While the dominant story of Friday night’s Lakers-Warriors tilt may have been Kobe Bryant going down with an achilles injury, there was one particular play the Warriors hurt the Lakers with earlier in the game that could be important down the line. The play was a 1-2 pick and roll between Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, a play that the Lakers themselves had used to strong results earlier in the season.
Golden State’s use of this set actually largely came as a result of an adjustment the Lakers made early in the game. The Lakers don’t have their primary pick and roll big man defender jump out on the ball handler and against a shooter like Stephen Curry, that hurt. 22 first quarter points of hurt to be specific.
He simply did whatever he wanted on the pick and roll, maneuvering to the paint and stepping into open threes. (Side note: Normal NBA players are at least a little bit better on layups than three pointers, but not Curry. He scores 1.06 points per shot on layups and an ungodly 1.35 on three pointers, via Vorped).
The Lakers started to show more aggressively in the second quarter and Golden State’s previously robust pick and roll attack faltered mightily. Curry struggled shooting over the outstretched hands of 7-footers Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, while his roll men were passive when he was able to get them the ball. The Lakers had a solution for the ghost peper-hot Curry, or so it seemed. Alas for the Lakers, that isn’t the way it went. Mark Jackson has shown a penchant for in game coaching this entire season and he showed this skill again on Friday. The Warriors ran the same play on 9 of their first 10 offensive possessions in the second half en route to 16 quick points.
The first immediate thing that jumps out on on this play: the Lakers have absolutely no idea how to defend it. Nearly every situation is defended differently, but the results are almost always the same. When the Lakers reverted to their pick and roll “defense” of the first quarter, Curry scored. Switch, and Thompson ends up with a very favorable matchup in the post. Try to hedge without switching and Thompson would slip the screen for an open jumper. It was a no win situation for LA.
Much of the onus of this defensive breakdown falls on the shoulders of Mike D’Antoni for not preparing the Lakers or even calling a timeout somewhere in Golden State’s scoring run to make an adjustment, but there is blame too for Steve Blake and Earl Clark for failing to adjust, or even communicate despite being victimized in this set nine consecutive times.
But for the Warriors, it was all for naught, as they went back to a simple Curry/Carl Landry pick and roll to end the game, which was easily shut down (This is where you laugh about my Mark Jackson in game coaching line).
People will gripe all they want about how Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard can’t play together and Steve Nash’s aggression, but the bottom line is that this Lakers team isn’t sniffing the mere chance at an upset until they learn how to defend. From the Warrior perspective, this set could come in handy against prospective playoff opponent Denver, where most often it would end with a tasty matchup of Ty Lawson or Andre Miller on Thompson in the post. It may not be a series changer, but small Xs and Os developments like these speak positively to the coaching prowess of Golden State’s coaching staff, and the quick adaptability of the players.