I'm usually someone who enjoys being proven right. It's nice to see validation that something I said was accurate. In this case, however, I really wish it wasn't. In the film study after game 1, I started out the article by saying "Although the game was generally a success on the defensive end, there were some concerning things in addition to the encouraging." The very first thing on that list was lazy switching, specifically because "it is incredibly risky to switch 1-4 or 1-5."
At the time of writing that, I believed that the decision to switch was one made by the guards, choosing to pass off their assignment to a big to avoid having to fight over a screen. From game 2, however, it is obvious that the Thunder's defensive scheme dictates switching everything.
In a blowout loss like this, there is usually a myriad of things that can be blamed for the loss. I believe that in this game, it was simple. Everything that directly led to the collapse on the defensive end of the floor (3pt barrage, offensive rebounds, easy dunks) was a result of switching on every screen.
Offensive Rebounding from Switching
First, an example of how offensive rebounds resulted from switching. This possession has two great examples. Golden State runs a very simple screen here with Barbosa and Varejao to get Kanter guarding Barbosa. Kanter actually does okay here, forcing Barbosa too far under the basket to have a shot at the rim. Durant had helped in just in case but contests Iguodala's 3. That is an okay possession. But because Waiters is now responsible for boxing out a center, he gets pushed too far under the rim to rebound, and because Foye doesn't box out Livingston, Golden State gets another shot.
On the second rebound, Waiters is still matched up on Anderson Varejao. This is a case of simply being too short. The effort to box out is there, but Dion gets pushed under the rim again, and Varejao only needs a small hop to tap the ball out for a third possession.
Again, OKC doesn't bother fighting over screens at all, simple conceding every switch. This puts Westbrook on Ezeli underneath. Russ initially fronts Ezeli in the post, forcing the pass the Klay. Klay was open for 3, but misses the shot. However, because we've allowed them to put a center on our point guard, Ezeli is wide open for the putback dunk. The rebounding fundamentals here aren't horrible, as you see four guys in the right spots to rebound. But because there isn't anyone who can box out Ezeli, this play was doomed from the point of the switch.
Overall, OKC gave up 15 offensive rebounds to a team whose own coach said would be outrebounded! The one advantage OKC was supposed to thrive on was a rebounding edge, but Golden State doubled up the Thunder on the offensive glass. But even if that was the only result of switching, OKC could live with that. What was simply back-breaking was the number of easy looks resulting from switching. So let's look at the cases I've chosen to highlight for this article.
Poor Defense from Switching
On this play, Ezeli steps up to set a high screen for Curry. According to our defensive scheme, Adams keeps his feet open to the court and slides with Curry to prevent him driving. Russ follows Curry as well in an attempt to eventually take back over. The problem with this scheme is that it assumes the threat is a drive to the basket. In this case, Steph can move laterally along the 3 point line, and Adams is forced to stay there to prevent a 3. Ezeli is wide open to the rim, and while Serge comes over to help, he hesitates between sticking with Iguodala at the arc. This allows Ezeli to establish great position, and he finishes an easy hook. This isn't anything special, it's just a simple pick and roll play.
If the Thunder were to hedge hard on this screen, Curry wouldn't be able to draw Adams out laterally. Moving laterally gave Steph a better angle on the pass, but if you hedge here and trap him hard, he has a much smaller window. Not only that, the pass would be thrown at Ezeli's back, forcing him to fully turn to catch it. That would slow the play down and allow for Serge to contest further out.
Golden State runs a simple high screen and roll here. At this distance from the basket, you should never switch this easily. Even if you are behind the play, there should be plenty of time to get back in it. Instead, Adams is forced to defend Curry from 30 feet out. He actually does admirably here by denying the 3, but Curry is simply too quick and runs straight past for a layup.
Again, if Adams were to hedge hard on this, Foye could stay on Curry and the help defense could cover Varejao until Adams recovered.
This is a sort of confused ICE on this screen and roll. Adams comes out to pick up Curry 1 on 1, but instead of getting into a defensive stance, he should just seal the edge and press up. With all of the shooters on the floor, the help defense is conflicted on who should help.
I'm actually okay with this schematically. Adams just needs to be much more aggressive here. But I think the lack of aggression stems from switching. He is preparing to pick up Curry on the move instead of trapping him. If OKC were to hedge or trap everything, there would be nothing unusual about this play.
OKC's defense continually played into Golden State's hands. Look how many switches are made here: Roberson trades Klay to Russ for Curry (okay); Russ trades Klay to KD for Green (allowable, not great); KD trades Klay to Adams for Bogut (horrible). The result? Klay gets to take Adams 1 on 1 from 25 feet. Adams does well to cut off his path to the rim, but he can't contest the shot because he is a step behind.
The way you make shooters miss is by wearing them down. The correct defense here is what we saw at times in game one: bump, grab, and shove their guards every time they try to run off of a screen. Make them earn the switches on every screen. I want to see Westbrook and Roberson wearing Curry and Klay's jersey every single defensive possession, not this lazy, lackadaisical switching.
Again: simple high pick and roll leads to Adams having to move laterally with Curry while Westbrook trails. Curry gets a pass to Bogut and the help defense is all responsible for guarding shooters. I'm repeating myself, but we need our bigs to hedge or trap off this screen. And because Golden State is setting a double screen here, we need to do so on both sides. Curry, on this play, is just choosing which mismatch he prefers. We can't allow him to play comfortable like this.
This happened right after the previous clip. Same play, but Durant picked up Bogut instead of sticking with Green. Bogut runs a great lead blocking route, and Serge has to help over again to prevent another layup. Green kicks out to Barnes (honestly the best result OKC could get), and he nails the 3.
Russ concedes a switch in the strangest way here. Serge steps up to prevent Curry from cutting backdoor, and Barnes cuts off the screen from Bogut. Rather than hand Barnes off to Adams or stay with Curry, Russ leaves Serge and Adams to defend Curry and Bogut. Curry almost looks bored here. Bogut backs Serge up 4 feet trying to keep him from contesting, and Adams never even has a chance.
Iguodala doesn't even have to set a screen here to prompt a switch. OKC was trying to hide a big on him, but what is the point if the big is forced to switch to guarding the MVP? Curry is on fire at this point and turns to stare down Ibaka as the shot rips the net. Golden State looks like a cat toying with a mouse prior to actually killing it.
At this point in the game, the OKC players had no idea what they were supposed to do on screens. Adams starts to switch, but that results in both defenders being on the same side of the screen. Curry dances back and finds another wide open 3.
At this point, OKC is giving Livingston the treatment that GSW is giving Roberson. However, the switch by Kanter here allows Ezeli so much space that Adams is left defending two players at the rim with no help within 20 feet. Why Kanter is being forced to move with Curry I'll never know, but this is the exact same play Golden State time and again. Curry isn't really even looking to shoot. He knows that him dribbling is enough to keep the defenders with him, and he can just hunt for the ideal angle to make the pass.
This looks like a group of coaches walking through a play in slow motion with their players. You know how coaches make things really easy early on to provide a simple explanation. KD and Adams have no aggression on playing Klay here, allowing the free run to the rim. Ibaka can't guard the corner and the rim at the same time. At this point, the game was over, but it would have been nice to see a little pride or perhaps some experimenting at this point in the game.
I firmly believe that the solution to our defensive woes is simple: be aggressive off of screens. In the series against the Mavs, OKC was attacking screens hard and it was disrupting the flow of the offense. I realize that Golden State is a much better team, but it just shows that the Thunder knows how to be the aggressor. This passive scheme doesn't work against a motion offense. And unless OKC changes its approach, this series will feature more blowouts.