The Extra Pass: Golden State’s Elevator Screen plus Wednesday’s recaps

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The Signature Series takes a look at a play that’s largely unique to one team. Here’s Golden State’s Elevator screen play:

The “Elevator” screen is one of the most aesthetically pleasing plays you’ll see in the league, particularly when it’s run by Golden State.

That’s in large part because any possession that ends in a Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson jumper has plenty of visual appeal. The speed of Curry’s lightning quick release never fails to impress and Thompson’s elbow in, straight up and down release is absolute perfection.

Creating opportunities for Curry and Thompson to fire away should always be the primary objective for Mark Jackson and his coaching staff. It’s no coincidence that Golden State’s offense tends to bog down when the Warriors play through the low post. This is a roster built to bomb from deep, and the Elevator screen allows the Warriors’ shooters to do just that.

Sometimes the name of a play doesn’t provide any clues for what’s about to happen on the court, but the Elevator screen is exactly how you’d imagine it. Courtesy of Kyle Gilreath at Fast Model Sports, here’s a version of it out of the Horns set, which means there are two bigs at each elbow:

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What makes this play dangerous is the threat of the 2 selling the action of a baseline screen for the opposite wing (3). It’s often just enough to get the defender to prepare for a switch and turn his head, which provides enough of a head start for the 2 to dive through the elevator doors set by 4 and 5.

Those doors don’t stay open for long, though. Once the offensive player jets through, they close and wall off the path to contest a shot. By the time a player fights through, runs around, or yells for his guy to jump out and contest, it’s often too late – just like missing an elevator.

Golden State has made this play so successful that teams all over the league are beginning to adopt it, particularly in late clock situations. Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Rick Adelman loves to use it on sidelines out of bounds plays out of a stack formation, with Kevin Love squeezing behind the doors for an open three-pointer. In this setting, it’s a real quick hitter and a great way to take advantage of refs swallowing their whistles and not wanting to call an illegal screen off the ball in a big moment.

For Golden State, though, it’s an all-purpose play that can be used out of many different sets. Take a look at this great compilation put together last season by Mike Prada at SBNation:

This set is just one of the reasons why the Warriors lead the league in three-point percentage above the break (41.6 percent as a team!) and are second in the league in total makes from that zone. It doesn’t hurt that Curry and Thompson are in range as soon as they step in the gym, but the Elevator screen consistently creates clean looks for an offense that thrives on the three-ball.

-D.J. Foster

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We couldn’t choose just one Wednesday. So we bring you the good…

and the not so good…

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Heat 97, Pacers 94: Miami closed the game on a 12-2 run to even the season series with Indiana, a team they’ll almost certainly face in the playoffs on the road to a fourth straight trip to the Finals. The Pacers led by as many as 15 in this one, but foul trouble to Roy Hibbert hindered the defensive effort, and a big-time 12-2 run by the Heat to close the game was the difference. Dwyane Wade had his highest scoring game of the season, finishing with 32 points. — Brett Pollakoff

Wizards 113, Nets 107: The Nets got Brook Lopez back in the lineup after he sat out the last two games with an ankle injury, but his presence didn’t prevent the team from getting crushed on the glass by a 51-31 margin. The Wizards also were deadly from three-point distance, knocking in 60 percent of their looks from beyond the arc. Paul Pierce had a monster game for Brooklyn in the losing effort, and finished with 27 points on just 12 shots in 35 minutes off the bench. — BP

Jazz 86, Magic 82: Orlando was without Arron Afflalo in this one due to illness, and the Jazz had just enough to take advantage. Rookie Trey Burke turned in his best performance of the season, finishing with 30 points, seven rebounds, and eight assists. The Magic had trouble getting shots to fall, and managed to hit on just 28 of their 86 attempts from the field. Victor Oladipo finished just 1-of-12 shooting for three points in 36 minutes. — BP

Pistons 107, Celtics 106: Detroit has been playing really well as of late, and this latest effort in Boston was no different. After losing at the buzzer to the Blazers and then beating the Pacers the very next night, the Pistons overcame a 21-point deficit on the road to come away with this victory. Jeff Green had a decent look at a runner on a drive from about seven feet out, but it was well-defended and barely drew iron as time expired. — BP

Hawks 124, Kings 107: This was actually a close game until the Hawks blew it open by outscoring the Kings 39-20 over the final 12 minutes. Kyle Korver led Atlanta with 28 points, and made eight of his 10 looks from three-point distance — which is fairly inexcusable if you’re the Kings, considering that’s all Korver really does.— BP

Bobcats 104, Raptors 102: Charlotte missed four free throws in the final 20 seconds of the overtime period, any of which would have made this victory a whole lot easier Instead, they relied on Kemba Walker to come through in the clutch. With just a second remaining, Walker caught an inbound pass along the baseline and calmly knocked down a jumper which splashed through the net as time expired.— BP

Knicks 107, Bucks 101 (2OT): The Knicks seemingly keep trying to invent new and exciting ways to lose, but despite their best efforts, a win was in the cards this night nonetheless. Andrea Bargnani took one of the least intelligent shots you’ll ever see at the NBA level, but all it cost New York was an extra five minutes of basketball. If you’re wondering just how desperate these times are for the Knicks, consider that Tyson Chandler returned and played heavy minutes (37), as did Carmelo Anthony (55!). J.R. Smith attempted 17 three-pointers, but made just five. And, Toure Murry even played 10 minutes, simply because the team is running out of bodies. A win is a win, but the story lines surrounding this year’s Knicks team appear to be endless. — BP

Timberwolves 120, Trail Blazers 109: This is what it looks like when everything doesn’t work for Portland and Damian Lillard (36 points) can’t bail them out. Minnesota took control of this game in the first quarter, led by 32 in the second and the final score doesn’t reflect the reality of the blowout. Two key things happened here. First, Portland’s jumpers just did not fall — LaMarcus Aldridge was 7-of-22, the whole team was 14-of-40 from three. Second, the Trail Blazers play small and can be punished inside — Nikola Pekovic had 30 points, Kevin Love had 29 points, 15 rebounds and 9 assists. Minnesota is just a tough matchup for the Blazers. –Kurt Helin

Mavericks 105, Grizzlies 91: Not much to see here, move along. Dallas is a good team and the Grizzlies are reeling right now without Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. Dallas took the lead early and cruised, having answers when Memphis would start to make a good run. Dirk Nowitzki had 20. The one bit of good for Memphis is that Mike Miller played, the way he tweaked his ankle the game before I thought he’d be out a while. —KH

Spurs 108, Suns 101: There are no statement games in December. However, maybe this one can be a “slow down there youngster” game — the veterans took care of upstart kids handily. Credit Manu Ginobili, who had 24 on the night and with the game tied 95-95 he had seven points on the Spurs little run that got them this win, including the dagger. Channing Frye had 22 for Phoenix. —KH

Rockets 109, Bulls 94: On the bright side for the Bulls, there were stretches where this was the best their offense has looked in a little while. However, they struggle with up-tempo teams and the Rockets basically ran them out of the building — Chicago got within three late in the third, the Rockets went on a 15-1 run and that was it. Dwight Howard had 23, James Harden looked fine on his sprained ankle and had 19.—KH

Clippers 108, Pelicans 95: Anthony Davis was back and looked good off the bench for New Orleans with 24 points and 18 rebounds. Aside that, second night of a road back to back for the Pelicans and they looked like it. Credit the aggressive Clippers who took care of business. Blake Griffin finished with 21 points, 10 rebounds and five assists — he showed off the complete game some say he doesn’t have. He nailed some corner threes, made some nice bounces passes. DeAndre Jordan had 20 rebounds and 5 blocks Clippers have won four of five now. —KH

Rumor: Portland coach Terry Stotts could lose job after being swept out of playoffs

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Regular season: Terry Stotts was mentioned as a Coach of the Year candidate after leading the Portland Trail Blazers to 49 wins and the three seed in the West, led by a top 10 defense.

Playoffs: Portland was swept out of the postseason in the first round by Anthony Davis.

The latter part of that is going to lead to some real soul searching and changes coming to the Trail Blazers. That could include Stotts losing his job, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times.

There is plenty of blame to go around for Portland’s quick exit from the postseason, Stein is right that it’s not all on Stott’s shoulders.

However, this is the third time in four years Portland is out in the first round, and it leads to the question “what is it about their style that makes them so defendable and beatable in the playoffs?” This is a little like Toronto in recent years, where despite a lot of talent they were predictable and therefore defendable in the postseason. How much of that falls on Stotts?

After a period of reflection in Portland, there are going to be changes in the wake of this sweep. Stotts’ job will be part of that discussion, no matter how good a job he did.

That said, if Stotts were to be let go he would hand on his feet very quickly.

After Ricky Rubio’s triple-double, Russell Westbrook promises to “shut that s*** off”

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Ricky Rubio outplayed Russell Westbrook Saturday night in Utah and now the Jazz are up 2-1 in that series.

Rubio did his damage from the midrange — he was 5-of-5 between the key and the arc — on his way to 26 points, to go with 11 rebounds and 10 assists. All series the Thunder have dared Rubio to shoot and to beat them, Saturday he did. It was a stark contrast to Westbrook’s 14 points on 17 shots Saturday with eight turnovers.

When asked about Rubio’s big night postgame, Westbrook was looking ahead to Game 4 and using a little NSFW language (hat tip to Ben Golliver of SI, who loves him some playoff podium video).

There you have it, a personal guarantee.

Rubio struggled some in Game 1, taking 18 shots and mostly the ones the Thunder wanted him to. However, after that he has been better at getting to his spots and taking the shots in rhythm, and it’s worked — he’s averaging 20.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 8 assists per game this series. OKC has been focused on making life difficult for rookie Donovan Mitchell (with limited success) and it’s freed up Rubio to make plays.

More than just slowing the Spanish point guard, Westbrook and the Thunder need to figure out how to get their offense back on track against a Jazz defense that was best in the NBA once Gobert got healthy last season. Oklahoma City lost Game 2 when their big three — Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony — went 0-of-15 in the fourth quarter. In Game 3, OKC averaged 100 points per 100 possessions (well below their season average of 110.2) and Westbrook shot 29.4 percent. Do that again in Game 4 and it will not matter what Rubio shoots, what matters is the Thunder could be looking at a 3-1 deficit. The Thunder need to even this series before it heads back to Oklahoma City.

Gregg Popovich will not coach Game 4 following death of his wife, Erin

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San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will not be on the sidelines again for Game 4 Sunday following the death of his wife, Erin, to a lengthy illness.

Ettore Messina will again coach the Spurs.

Popovich also missed Game 3. His San Antonio Spurs are down 3-0 to the Golden State Warriors in the first-round matchup. None of that matters compared to the loss of a woman he loved and was married to for four decades.

Erin Popovich’s passing has cast a pall over the series, especially with Warriors coach Steve Kerr being very close to the Popovichs dating back to his playing days with the Spurs.

The reaction and sadness about Erin’s passing has reached well beyond this series.

Our thoughts are with the Popovich family in this difficult time.

Anthony Davis’ 47 points, Pelicans sweep Trail Blazers out of playoffs

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis scored 33 of his franchise playoff-record 47 points in the second half, and the New Orleans Pelicans completed a first-round playoff sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers with a 131-123 victory on Saturday.

Jrue Holiday capped his 41-point performance with an 18-foot pull-up jumper that gave the Pelicans a six-point lead with 40 seconds left.

Rajon Rondo added 16 assists, and Davis also had 11 rebounds and three blocks for New Orleans, which is moving on to the second round of the playoffs for only the second time since the NBA returned to the city 16 seasons ago.

C.J. McCollum scored 38 for the Trail Blazers, who responded to a blowout loss in Game 3 by keeping Game 4 close until the final minute. Al-Farouq Aminu scored 27, Damian Lillard added 18 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 18 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out.

Lillard’s difficult driving layup had just tied the game at 60 when the Pelicans briefly pulled away, going on an 11-2 run capped by Davis’ 3.

Soon after, Nikola Mirotic added step-back 3. Davis, who scored 19 in the third quarter, then added a layup while falling down after a hard foul by Aminu, after which Davis flexed both biceps while still sitting on the court.

Holiday’s transition 3 made it 87-72, prompting Portland to call timeout while Holiday walked slowly toward mid-court, nodding and smiling wide as he soaked in the crowd’s adulation.

New Orleans led by 13 to start the fourth quarter, but Portland refused to wilt, opening the period on a 15-4 run that included Nurkic’s hook shot, 20-foot jumper and dunk. McCollum’s transition layup made it 104-102 with nearly nine minutes to play.

Portland got as close as a single point on Aminu’s layup with 5:08 to go, but Davis responded with 12 points over the final 4:56, starting with a layup as he was fouled and a 3-pointer. Holiday scored six points during the final 2:52, starting with his 3-pointer. The pair combined for all but one of New Orleans’ points during that pivotal stretch.

Leading up to Game 4, Lillard spoke of the need for the Blazers to ramp up their intensity and physicality. From the tip, it looked as though they’d done so.

In stark contrast to Game 3, when New Orleans led by 18 in the first quarter, this game was tight and testy.

Anthony and Ed Davis received double technical fouls after bumping one another following one of Anthony Davis’ dunks – and that was just the beginning.

McCollum was called for a flagrant foul when he stormed into the lane behind E'Twaun Moore and grabbed the Pelicans guard by the shoulders to thwart a driving layup attempt. Moore then shoved McCollum and was assessed a technical foul.

And in the final seconds of the half, double technicals were assessed to Rondo and Portland center Zach Collins after Rondo lowered his forehead into Collins’ chest and Collins shoved back.

When halftime arrived, New Orleans led 58-56.