The Los Angeles Lakers looked like they were toying with the Golden State Warriors in their 117-97 win on Friday night. While the Warriors shot 5-of-32 from three, they couldn’t handle the ball movement and interior strength of the Lakers. There were several highlight plays, including some play-it-back dunks, with the team looking entirely bought in to Luke Walton’s philosophy.
The Lakers deployed multiple tenets of read and react basketball, an almost positionless system where all five players handle the ball, cut and react in space based on the actions of their teammates.
Here’s one play where you can see the system at work:
Nick Young guarded by Stephen Curry
D’Angelo Russell guarded by Klay Thompson
Luol Deng guarded by Andre Iguodala
Julius Randle guarded by Zaza Pachulia
Timofey Mozgov guarded by Draymond Green
The play started with a small victory for the Warriors, with Nick Young dancing around with the ball. Uh-Oh. Young and Randle tried to run a pick-and-pop, but Pachulia zoned up nicely and Curry got over the screen quickly. This took away a Young shot and drive, and while Randle was left open momentarily for the jumper, Curry got back to Young so fast that Pachulia was freed to return to Randle.
But then something happened…Young actually demonstrated some maturity with the basketball. Whereas in the past he may have gone isolation, here he wisely drove towards Luol Deng at the wing for a dribble hand-off.
The dribble hand-off is the perfect pressure reliever, as it uses aggressive defense against itself. The Warriors had the play bottled up, but Young and Randle brought their defenders towards the sideline so that when Deng received the ball he was driving away from help.
Watch again and notice that at the point of the hand-off, Pachulia, Curry and Iguodala were all on the strong side as Deng was perfectly set up to drive away from the traffic.
With Iggy stalled by Nick Young’s screen and Curry either confused or tired after fighting over multiple picks earlier in the play, Pachulia was left to choose between staying with Randle or helping on the Deng drive. He chose the latter, which created the easy dump-off pass from Deng to Randle for the finish.
There were multiple subtle actions both on and off the ball that created this easy look. Watch Randle as Deng drove. Deng driving through the high post initiated a post slide from Randle. Deng driving high meant Randle had to duck-in low to create the passing angle. Randle could have easily just stood and watched Deng attack, but he instead followed through with the automatic reaction of this system.
While Pachulia, Curry and Durant may have been caught up by the hand-off, what about Green and Thompson? Normally you’d expect Green to be all over this, but Mozgov also used a post slide to tie up Green. Whereas Randle dropped low, notice how Mozgov slid up to the high post. He waited for Deng to be at ball level with him, then slid high. While Green didn’t respect Mozgov’s mid-range enough to sell out completely, watch the forward take a few steps away from the basket towards him. Green was then slightly out of position to stop a Deng drive due to Mozgov’s post slide.
Finally, you see circle movement, another classic read and react action, from D’Angelo Russell. Notice that while Young was dribbling towards Deng, Russell cut to the basket and brought Klay Thompson to the strong side. As Deng received the ball, the Lakers effectively forced four Warriors to one side of the court, leaving the weak-side lane wide open. As Deng drove, Russell circled up towards the wing, disabling Thompson from being involved in help.
The end result was a three-on-two with Deng, Randle and Mozgov spaced effectively in the paint, and only two Warriors close enough to make a play. You could see read and react motion all night as the Lakers looked sharp. This play showed veterans, young players and Nick Young all contributing to the Lakers’ new style of play.