Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson received much deserved adulation after the 102-101 win over the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday. With the clock winding down, he caught the ball in a one-on-one situation against smaller Sacramento guard Davion Mitchell, and Thompson rose up over the top, with the Chase Center crowd exploding as the ball went through the net.
It was a trademark, beautiful pull-up from Thompson, his fifth-career go-ahead shot in the final 10 seconds of the game. What you may not have noticed, however, was the subtle, selfless decision by Stephen Curry that helped clear the necessary space for Thompson's game-winner.
Let's take you through the play:
As he crosses half-court trailing by one point with just under nine seconds left, Curry sees former teammate Harrison Barnes running over to trap him alongside big man Domantas Sabonis. Not trying to do too much, Curry gives up the ball to Draymond Green, a scenario the Warriors have executed countless times over the past decade.
"I think the most important thing is being patient in those situations," Green said after the game. "The whole idea of the trap is to speed you up and get the ball out of Steph's hands, get the ball in someone else's hands. So for me, it's just about understanding where the clock is and knowing we still have plenty time to get a great shot off. Don't panic. Don't just start going haywire. So, I just wanted to stay the course, see if someone will open up."
Next, after Sabonis sprints to recover into the paint, Curry makes his move toward the ball. He even has a step on Barnes, as you can see in the frame below, but Green doesn't feel that he has a safe enough window to make the pass.
This is where Curry's basketball IQ and team-first mentality come into play. After being missed on his cut with less than five seconds left, a lot of players -- especially superstars -- would do one of two things: 1) Run toward Green to try to get the ball from him or 2) Mope about not getting the ball, either standing still or slowly jogging until the clock expires.
Instead, Curry continues to sprint hard through the lane, knowing that Barnes will wisely stay glued to him, which will open up the vacated area for someone else -- in this case, Thompson. Look at how much room there is in the center of the floor for him to operate.
"It's just trust," Curry said after Wednesday's win. "I was trapped at half-court, got it out of my hands, Draymond surveying in the court. I cut through, I'm not open. [Chris Paul] was spaced. [Gary Payton II is] in the dunker spot and Klay's on the other wing. Somebody's gonna get open because, as long as we don't turn it over, we usually get a good shot."
Here's what the whole sequence looked like in real-time.
This may seem like a simple basketball play by Curry, and that we're giving him way too much credit for someone else's success, but you'd be surprised how often you see players take themselves out of the play immediately after being trapped. Here's a look at a similar situation -- though not a potential game-winning possession -- from Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young, who is often criticized for his lack of off-ball movement.
Young is trapped at half-court with the shot clock running down, and he gives the ball up, just as Curry did. But watch what Young does after that ... absolutely nothing. He backtracks slowly as the two defenders who were trapping him sprint back into the play.
The entire offensive benefit of a blitz is that if the trapped player can successfully pass out of it, his team now has a four-on-three advantage. But, because Young takes himself out of the play completely as the defenders scramble back, the Hawks are actually now at a four-on-five deficit.
One of the reasons the Warriors are so good when Curry is on the floor is that the gravity of his off-ball movement creates open shots and driving lanes for his teammates. As you can see on Thompson's game-winner, it's simply drilled into Curry to continue moving at all times, even after he's trapped or missed on a cut through the lane.
"Sometimes I might try to force a shot there. But you see how the defense is playing you, get rid of it," Curry explained. "Klay cuts at the right time down the middle. We've got trust in that shot, too. So, everything kind of worked out beautifully considering how they defended us."