Film study: how did the Thunder give up all those 3-pointers to the Golden State Warriors?

Ezra Shaw

We NBA fans were treated to a shooting exhibition, but the Thunder were in no smiling mood as the Warriors poured it on from behind the arc. What went wrong on defense, and how much of it is correctable?

In case you didn't catch the game, read the recap or hear about what happened from incredulous friends, I'll fill you in on what you missed Thursday night The Golden State Warriors made a lot of three-pointers against the Oklahoma City Thunder. To be exact, they made 14 out of 23 attempts for a very tidy 60.9%. For the national television audience, it was one of the best shooting performances in recent memory and provided for a very memorable game. My recap told a more complete story of the three-point shooting in the game from both teams, but I'll take out just what the Warriors' shooters managed to accomplish here.

Player 3PM-A (%)
Klay Thompson 6-9 (66.6%)
Stephen Curry 4-8 (50.0%)
Andre Iguodala 2-2 (100.0%)
Marreese Speights 1-1 (100.0%)
Harrison Barnes 1-3 (33.3%)

Gswarriors3_medium

Predictably, a lot of this was Steph Curry and Klay Thompson being Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. On the whole, the defense wasn't as bad as the shooting line would indicate. However, the defense wasn't without its flaws either. As Kevin Durant said post-game:

Let's take a deeper look at the Warriors' three-pointers, and investigate how the Thunder allowed these attempts in such abundance.

The First Three-Pointer

Shooter: Stephen Curry @ 10:47, 1Q

It's hard to blame the defense for this one. It's Curry's first shot of the game, coming just over a minute into the game. Nobody's expecting the pull-up triple from two feet behind the arc with 20 seconds left on the shot clock. Westbrook's contest wasn't even half-bad. We can live with this.

The Second Three-Pointer

Shooter: Stephen Curry @ 9:52, 1Q (assisted by David Lee)

In this one, a David Lee post-up results in heads turned and an open Curry on the three-point line. Oklahoma City's defensive scheme revolves around guys lingering near the paint to prevent easy shots, and you can see it in full effect here. Normally, when the pass goes out, the Thunder have players athletic enough to close out on shooters and it works very well. However, Westbrook inches too close to Lee and Curry recognizes it, shifting a few even farther away. Cue Lee's kick out and cue the Curry hit from deep as a confused Westbrook reacts way too late.

It's a simple mental mistake that can't happen. David Lee is a relatively good low-post scorer, but a one-on-one situation against Serge Ibaka isn't anything to overreact to. Westbrook can come towards the paint a bit, but not at the cost of losing the ability to recover on to his man on the perimeter. When that player is Steph Curry, there's even less of a margin for error.

The Third Three-Pointer

Shooter: Klay Thompson @ 9:01, 1Q (assisted by Stephen Curry)

*points to the first three-pointer*

The Fourth Three-Pointer

Shooter: Klay Thompson @ 8:28, 1Q (assisted by Andre Iguodala)

This one's a bit frenetic, so I'll describe it here. Basically what breaks this possession down is that Westbrook completely loses Curry when he rejects the Andrew Bogut screen. Westbrook scrambles to recover and Serge Ibaka runs out of the paint to get on Curry, who's probably making that look anyway. Only instead of shooting it, he drives it into the paint. Andre Iguodala is open in the corner by virtue of Kevin Durant rotating on to Ibaka's check (David Lee), and he makes the extra pass to a Klay Thompson abandoned by Thabo Sefolosha on the Curry drive.

There are a lot of mistakes in this play, but after the defense loses their head on an open Steph Curry (which is a pretty good thing to lose your head over, if you ever had to), it was pretty difficult to recover because of how scrambled things became. The thing that hurt the most was actually Ibaka and Westbrook were caught ball-watching after biting on the Curry fake. If you watch the end of the play, Ibaka retreats to the paint and Westbrook just gives up. Neither bothers rotating on to Klay, and if one of them had, it probably would've meant a semi-contested Iguodala look instead of a wide open Thompson one. Sure, Iguodala's shooting from the corner, but you'll take Iggy shooting instead of Klay any time no matter what.

The Fifth Three-Pointer

Shooter: Klay Thompson @ 3:50, 1Q (assisted by Andre Iguodala)

Credit the Thunder for denying the Warriors a three-point make for almost five minutes after their hot start early. It's a bit disappointing to see this shot end the drought, as it comes off of a basic counter move from Thompson. Sefolosha goes over the Jermaine O'Neal screen, which normally makes sense when trying to keep up with good shooters. However, specifically against down screens like this, it's smarter for the defender to try and chase around the down screen so that the cutter can't fade to the corner as Thompson does here. Sefolosha has better odds trying to recover to Thompson as he catches the ball on the wing, since he'd have to turn around almost entirely to face the basket after cutting up from the post.

The Sixth Three-Pointer

Shooter: Marreese Speights @ 0:28.9, 1Q (assisted by Andre Iguodala)

LOLOLOLOL

We probably didn't need three defenders hanging around a pick-and-roll, but I can't imagine Ibaka ever expected Mo Speights to take or make the three-pointer (as Grizzlies fans all know, Speights only takes long twos!) as the trailing player. I'd be more worried about this if it happened with a more dangerous shooter.

The Seventh Three-Pointer

Shooter: Stephen Curry @ 10:32, 2Q

Sheesh, this is just dirty. Maybe Nick Collison should've played Curry more closely, but I mean, this is as unpredictable as his first trey. Let's just take it as a good thing that we finally got to the second quarter, and move on to the next one.

The Eighth Three-Pointer

Shooter: Andre Iguodala @ 5:28, 2Q (assisted by Andrew Bogut)

For some reason, every single Thunder player hangs around in the paint after the Warriors' offensive rebound. Jeremy Lamb is the only player not stepping on yellow there, and he's only like two feet out from the paint. There also just two big guys in the paint, while there are three shooters out on the perimeter. Iggy has an open look on the kickout and so does Thompson one pass away. Lamb bites on the pass fake and Iggy drills the uncontested look. It's one thing for a defense to play conservatively to the paint, but it's another thing entirely to have every single player collapse in on an offensive rebound.

The Ninth Three-Pointer

Shooter: Klay Thompson @ 4:50, 2Q (assisted by Stephen Curry)

The NBA media stats site only has the video of this play from the weird above-the-backboard camera angle, and only part of the play is shown. It's enough video for us to see Jeremy Lamb help one pass away, resulting in an open Klay Thompson triple. At this point in the game, the Thunder should've known to stay at home on shooters. It looked like Collison was in good position to contend with Curry long enough for Westbrook to recover, too.

The Tenth Three-Pointer

Shooter: Klay Thompson @ 11:13, 3Q (assisted by David Lee)

Russ does a good job of denying Curry an open look off of a down screen here by trailing him under the screen, but through sheer bad luck, he slips. If Iguodala or Thompson had made the three after the swing pass, we probably could've chalked it up to bad luck. However, the Thunder catch a bit of a break when Thompson fumbles Iggy's pass and has to make a tough save to prevent it going out of bounds. With seven seconds left on the shot clock, the Thunder probably had enough time to force the Warriors into a difficult shot... except Sefolosha forgot about Thompson coming back from out of bounds. Thabo does an okay job of hustling back and challenging the shot, but it wasn't enough. This one bites.

The Eleventh Three-Pointer

Shooter: Klay Thompson @ 9:25, 3Q (assisted by Andrew Bogut)

A pick-and-roll draws the defense into the paint in this play, but Bogut fumbles the ball to Klay Thompson. This time, Sefolosha does a good job of recovering and challenging the three (a half-second late, if anything), but Thompson makes it anyway. We can argue that Sefolosha should've been even quicker to recover, but it wasn't as though Thompson had a particularly good look. Klay gon' Klay.

The Twelfth Three-Pointer

Shooter: Andre Iguodala @ 7:32, 3Q

Here, the Thunder trap the ball-handler in the pick-and-roll and Kevin Durant comes up to help on the roll man. Because of the Warriors' excellent spacing, this gave Iguodala a wide open three (and it probably wasn't the best idea to trap here). Lee didn't make the pass right away, however, giving Ibaka and in turn Durant an opportunity to recover on to their original assignments. Durant was slow to return and didn't seem to expect Iggy to pop the triple, so there wasn't much to be done when he did. While Iggy has never been a great three-point shooter historically, he's off to a hot start from outside this season (shooting 50% with 1.9 makes per game) and Durant probably should've played tighter on him, especially the way things had gone so far.

The Thirteenth Three-Pointer

Shooter: Stephen Curry @ 4:56, 3Q (assisted by Harrison Barnes)

A semi-transition three that wasn't a pull-up, actually! The fast break sort of fizzles out when the Thunder hustle back and Iguodala bobbles the pass. However, Russell Westbrook and Andrew Bogut were late running down the court (Westbrook fell down, and I have no clue what Bogut was doing). Four-on-four would've been fine, if only one of Serge Ibaka or Steven Adams realized they were both checking David Lee while leaving Steph Curry open on the far wing.

Westbrook came in and made a hilariously awesome leap to try and contest Curry's shot, but Curry waited Westbrook out before shooting. Even at that point, neither of Ibaka or Adams bothered to come up and challenge Curry after Westbrook's fly-by. I'm going to blame a lack of communication between Ibaka and Adams here, and dap Westbrook for his effort.

The Fourteenth Three-Pointer

Shooter: Harrison Barnes @ 1:08, 3Q (assisted by Andre Iguodala)

Hey, this is the last one! Jeremy Lamb just falls asleep on Harrison Barnes in the weak side corner on the inbound play, which is just inexcusable. At least it's not something that I need a lot of sentences to explain.

So?

Meh. I have no clue how the Warriors didn't make a single three in the fourth, but things really could've gotten ugly if they kept it going. A lot of the threes the Warriors made really were just Curry and Thompson doing their thing, especially early in the game which is when they got hot. However, after the pretty pull-ups from two feet behind the arc, there were a lot of basic mistakes from the Thunder that shouldn't have happened.

A regular theme was helping or covering off of shooters, which only works if the defense can recover back to those shooters before the shot goes up. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case, as guys like Westbrook and Lamb often had their heads turned too far. Lamb made two mistakes (helping one pass away, then forgetting about Barnes) that felt like giveaways for a hot-shooting team that didn't even need such great looks to make their shots.

It also felt like effort was missing at times. Sometimes, guys were slow to close out on shooters or didn't bother altogether (such as Westbrook in Klay's second three after the defense collapsed or the big men in Curry's three after Westbrook's fly-by). Against shooters that were throwing fireballs at the rim, there really is no excuse to continue to leave them open time and time again. The Thunder lost by a point, and who knows how things might've happened differently if the Thunder had ran at the shooter harder in one or two of these plays. Effort could easily have been a deciding factor.

On the bright side, it's great that the Thunder were able to keep up with a hot-shooting team on a night where their defense wasn't perfect. Most nights, their defense shows up and does a good job of limiting opposing teams. If they can use this game as a regrouping point, they can come back stronger and take better advantage of the next 115-point explosion.

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