So the Pistons demolished the Warriors the other night. It was glorious to watch (for a Pistons fan at least) but did it actually mean anything? Was there anything in particular the Pistons did to cause it? Or was it just the Warriors playing poorly? Yes.
DISCLAIMER: I am going to point out a few things that are weaknesses for a couple players on the Warriors, most notably Curry and Green, as well as the Warriors team as a whole. Let me preface by saying that there is no such thing as a perfect basketball player. Everyone has some weaknesses of some sort, and Curry, Green, and the Warriors as a team, are phenomenal. And while I do actually think the Pistons are not a great matchup for them, the Warriors are a much better team. I am not trying to crap on anyone, you could do this for literally any player and any team. So don't say that I'm disrespecting anyone, because I am not. Also, with the pictures, some of them might be a little bit lower quality, they were taken from the League Pass thing on my computer and there is no way to manually force higher quality video so yeah.
So what did the Pistons do?
The Pistons did a very simple thing, that was able to throw off the Warriors. They played Curry like he was just a normal good shooter. Not the all time GOAT shooter.
This is the sort of defense most teams play against Stephen Curry after a pick is set for him. They are so terrified (rightfully so) of his shooting, they straight up put 2 guys on him make sure he can't get a shot off. It then leads to this.
That is Draymond Green's speciality. A 4 on 3, with Draymond handling the ball. Creating these sets is Stephen Curry's secret superpower, and running them is Draymond Green's secret super power. This is why they make such a potent combo on offense, because Green is very uniquely skilled as a PF to take advantage of this. The only other guy that comes to mind who could be anywhere near as good as Green in this position would be a young Josh Smith. These plays happen with some amount of regularity for the Warriors, once again, because of them being terrified of Steph Curry.
Essentially most teams treat Stephen Curry outside the arc as though any even remotely open 3 pointer is literally the end of the world. Team's are not wrong to think this, because Curry is, yaknow, a pretty good shooter. But the Pistons decided that it was no the end of the world, instead they chose to allow Curry the chance to get a some more open looks than he usually does, but keeping their defensive integrity everywhere else. This is how the Pistons responded to a pick being set for Curry.
Andre Drummond is just chillin' back at the free throw line, and KCP is ducking under the screen! These are both absolute no no's for most teams.
Once again, when faced with the double screen (and one was called for being illegal) the bigs just chill back at the line.
Again, just hanging back behind the 3 point line.
ONCE MORE. I could give you a lot more examples. Just suffice to say, the Pistons sat back and treated Curry as though he was just a good shooter, not a all time great shooter.
This did end up yielding some easy shots for Curry.
So what did this really do? Curry torched the Pistons. If it was that simple to kill the rest of the team then why wouldn't everyone else do it?
The Pistons have a couple of things that most people don't. The first is KCP. He (somewhat) exposes the one flaw in Curry's offensive game. People often state how Curry's remarkable skill is his ability to create 3 pointers on his own, not just catch and shoot. Those people are not wrong, Curry is remarkable at this, and it is the main thing that makes him so deadly. HOWEVA, the thing about Steph is that he is not big enough to just straight up shoot over guys. He only needs to create a very small amount of space to get off a shot, but he does need to create space.KCP is a good enough defender that he can stick with Curry 1 on 1. There are very few guys who are capable of this, most of them are the big wing defender types like say, Kawhi Leonard. The type of guys who are quick and long enough to stay in front of him, but there is an issue with this. Those guys are less slippery, and as such are more susceptible to screening. To combat it the Warriors can run them through screens all game. To guard Steph Curry you need to be able to be a skilled enough 1 on 1 defender to stay in front of him. And also have enough drive and speed to run around screens ALL DAMN GAME. KCP is the perfect mixture of Paul George and Dellevedova to guard Steph Curry.
If KCP is so perfect to guard him then why the hell did Steph go off?
Because, surprise surprise. Stephen Curry is a really good player, especially offensively. He got lots of points, but here is that slight weakness of Curry needing to create a little space to get a shot off. Steph can go all around and get lots of open shots and hit them at a crazy efficient clip. But there are also shots he does not take.
KCP ducked under this screen, and Drummond is hanging back. In theory there is a small window right at this point that Curry could crank a quick shot. But KCP got around Bogut's screen pretty cleanly (which is a hard thing to do btw.) and he is quick and long. Curry knows that, and he knows that KCP is about to be on top of him. As such, instead of trying to crank this and risking the long arm of KCP suddenly popping up around this screen and blocking the shot. Instead he is going to hold onto it. If this was, say, Kevin Durant, he would just shoot the ball because he does not need space. As such, when KCP stays with Curry then Curry can't score. (This is also one of the secrets to Curry's crazy efficiency. He does not take many bad shots because, well, he knows he can't. If you are LeBron James then you know you can just shoot over guys, so you get braver about taking bad shots. Curry knows if he does not have space for a good shot, he can't really even try it.)
So he misses 100% of the shots he doesn't take?
Exactly. The Pistons let him get his crazy efficiency, but he can't score every time. If you try and guard LeBron James 1 on 1 every possession he will post them up and back their asses to the hoop every single time and will literally score the ball every single time (if he feels up to it at least.) and Curry is just not that. Curry may have been super efficient, but the Warriors needed him to be able to be a little bit less efficient, but with more volume. (Think LeBron in the finals, where he literally did this exactly.) And what this passing ends up doing is this.
This is the Pistons overplaying curry and allowing for Draymond to run a 4 on 3. And it ended in this shot.
Barnes missed this shot. But those are the sorts of shots that allows your team to shoot over 40% from 3 as a freaking team. This was also the only time it happened all game. There were a couple other pretty open looks that guys had, but nothing this open, and no other times that Green had a 4 on 3. Without a steady dose of those 4 on 3s, Green, the Warriors leading assister, and their second best offensive creation tool, was neutered. Essentially, instead of 4 on 3s, they just have a 4 on 4. Which is not going to consistently create excellent shots.
So that's it? They just played it normal and the Warriors other players didn't get their usual dose of wide open looks? That simple?
Mostly, but there was another thing, that once again the Pistons are somewhat unique to combat. KCP as a shooting guard is capable of guarding both Thompson and curry, and Jackson is also capable of guarding both Thompson and Curry. KCP is obviously better but Jackson is game for both as well.
Take a look at that , (along with the nice little illegal screen by Curry.) Thompson setting a screen for Curry is usually yet another death trap in the Warriors bag of them. For most teams, they can switch on this, allowing Thompson to just go to work on a much smaller and outmatched point guard (Thompson ate Dellevedova alive several times in the finals last year.) or Curry gets to do his dribble crossover shooty thingy on a guy who is bigger but not quick enough to stick with him. The Pistons however, happen to have a SG who is one of the best perimeter defenders in basketball, and a PG who has long arms and a hard ass attitude that doesn't care if he is undersized. As such, the Pistons are able to just switch this and continue business as usual. Its yet another thing that makes the Pistons a little bit unique in their abilities to defend the Warriors.
Did the Pistons do anything on offense?
Why yes thanks for asking.
Most really good teams and players have secret super powers. The Pistons starting lineup is super good, and their secret super power is that all 5 of them can score with some ability. As such, if you have a weak defender, (Curry) there is no where to hide him. So the Pistons attacked him, with KCP. They ran Curry through constant screens which Curry could not navigate effectively (like in the above picture) and it will create a little space for KCP, who then can simply shoot over the the smaller Curry like he is a chair. But that is not the only way the Pistons did it. They took advantage of Curry in another, slightly more unique way with a gamble on the offensive boards.
For some reason, at the end of this play Curry ended up being out on Ersan. Reggie Jackson is about to launch an ill-advised 3. But Ersan realizes that Curry is about to try and box him out, which is not going to work all that well.
Curry does not actually get a body on Ersan, and so Ersan simply runs into the paint and will get this rebound and an easy put back. This became a bit of a pattern.
Annnd that ends about how you would expect. Andre ends up with the board and a put back. This is a gamble because, obviously, the Warriors are freakishly good in transition. Most teams are so terrified of of the Warriors in transition that they totally punt offensive rebounding. When Bogut (a effective boxer outer) got Andre, Andre actually pretty much let up trying to get to the boards. (you can actually see this in the Ersan boards pics.) But instead they simply sent whoever Curry had picked up to the boards. If this doesn't work, then the Warriors end up getting out in transition and killing the Pistons. Because it worked in the Pistons favor, it ended up actually killing the Warriors transition game. Most of the night they ended up being to worried about someone crashing the boards that they stayed back instead of running.
The Warriors are a team that has good defenders coming out of their ears. There is one guy in their starting lineup who is not a really solid defender, and that is Curry. They attacked him, relentlessly. And it worked pretty well. The Warriors could not hide Curry anywhere, and the Pistons took full advantage. It was a bit of a risk, but it had to be taken.
So how much of it was the Pistons and how much of it was the Warriors not playing well?
Obviously it was a little of both. Curry and Thompson both had very good games, but literally everyone else on the Warriors played like crap. And several of them are quite capable of hurting you in a lot of ways, Draymond Green is generally better than that, as is Harrison Barnes. But part of it was certainly that the Pistons did not give them any of the wide open looks they are used too. Non Splash Brothers Warriors literally take the most open 3s in the NBA. And the Pistons kept that from happening. The Pistons are a bad matchup for the Warriors because their backcourt of Jackson and KCP can actually match up with the splash brothers to keep them under slight wraps. AND Andre Drummond is enough of a monster that he can stop the small ball death squad, and a good enough offensive rebounder to try and keep the Warriors fast break under control. The Warriors are a much better team than the Pistons, and they did not have an especially good game. But the Pistons do have something there for sure. And it sort of proves a larger point about basketball in general. Currently everyone is talking about how the Warriors small ball death squad has taken over the NBA, and everyone wants to copy it. People say things like "Have to have a shooting center" and stuff like that. They would say that you can't win anymore with Andre Drummond at center. The reality is, that the Warriors did not win last year because they shoot lots of 3s and play a 6'7 super skilled guy at center. The Warriors won last year because they have a unique set of players who are able to create all sorts of open 3s. And because despite being small, Draymond Green has a super wing span, and is super strong. As such he can survive on defense against big guys, while absolutely destroying them on the other end. Andre Drummond is big enough that Green can't really handle him AND he is athletic enough to stick with Green every step of the way on the other end. It is useless to try and copy people who win, you need to find the best guys you can and take advantage of them.
You just watched a whole game play by play pausing it all the time, any other random observations you've got?
Andre Drummond is a monster. And Marcus Morris is probably pretty easily the biggest steal of the offseason. He is a really good 2 way player and it will be very hard for Stanley Johnson to replace him in the starting lineup.