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January 22, 2023

The collective game planning and best practices of the Warriors’ opponents on Golden State’s dynastic run can be boiled down to one simple truth: The Warriors aren’t the Warriors if they stand still. Every successful strategy against them – whether for a single game or, in rare cases, an entire series – has been an all-out attack on their freedom of movement, that is, an all-out attack on Stephen Curry. Slow Curry down and you slow down the Warriors. Hold Curry as he flies around the screens, and you stall the progress of the entire offense.

“It all starts with Steph,” Draymond Green said Sunday night. “[Even] when KD was around, our attack always started with Steph.

The main strategic sticking point in these NBA Finals came from Boston’s attempts to alter that reality. In their most stifling moments, the Celtics controlled one-on-one matchups and changed enough to disrupt the Warriors’ natural flow. “The way we move bodies and move the ball, changing [against us] is designed to keep everything on the perimeter,” Curry said. “Keep the bodies between the man and the basket. Try to force yourself to do hard punches. But it also sometimes allows for some confusion, if you throw your sets hard.”

Almost every member of Golden State’s supporting cast is counting on Curry to be on the move to help them generate offense, including ostensible costar Klay Thompson, who is having a hard time trying to part ways with the stifling coverage of the Boston perimeter. Yet the Celtics’ defensive switches provide a different kind of opportunity. In Game 2, the Warriors used Curry in a way that Steve Kerr has long resisted: attacking the Boston greats immediately, off the dribble.

Executing pick-and-roll after pick-and-roll is a more direct approach than the Warriors typically prefer — rougher than whirling Curry on the floor until the defense crumbles on top of her — same. Curry, after all, grew up wanting to be Reggie Miller. Kerr took his basketball philosophy from his years in the offensive triangle and modernized his concepts to fit some of the greatest shooters in the world. Taking the ball back from Curry in 2014 – and handing it to an untraditional playmaker like Green – revealed layer upon layer of stunning attack.

“The big guys in the triangle are welcome to pass, whether it’s out of the low post or the pinch post,” Kerr said. The ring in 2020. “There are so many good deeds that have come out of it.” The entire movement culture of Golden State was born out of this conception, which is why Boston decided to have Curry created by any other means.

Assigning Marcus Smart to guard Green for periods in Game 1 was a pretty explicit challenge for Curry, and really for the entire Golden State way of life. Any of the Warriors’ usual dribbling transfers between Green and Curry could be easily contained by Smart – the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and one of the best defenders against Curry in the entire league – when he passed. to take Steph on order. Yet, doing everything possible to prevent Curry from turning off-ball cuts into open shots, Boston had also announced that he would live with just about everything else.

The Warriors scaled back their approach in Game 2 to take full advantage of those priorities. It didn’t matter if Smart came back to check on Curry more or less full time; Curry simply exploited Boston’s switches to chase Al Horford in the pick-and-roll instead, to the point where the Celtics attempted to hide Horford wherever they could to keep him out of the action and away from Steph. . The Celtics then attempted to return to a drop-style defense to save Horford and their other greats, but in response the Warriors simply put their screens for Curry higher and higher on the floor, stretching the league’s best defense. until it breaks. . Curry stopped for 3 seconds. He rushed into the lane, taking three defenders with him. In the whirlwind third quarter of Game 2, Curry built such downhill momentum that his entire team was able to move freely again.

“If I can get into those one-on-one matchups and be able to play and read defense well, we can create a lot of good shots,” Curry said. “Fortunately, those kinds of possessions, either we had a good shot or the ball started to move and we weren’t turning the ball over, which helped our attack settle down a bit.”

Curry scored 63 points on 46 shooting in the first two games of this series, with floaters and runners and pull-ups galore; his individual production against this great historic defense was no problem. Yet, as Boston had previously managed to chase Curry through its cuts without losing the collective spirit, Golden State hadn’t been able to translate all that shooting into a more holistic offense – until it gave up the ghost and gives the ball to Curry.

The Warriors have made fewer pick-and-rolls per 100 possessions this season than any other team in the league, according to Second Spectrum, and yet the cadence of their offense was still completely recognizable when they turned up the dial on screens. ball in Game 2. The tempo, passing and movement patterns were all there. This is Warriors basketball – in simplified form, perhaps, but with all of its principles intact:

Playoff matchups aren’t always about imposing your will; more often than not, the winning team is the one that gives up what it wants for what works. Golden State’s favorite system is a sleek piece of basketball engineering. Yet it’s still Curry who breathes life into the machinery, and he can do the same with a slightly modified build in these sorts of dire circumstances. During his career, Curry has spent his possessions sprinting into every corner of the attack, catching and creating from every possible scenario. Pick-and-roll, by comparison, is an easy life.

“I try to be in control, composed, see the game, feel the flow and the rhythm and know where I can get to my spots,” Curry said.

There could be more pressure on the resident Golden State MVP to lead entire possessions into a simpler, heavier offense, but it’s not like he doesn’t already carry the full brunt of the offense. Every possession Curry passed around the screens away from the ball hinged on the idea that he could create meaningful separation from his defender, or at least lure another opponent to the floor into thinking he could. If Curry failed at this task, Green would be stuck with the ball in his hands high off the ground, his pass loaded with nowhere to go. It all starts with Steph, and always has; creating as much dribbling as this match can demand is just the next adjustment for a superstar who has shown he can handle it.

Curry trains for this, indeed, not by spending his entire offseason making pick-and-rolls, but by pushing his body to be ready for whatever is needed. It wasn’t hyperbole when Mavericks coach Jason Kidd called Curry “the most conditioned athlete in this game” in the Western Conference Finals. The curry will outlive you. “I pride myself on trying to be the hardest worker, the most consistent worker,” he said.

When other NBA players tried to train with Curry this offseason, they were intimidated by his routine: dynamic, game-speed drills where the now 34-year-old Curry will fly all over the pitch, almost never taking consecutive shots. from the same place. His whole diet is structured to give him answers – another move he can make, another option he can access.

Still, there’s always some trepidation about pushing a great player too far at the end of a long stretch, especially when the Celtics are running Curry and rushing the defense at every opportunity. “There’s a lot of concern about a lot of things,” Kerr said after Game 2. “Boston is a hell of a team. They’ve got a great defense. They’ve got athletic, powerful guys who can get to the rim. There’s no way to get through such a formidable opponent without pushing beyond comfortable limits. No more minutes. No more touches. No more pick-and-rolls, even if they distract the Warriors from being the team they want to be.

“All it takes,” Kerr said. The only way forward, for the Warriors, is to keep moving forward.

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