When the Golden State Warriors signed Kevin Durant last summer, the NBA world immediately became intrigued by how he and Stephen Curry could work together.
Both historically great shooters, deft ball-handlers, and clever passers, they could seemingly run the most lethal pick-and-roll in NBA history. There would be no going under screens, no trapping for fear of leaving one open, and no switching and setting either player up with a mismatch.
However, throughout most of the season, the Warriors almost never ran the play.
It didn’t affect the Warriors offense, as they posted a league-leading 113.2 offensive rating, but the lack of that particular pick-and-roll surprised many (although, contrary to belief, the Warriors are not a pick-and-roll-heavy team).
However, in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, with the threat of returning to Cleveland for a Game 6, the Warriors busted it out — along with their notorious “death lineup” — and buried the Cavs. Though the NBA’s Stats site doesn’t track the number of pick-and-rolls in a given game, the Warriors ran the Curry-Durant pick-and-roll several times in the fourth quarter, including three straight possessions.
The offensive success left many wondering why the Warriors didn’t run the play more often — especially with assistant coach Mike Brown telling ESPN’s Zach Lowe that he prefers to run it more than Kerr.
On Wednesday, Kerr was a guest on Lowe’s podcast, “The Lowe Post,” and admitted, “We probably ran it more in that game than we did literally all season long, combined. It was obviously effective.” Kerr then explained his hesitancy in running it over and over.
“The thing for me, philosophically, we could do Steph-KD pick-and-rolls all season long and get open shots, and I understand that. But that’s, think about our team — if we were built like Cleveland, and we had Kyle Korver and [Channing] Frye and [Kevin] Love, that makes perfect sense. Now you got the floor spaced and you just have three-point shooters everywhere. But we have playmakers everywhere — Draymond Green, Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala. I want those guys making plays. I want them with the ball in their hands.
“I learned this with Phil Jackson and the triangle. When everyone is involved, touching the ball and cutting and screening, there’s a magic that happens, there’s something special where guys feel empowered, their defense gets better because they’re involved. And so I think, what’s important for me as a coach is to play the style we do.”
However, Kerr said that in the playoffs, teams have to make adjustments, and that it was Brown who put the Curry-Durant pick-and-roll into the game plan, and the Warriors decided to give it a try.
“It was different than a lot of the stuff that we’ve done. And we just unleashed it in Game 5. I give Mike a ton of credit because it changed the look and it changed the scheme defensively, what Cleveland had grown comfortable with. And we just kept going over and over.”
The Warriors’ baskets out of the pick-and-roll were not, as some would call it, “the beautiful game” — a reference to the dazzling ball and player movement that teams like the Spurs and Warriors often run. But there’s something to be said of putting the ball in your best players’ hands and letting them run something simple.
As Kerr said, most of the time, he’d prefer the Warriors run plays with more passing and screening to get everyone involved and scramble the defense. But it shows the Warriors’ unbelievable depth and talent that their fall-back play in the Finals is a basic action 29 other teams would be giddy to use.