get the Griffin-Thompson combo, Thompson (maybe) never gets past his man, and Durant doesn’t wind up open. Sure, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute could have stayed home on Durant, but the odds of that sequence resulting in the passing to find an open shooter — let alone Kevin Durant — on any team is very low. That’s just how the Warriors operate.
So yes, it’s fine passing, and it’s great unselfishness, but don’t forget the initial urgency the Warriors play with that unlocks all of this for Golden State, and the benefits they reap from it.