The Warriors defeat the Hornets with lineup ingenuity and brilliant game design

The Warriors defeat the Hornets with lineup ingenuity and brilliant game design

The Golden State Warriors achieved a victory against the Charlotte Hornets despite shooting just 8-for-37 (21.6%) on threes. Prior to this win, the Warriors had failed to win a game this season where they made fewer than 12 3-pointers.

There’s a lot to say about his offensive process against the Hornets. They were absolutely humming on that end in the first half, where they finished with a league-best offensive rating of 118.2. Most of his efficiency comes from the half court (102.2 offensive rating, tied for fourth in the league).

When the second half came around, the Warriors forgot about the good process of the first half and developed tunnel vision. They started hitting outside shots at the expense of developing and maintaining rhythm and flow with paint attacks. At one point, the Hornets were in the penalty box, but the Warriors still opted to take outside shots — missed opportunities against a defense that couldn’t afford to foul.

The Warriors finished the game with 37 points in the paint, 30 of which came in the first half. That alone is a testament to how far they strayed from what was working in a big way, and it almost burned them to the max.

Without some of their key pillars in the rotation, the Hornets, 9-25 before the game and compromised both offensively (107.8 offensive rating, 30th) and defensively (114.7 defensive rating, 27th), looked like to the bottom team in the first half.

With Kevon Looney picking up two quick fouls, Steve Kerr was forced to sit his starting center in favor of Anthony Lamb at the five. This move forced the Warriors to play a small pass lineup, which oddly enough worked to their advantage.

While Looney has been a solid point guard and solid center, he lacks the physical attributes to overcome a matchup against Mason Plumlee: taller, longer and relatively more athletic. Without the athleticism and shooting equity to match or surpass Plumlee (though he was also in early foul trouble), Looney saw limited minutes against the Hornets.

By inserting Lamb and playing a smaller, more mobile lineup, the Warriors were able to exploit Plumlee and take advantage of the Hornets’ lack of scheme versatility on defense. With Plumlee, the Hornets’ base pick-and-roll coverage was a deep drop.

Almost immediately, the Warriors punished Plumlee’s drop coverage by putting him in ball-screen action and exposing his immobility:

A smaller line maximizes cross-matching, which makes for easier sources of advantage. When the Warriors get stops and push the tempo, the principles of transition defense force Plumlee to pick off Poole.

A simple ‘boomerang’ pass to reset Poole’s dribble is all he needs to catch Plumlee and run past him at the point of attack:

Lineup options using smaller setups worked to the Warriors’ advantage, both in the first half and the closing stages of the game. When the Warriors struggled to generate efficient looks, they once again went straight for the low-hanging fruit.

Off double-drag screens combined with Spain’s pick-and-roll action, Poole once again targets Plumlee:

And again, during the next possession:

Forcing Plumlee to defend on the perimeter is forcing someone to tread on thin ice. There’s a reason Plumlee prefers to defend closer to the paint, and the possession above is the quintessential example. Poole spins and spins, PJ Washington is forced to help Jonathan Kuminga, and a heady baseline cut allows Poole to throw it to Kuminga for a game-sealing dunk.

Shrewd lineup decision-making wasn’t the only way the Warriors were able to exploit opposing personnel. It was sprinkled with exceptionally designed set plays that pointed to the Hornets’ lack of defensive versatility.

By virtue of Plumlee playing the drop, the onus is on the perimeter defenders to navigate screens in an attempt to stay tied to their assignment. This fact is even more pronounced during games based on off-ball movement such as “Floppy”.

“Floppy” is a classic set that gives a motion shooter the option of going through staggered screens from one side or a single lower screen to the other. Regardless of the choice, if a defender has trouble trying to navigate screens, shooters will almost always be freed up for a jumper.

With Plumlee in a deep drop position, Hayward is left to fend for himself by trying to chase Klay Thompson down screens:

“Floppy” is relatively simple action, but more complex sets with layers of thought behind them gave Plumlee even more trouble.

Take this set to start the second half, for example:

The set above is a Floppy-adjacent action, but the complexity comes from Poole’s initial initial screen and curl, which moves to the weak-side corner and takes Terry Rozier with it. Thompson then runs the same screen downfield, which generates an empty corner screen-and-roll action (an empty strongside corner ensures help has to come from the weakside).

Plumlee chooses not to drop back and rises to the level of the screen to take away Thompson’s space. But like many choices and decisions in basketball, taking something away almost always means giving up something else.

In this case, it’s Looney rolling to the edge unassisted from the strong-side corner, which, as mentioned, means the help has to come from the weak-side. This is where the genius of Poole’s early ski becomes apparent.

Forcing Plumlee to be as mobile as possible to take advantage of his relative immobility was key. Kerr gave it a lot of thought and decided that the theme of his elaborate sets was to take Plumlee for a walk, poke holes in his ability to defend multiple spots on the floor and create opportunities for his players to attack a multitude of openings.

Kerr is quite underrated as an after-time-out (ATO) playmaker. Like the best of them, it combines creativity with purpose; rarely produces sets without rhyme or reason.

Kerr made a brand new ATO play that disguised a Warriors classic (split action) and took Plumlee out of his comfort zone (watch Plumlee throughout the possession):

An “Iverson” cut (a player who cuts from one wing to the opposite wing with two screens placed at both elbows) to Donte DiVincenzo gives him enough momentum to make Plumlee have to help on a potential down, all while Looney sets up a division. cut screen for Poole. Plumlee takes note of the split action and runs to Poole to discourage a shot.

That leads to a pocket pass on Looney’s short run, which finds Draymond Green cutting in from the weakside elbow. Plumlee climbs and swings between multiple spots in an attempt to stop each progression, but is ultimately out of position on Green’s layup, fouling him and sending him to the line with an and-1.

The Warriors rarely explicitly highlight an opposing weak point, preferring to let the flow of their motion offense set the tone. But on those rare occasions the Warriors try to find pressure points, their methods can be an unholy mix of traditional ball-screen hunting and complex, multi-layered actions in the oven.

There’s a reason the Hornets are much more committed defensively with Plumlee on the floor (118.9 defensive rating) than they are with him on the bench (114.4 defensive rating). The Warriors focused on that key aspect and were able to grind their way to another home win.

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