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NBA Finals: Warriors run away with Game 2 vs. Celtics by embracing the most conventional kind of offense

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When the Golden State Warriors signed Kevin Durant in 2016, they did so ostensibly to cover up their lone remaining weakness: one-on-one scoring. As brilliant as their motion offense looks 99 percent of the time, it came up short for them in the last stages of the postseason. An offense that scored nearly 114 points per 100 possessions in the regular season dropped to nearly 101 in the seven fourth quarters it played against Cleveland in the 2016 Finals. Durant is one of history’s greatest shotmakers. With him mixed in a year later? That figure jumped back over 120.

When Durant signed with Brooklyn in 2019, he had some choice words for the scheme he left behind. “The motion offense we run in Golden State, it only works to a certain point,” Durant said to the Wall Street Journal‘s J.R. Moehringer at the time. “We can totally rely on our system for maybe the first two rounds. Then the next two rounds we’re going to have to mix in individual play. We’ve got to throw teams off, because they’re smarter in that round of playoffs.”

The pre-Durant Warriors struggled with that individual creation, though not for lack of talent. Egalitarianism was simply so ingrained into Golden State’s DNA that deviating into a more traditional offense became a struggle. The 2016 Warriors devoted the fewest possessions in the NBA to pick-and-roll ball-handlers (10.5 percent), the third-fewest to roll men (5.1 percent) and the eighth fewest to isolations (6.3 percent). How did they make up for that? By leading the NBA in practically every passing statistic: assists (28.9), secondary assists (4.1), potential assists (54.2) and points created by assists (72.9). The Warriors got so good at creating shots for each other that they never bothered to learn to create them for themselves.

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Well, just as the 2016 Cavaliers figured out how to stifle Steve Kerr’s beautiful game, the 2022 Boston Celtics are uniquely qualified to bottle up Golden State’s motion. Their seven core defenders can all switch across at least three positions on or off of the ball, and after their schematic struggles in the first quarter of Game 1, they managed to hold the Warriors to a fairly modest 25.6 points per quarter through the first half of Game 2. Golden State’s impressive defense allowed the Warriors to generate enough turnovers to take a two-point lead into halftime, but the Celtics can’t be beaten on one side of the floor. The Warriors were going to need to score points in a half-court setting if they planned to even the series in Game 2. 

They did it in a way that the pre-Durant Warriors never would have dreamed of: by playing like everybody else. With 4:28 remaining in the third quarter, the Warriors held a six-point lead. When the quarter ended eight possessions later, they led by 23 points. Seven of those possessions produced points. Six of those possessions were, schematically speaking, as vanilla as NBA offense gets. 

Play No. 1 was a generic high pick-and-roll, albeit with the twist of a guard (Gary Payton II) setting the screen. The idea was to either get Marcus Smart off of Stephen Curry so he could cook or to draw a double that would create an open 3. The Warriors got the latter when Grant Williams jumped off of Andrew Wiggins to help on Curry, and Jayson Tatum rotated over to Wiggins and left Otto Porter Jr. in the process. Swish.

Play No. 2 was a double pick-and-roll. Draymond Green’s illegal moving screens keep Derrick White and Al Horford out of the play, and Payton buys Curry just enough time away from Grant Williams to walk into a 3.

Wiggins screens Williams out of the next attempt, and Porter Jr. takes out White. The real offender, though, is Daniel Theis, who commits the cardinal sin of attempting drop coverage against Curry. I bet you can guess what happens next.

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It’s one thing when Curry decides to torture you like this. It’s another when Jordan Poole takes the reins. The next three possessions, arguably the ones that clinched the game, belonged to him. Play No. 4 was a simple pick-and-roll in which Kevon Looney bought Jordan Poole a matchup with White. He ran with it, attacking the switch before White could get settled and slicing to the basket dangerously enough to draw in Theis, who abandoned Looney in the process. A quick pass leads to two more Golden State points.

By now you’re likely sensing how excited the Warriors were to see Theis on the floor rather than Horford or Robert Williams III. There’s hardly even a play called on possession No. 5. Porter just sets a screen because he knows it will put Theis on an island with Poole. Poole sinks the easy 3 against the overmatched big man.

Poole saved his best for last. This time, there’s not even a screen to spring him. He’s so hot that he just crosses half-court, sees four nearby Celtics, shrugs, and launches a prayer.

Did it have anything to do with Golden State’s newfound offensive simplicity? Probably not. Did empowering him over the two previous possessions give him a bit of confidence that carried over into this heave? We can’t say, but it’s certainly possible. The outcome is the same. Three more Warriors points. A 23-point lead.

These are tactics ripped straight out of the playbooks of their former conquests. Switch-hunting? That’s James Harden 101. Bulldozer screens against multiple defenders? A Tristan Thompson favorite. The Warriors generally play as though they’re above such pursuits. Boston forced their hand. The Celtics may not have many matchups to hunt, but they’re so good at defending five-man offense that Golden State’s easiest path to points was finding their weakest links one-on-one. It’s not as though the Warriors have eschewed these tactics entirely under Kerr. It’s just exceedingly rare to see them play this way for an extended stretch with such apparent intentionality.

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There’s some irony in suggesting that, for one brief stretch, the Warriors played like everybody else when within that stretch, they hit shots that practically no other team would even dare to take, but in a purely schematic sense, it’s true. For a few minutes, the Warriors showed us that when they want to play like a normal team, they’re capable of doing it as well as almost anybody else.

In truth, Kerr has been making slight concessions in this direction ever since Durant left. Golden State’s offense had to become a bit heavier on pick-and-rolls and isolations in 2021 in particular, when Klay Thompson wasn’t around to buoy their motion. They devoted 14.8 percent of their possessions to pick-and-roll ball-handlers last season, and while this season’s numbers dipped, they haven’t approached pre-Durant levels. Poole’s growth as a secondary attacker makes traditional basketball far more plausible. He can do things as a backup point guard that Shaun Livingston simply couldn’t. Together, he and Curry have armed the Warriors with a weapon they just weren’t all that interested in wielding before the Durant era even if deep down, Kerr knew they probably should have. 

“I wasn’t at all offended by what Kevin said because it’s basically the truth,” Kerr said in 2019. “You look at any system, I mean, I played the triangle with Michael Jordan. The offense ran a lot smoother all regular season and the first couple rounds of the playoffs than it did in the conference finals and Finals. It just did.”

Golden State won’t be abandoning its system any time soon. It’s what got the Warriors here after all. But after watching Boston solve it over the course of Game 1, the Warriors proved in Game 2 that they have counters waiting in their back pocket… even if those counters are far more traditional than they’d typically prefer. 

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Aaron Rodgers has 4th best odds to win 3rd straight MVP | FIRST THINGS FIRST

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Aaron Rodgers is optimistic about this upcoming NFL season. In a recent Sports Illustrated profile, the Green Bay Packers quarterback expressed how happy he was to be in the locker room, that he’s a ‘kinder, gentler QB’ and that fun things are coming. Fox Bet odds show Rodgers tied at 4th for the MVP award, behind Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, Josh Allen, and alongside Justin Herbert. Greg Jennings and Nick Wright decide how likely it is that Rodgers will three-peat his MVP win.



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2023 NFL Draft: Ranking the ACC’s top 10 prospects as Clemson defense loaded with talent

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The ACC fell short of placing a team in the College Football Playoff despite a strong season from Pittsburgh. The upcoming regular season represents a clean slate, and Clemson should feature one of the most talented defenses in college football. Although early days, CBS Sports took a gander at the best NFL Draft prospects in the tradition rich conference entering the 2022 campaign:

Davis does a great job of shooting gaps and creating chaos in the opponent’s backfield. He does a good job of stacking and shedding blockers to make an impact in the run game. 

The depth of Clemson’s defensive line allows the team to rotate players and keep everyone fresh. It has a lot of talent along the front seven. In addition to Myles Murphy, Trenton Simpson, Bryan Bresee and Davis, defensive tackle Ruke Orhorhoro, edge rusher Xavier Thomas and edge rusher K.J. Henry have NFL potential. Thomas, in particular, is poised to showcase his talent this season.

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The buzz surrounding Nelson began early in the process. He has great size for the position and long arms to dictate competition in the trenches. If the technique matches in 2022, there is an opportunity to rise significantly in an offensive tackle class that appears wide open. A wealth of talent at the position has flooded the NFL in recent years with Rashawn Slater, Tristan Wirfs, Penei Sewell and others chief among them.

8. Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College

Flowers has been on the NFL’s radar for a few years now. An injury to quarterback Phil Jurkovec impacted the receiver, as there were a lot of missed opportunities during which Flowers had slithered behind coverage. He ranked No. 23 in yards per reception (16.95) among wide receivers with at least 40 receptions in 2021. With a healthy Jurkovec, the Pittsburgh native will have a good chance to remind talent evaluators of his potential. 

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The nation’s No. 1 overall high school recruit in 2020 missed most of last season with a torn ACL. The talent is evident, but it is unknown what to reasonably expect from Bresee coming off the injury this season. The Maryland native carries his weight really well and is just a natural athlete. He does a good job of stacking blockers while peering into the backfield and has good top end speed.

Connecticut quarterbacks are having a bit of a moment as both Kentucky’s Will Levis and Van Dyke are considered potential early draft choices. The latter throws with touch and does not panic when pressured. However, there is at least one moment each game where he unnecessarily throws into coverage. Experience can resolve some of those frustrations. 

While his ability to make plays with his legs may fall short relative to other quarterback prospects, he is capable of making accurate throws off-platform. He ranked No. 11 in passer efficiency last season, according to TruMedia. Players above him include Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Alabama’s Bryce Young and Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett.

It could be easy to take Bergeron for granted because nothing he does is overwhelming, but he is consistent. Similar to Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw, it just looks easy for the Quebec native at times. He plays with good leverage and balance and has an even-keeled style of play. Active eyes allow him to pick up stunts into his gap. 

Cornerback Garrett Garrett Williams is another prospect who has the talent to join this list by season’s end.

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4. Josh Downs, WR, North Carolina

The NFL has shown a willingness of late to add wide receivers who are traditionally undersized: Wan’Dale Robinson, Tutu Atwell, Jahan Dotson, etc. Downs was one of the most productive wide receivers in college football a year ago, and that had a lot to do with his ability to create chances for himself. He does a good job of creating leverage with body mannerisms and precision into his breaks. Downs finished third in yards after the catch (757) last season, according to TruMedia, behind Western Kentucky’s Jerreth Sterns (1,135) and Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba (791).

3. Tony Grimes, CB, North Carolina

Grimes has good size and great speed for the position. He profiles as an NFL man coverage cornerback, but the ball production has just not been there yet. With so much talent in that Tar Heels secondary, it should create more opportunities for the Virginia Beach native to compile statistics. If he puts it all together, there is a good chance that he is one of the first cornerbacks off the board next April. 

Grimes was one of the rare football reclassifications who moved from the 2021 recruiting class to 2020. As a result, he should be one of the younger cornerback prospects available.

Simpson is one of the most versatile defenders in this potential NFL Draft class. He is not Micah Parsons but could excel in a similar role allowing him to play in the box, rush the passer and cloud passing lanes. The Charlotte native finds himself around the ball often because of his quick key and trigger. First-year defensive coordinator Wes Goodwin has a lot to work with this season.

When comparing size, Murphy stacks up to last year’s No. 1 overall selection — Travon Walker. Murphy is a good athlete but is realistically not going to match Walker’s historic NFL Combine performance. Murphy does have more exposure to what would be considered a traditional edge rusher role than Walker at the same point in his career. The former shows active hands and an ability to turn speed to power. When attempting to identify the likely first-round selections in the preseason, Murphy jumps out.

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KD to Nets: 'Trade me or fire Steve Nash, Sean Marks' | FIRST THINGS FIRST

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Kevin Durant is not budging on his desire to leave Brooklyn. In fact, Shams Charania reports that during his meeting with Joe Tsai, KD submitted that the only way he would stay with the Nets is if the owner fires head coach Steve Nash and general manager Sean Marks. Nick Wright lays out why Durant basically all but ensured he would be traded with this move, and why he’s calling KD’s ultimatum a checkmate.



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