As I talked about last week in discussing Trevor Ariza’s use of the threat of the corner three to get an open look to the rim, the NBA is a league of misdirection. In order to get a good look at the rim, teams often have to use what their opponents know about their tendencies to their advantage. That’s doubly true for a team playing against reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol and his Memphis Grizzlies; Gasol is one of the headiest defenders in the league, using his encyclopedic knowledge of the other team’s plays to snuff out the desired action before it can ever transpire.
Part of that is understanding the game situation — time, score and personnel. In Memphis’s 88-81 overtime win over the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night, however, Gasol’s instincts betrayed him, allowing the Warriors to get an easy basket. After a timeout and down 5 with just under a minute to play in the extra frame, it made sense that Golden State, missing Stephen Curry due to a concussion suffered at the hands (or, more appropriately, hips) of Utah’s Marvin Williams, would try to spring Klay Thompson open for a 3. Harrison Barnes inbounded the ball to Andre Iguodala, who came free at the top of the three-point line after a halfhearted Bogut screen on the left side. After a second’s hesitation, Klay curled around on the baseline from the right side to the left, seemingly looking to use a Bogut down screen to continue his path unabated to the perimeter for an open look from deep.
At that point, Gasol swung into action. Assuming that Bogut would set a solid screen — and likely counting on the fact that with the continued emphasis on illegal screens, Bogut would have to waste a second or two making sure that he didn’t move too early, which would give Gasol time to get back to his man — Gasol hedged onto Klay as Tayshaun Prince trailed behind. And had Bogut actually set the screen, it would have been a fantastic defensive read by Gasol. In reality, however, the Warriors were ready for him to be his usual one-step-ahead-of-the-process self and took advantage of Gasol’s apparent understanding of where the play was going.
With Gasol just a step out of place, Bogut catches the lob from Iguodala for the easy dunk.
While the Warriors didn’t need a 3 at that point, it was more than fair for Gasol to assume that they’d look to get one; after all, it’s the Warriors. They shoot 3s regardless of the game situation, so guessing that they’d take one in that particular scenario was the right move. Unfortunately for Memphis, Golden State was aware of their own tendencies and aware of Gasol’s awareness of the same.
It’s the kind of scouting that we most often associate with the playoffs, but it’s a play that the Warriors have run several times already this season. When the postseason does roll around, teams will have video on this tendency inside a tendency, and they’ll likely defend it appropriately. And at that point, Golden State will unleash another variation that makes the most of that studying by their opponent. Meanwhile, Gasol will know that teams know that he knows their tendencies and will act accordingly, a Gordian knot of reconnaissance and execution ever turning in on itself. It’s the nature of the NBA. A play repeated becomes a thing of beauty forever, until the expectation of its existence can be exploited by one side or the other.