2019 NBA Finals
2019 NBA Finals

Film Study: Warriors' defense falls flat in Game 3

Litany of breakdowns plague Golden State as it falls behind 2-1 in series

John Schuhmann

John Schuhmann NBA.com

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Jun 7, 2019 8:35 AM ET

Kawhi Leonard consistently found gaps in the Warriors' defense in Game 3.

* Tonight on ABC:  Game 4, Raptors vs. Warriors (9 ET)

OAKLAND -- The 16 turnovers the Toronto Raptors had in Game 3 of The Finals on Wednesday were the most they committed in regulation in these playoffs. But the Raptors still had their third most efficient game of the postseason -- featuring the two most efficient quarters of this series -- because they shot so well.

The Raptors' effective field goal percentage of 62.8 percent in Game 3 was their best mark of the playoffs. And it was their shooting from the outside that was the big difference.

On shots from outside the paint, the Raptors had an effective field goal percentage of 66.3 percent, their best mark of the playoffs (their previous high was 58.1 percent in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals). They were 7-for-11 from mid-range and 17-for-38 from 3-point range.

 
Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors roasted the Warriors' defense in Game 4.

Tracking stats doesn't show that the Raptors' Game 3 shots from the outside were necessarily better than the ones they got in the first two games of the series. Second Spectrum data shows there was a Golden State Warriors defender within four feet of the shooter on 25 percent of the Raptors' Game 3 jump shots, the same exact rate as there were through the first two Finals games. Only 60 percent of the Raptors' Game 3 jump shots were off the catch, down from 68 percent through the first two games. The Raptors also had the same exact number of drives (48) as they had in both Games 1 and 2.

Whether they've been healthy or not, the Warriors have not played consistently good defense in this postseason. Statistically, though, Game 3 was their worst defensive game since Game 5 of the first round against the LA Clippers.

 
What must the Warriors do to have success in Game 4 of The Finals?

The film agrees with the numbers. A lot of the Raptors' open jump shots were a result of preventable defensive breakdowns from the Warriors, who were playing without Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Kevon Looney -- "three of our top five or six defenders," according to Draymond Green. Some of the breakdowns were certainly related to their absences.

"When you change the lineups and you're without some key guys," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Thursday, "now you're ending up with five guys on the floor who generally haven't played together a whole lot. And so I think that while the effort was there, the execution was not."

 

Getting caught flat-footed

The first breakdown came from Stephen Curry. After the Raptors' first three scores came via one-on-one play, Curry stood flat-footed as the ball was swung to Danny Green in the left corner.

                            Curry fails to contest Green 3-pointer

"I let him get open for a three in the corner without really making him feel my presence at all," Curry said Thursday. "And shots like that for a great shooter just build confidence, and he fed off of that the rest of the game."

Green would go on to shoot 6-for-10 from 3-point range, including 4-for-6 from the corners.

Two of Green's other corner 3-pointers came via transition feeds from Kawhi Leonard. The first of those was about numbers: Andrew Bogut needing to protect the rim and Andre Iguodala unable to ever get in front of Leonard.

Late in the third quarter, though, Alfonso McKinnie had a chance to stop the ball, but Leonard froze him with a hesitation and forced Draymond Green to help off Danny Green in the strong-side corner ...

                            Curry fails to contest Green 3-pointer

"You can't leave Kawhi Leonard," Danny Green said. "You leave him, you look kind of silly. Most of my shots were due to pace and us moving the ball."

Leonard's tendency to hold on to the ball when he was double-teamed was an issue for the Raptors in Game 2. But he made some quicker decisions in Game 3.

"When you draw multiple defenders, do your best to get off it," Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. "[On Wednesday], he did a better job of getting off it a little earlier and it helped us."

 

Looks like bad 'ice'

In the half court, pick-and-roll defense was a consistent issue for the Warriors.

Midway through the first quarter, with Marc Gasol setting a screen for Leonard, Bogut called for an "ice" coverage -- one where the ball-handler's defender (Green) put himself between the ball and the screener to prevent his man from getting to the middle of the floor.

                             Green ices the screen

But Bogut's own positioning left too much space for Leonard to make a pocket-pass to Gasol, who slipped to the rim for a dunk.

                            Gasol slips to the rim

Credit Leonard for making that read, but the Warriors made it to easy on him. On a pair of Leonard/Gasol pick-and-rolls in the second quarter, Bogut positioned himself higher...

                            Bogut hedges hard

On the first of those, Leonard was forced into a slower, tougher pass...

                            Bogut hedges hard

Two possessions later, Leonard tried to split the defenders and turned the ball over.

But the Warriors had other issues in the pick-and-roll, specifically with screener's ability to contain the ball. Late in the first quarter, Leonard blew by Jordan Bell for a dunk ...

 
Kawhi Leonard blows by Jordan Bell for a first-quater jam.

Early in the second period, Serge Ibaka approached Shawn Livingston to set a side screen for Kyle Lowry. Livingston iced the pick and called for DeMarcus Cousins to cut off Lowry ...

                            Livingston ices the screen

But Cousins was far out of position and unable to stop the ball. Lowry's drive drew help from Iguodala out of the opposite corner, Quinn Cook wasn't able to guard both weak-side shooters, and Fred VanVleet drained another open corner 3-pointer ...

                            Lowry finds VanVleet in the corner

"Our pick-and-roll coverage needs to be cleaner," Warriors assistant coach Jarron Collins said on Thursday. "There were definitely some things on the tape to clean up."

 

A gambling problem

The Warriors also had some gambling issues, leaving guys open by trying for steals. In the first quarter, a Cousins gamble led to another layup for Gasol ...

                            Cousins goes for the steal

In the second quarter, Draymond Green read the play, but then left Lowry open for a three by reaching in on Leonard...

And in the fourth quarter, more over-help from Green (when Bell was staying in front of Pascal Siakam) led to another Lowry 3-pointer.

 

No time like the present

The Warriors plan to have Thompson back for Game 4, but his return doesn't guarantee better defense. Golden State defenders getting smoked in one-on-one situations -- see Siakam vs. Jerebko or Gasol vs. Cousins -- wasn't even noted above. But maybe the desperation of the situation -- a loss would put the Warriors down 3-1 with Game 5 in Toronto -- is just what the Warriors need.

"I just think our best basketball is usually played when our backs are against the wall," Draymond Green said, "whether that's in a series, whether that's in one particular game."

Overall, the Warriors just haven't been nearly as good a defensive team as they've been in any of the four previous postseasons. But they're not done yet.

 
Stephen Curry knows defense will be critical for the Warriors in Game 4.

"I think that we've stepped up and made plays [defensively] when we absolutely needed to," Collins said. "There are stretches where we are really locked in and we can change a game with our defense."

They'll absolutely need one or more of those stretches in Game 4.

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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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