One play that explains why the Warriors are so good

Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors. Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors. Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

After ending their four-game losing streak against the Portland Trail Blazers, the New Orleans Pelicans returned to their losing ways last night against the Golden State Warriors.

The defending champions were without their two-time MVP, Stephen Curry, for yesterday’s showdown/ But it ultimately didn’t matter, as Golden State’s great ecosystem and long-standing continuity were too much for the depleted Pelicans to overcome.

The beauty of familiarity is that it breeds strategy. And because the Warriors’ core pieces have spent so much time together, they have been able to avoid wasting time laying the groundwork for the basics and focus more of their energy on installing layers and layers of counters.

The perfect example of their expansive playbook came down the stretch of yesterday’s Western Conference clash.

For some background context, the second half of the fourth quarter had a playoff-level atmosphere about it, with both teams slowing things down and engaging in some old-school mismatch hunting. The Pelicans had their scoring stars Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum go after Jordan Poole. Meanwhile, Golden State set their sights on attacking McCollum.

With under two minutes left in the final frame, the Warriors were up four with possession of the basketball when they decided it was time to deliver a death blow.

The red-hot Klay Thompson (he finished the game with 27 points) had the Spalding in his hands and the venerable Herb Jones in front of him. To create a more favorable matchup, he signaled for Donte DiVincenzo, the player McCollum was guarding, to set him a screen.

The veteran McCollum saw this coming from a mile away, so he engaged in a tactic known as “pre-switching” to switch assignments with Naji Marshall and avoid having to deal with the primary action.

Most teams would accept the Pelicans’ intuitive counter and attempt to secure a field goal in a different manner. But the Warriors aren’t most teams. They had a different plan.

When DiVincenzo confirmed that McCollum and Marshall had switched assignments, he instructed Poole (McCollum’s new matchup) to set the screen for Thompson. At that point, it was too late for McCollum to pre-switch with someone else, so he was forced to engage in the ballscreen sequence.

From there, Thompson got the switch he was looking for (many teams switch like-sized matchups like that), and the rest is history.

The Warriors’ dynasty has given them the luxury of having countless repetitions against playoff defenses and the various strategies they try to employ to slow them down. This experience has given them the knowledge to concoct their own solutions to these problems.

This season, much has been made about the Warriors’ pedestrian record (currently 34-30 and fifth in the West), but as last night reminded us, they are still not the kind of opponent you want to take lightly.

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