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Explain One Play: Stephen Curry's Mere Mortal Scores

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Stephen Curry had a good looking stat line, but he had to earn his points in mortal fashion. We break down three of his scores from defensive mistakes from the Clippers-Warriors Mar 23 2016 game.

Super Saiyan mode still charging... deploying Finger Roll Machine mode...
Super Saiyan mode still charging... deploying Finger Roll Machine mode...
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

So, the Warriors played the Clippers, and it just didn't have that same vengeful feeling. The crowd didn't care quite as much, and both teams look worn down. By now it's pretty clear that the Warriors are better, and this was a workman-like victory.

The Clippers defended the Warriors using the new trend in the league, which is to play the Warriors by switching all screens, and putting a mobile big man on Curry on the perimeter (think the Pelicans putting Anthony Davis, or Spurs putting Aldridge on Curry). (More details: Explain One Play: Curry & Green punish switches.)

During Curry's Super Saiyan phase, he would just step back and rain down threes from very long distance. Now he's got to earn the majority of his points by driving to the hoop, or running the offense until the defense makes a mistake. Let's look at three memorable Curry scores.

When Switching It Real Goes Wrong Part 1

Who doesn't remember Curry's array of looong shots, especially the buzzer beaters. They've become such an event that teams are actually guarding Curry all over the court in buzzer beater situations. And the Warriors are countering this strange full court press on Curry!  Remember that Marreese Speights touchdown pass on the post pattern to Leandro Barbosa? That happened because the defense was loading up on Curry.

Well, tonight the Clippers played a freakish box-and-1 defense on Curry with a defender plus two defenders at  the three point line, and two defenders zoning around the logo.  Very weird defense. See what Curry does in response.

Curry gets the ball full court, and runs past his defender early on. As Curry approached, all the Clippers perched around the three point line. One of them picks up Curry, but he runs right by him as well, and then he finds a seam in the defense and goes unopposed to the rim and almost dunks it. (I'd give it a 20% dunk rating.)

When Switching It Real Goes Wrong Part 2

In this play, Curry lets the Kerrball offensive system do the work for him. The play starts with Klay Thompson curling around Bogut, but he's covered well. So Bogut switches to looking at Curry on the other side. Curry loops down and gets a screen from Draymond Green. It's hard to tell what play was coming, but something was brewing: Brandon Rush cleared to the right side and was setting a serious pick on Klay's defender. My guess is that Curry and Klay were going to run a Floppy (details: Explain One Play: Warriors + Floppy = Klay 3) starting under the basket and having a choice of screens on each side of the lane.  Instead, Curry gets an open layup.  Try to figure out why Curry gets so open.

This is a good find by Andrew Bogut and a timely pass too.  Curry is defended by Chris Paul at the start of the play. Draymond sets a light pick on Paul and Paul calls for Draymond's defender, Paul Pierce, to switch on to Curry. (On the broadcast, you can hear Chris screaming something like "HEY D! HEY!" (go to 0:34 of the nba.com highlights "Curry Goes Off")  Pierce doesn't switch, so no one guards Curry under the basket, and he completes a tougher-than-it-looks layup.  Also, right after the play, you can see Chris Paul chewing out Pierce for not switching.

Switching is hard.

When Switching It Real Goes Wrong Part 3

It's a little hard to see what play this is supposed to be from the video, but it was pretty clear live. It began with Klay and Curry running at each other along the baseline, and crossing with Klay. Then Klay steps up to give Draymond a back screen at the elbow to let him cut to the basket.  In the meantime, Curry is supposed to get the ball on the left side, and the timing of the play is such that Draymond should be cutting clear for an open dunk, so Curry can pass to him.

Watch and answer: Why does Curry get open?

Advanced readers: identify the play.

This is the classic Warriors Rip play, dissected many times before (see Explain One Play: Stephen Curry Screen = Harrison Barnes Dunk DEJA VU!). However, the Clippers blow up the play by having Klay's defender J.J. Redick switch on to Curry as he runs by.

Redick has to catch up on the switch and goes full thrusters forward to trail Curry closely (and grabbily). Then Redick gambles and tries to deflect the pass to Curry. The gamble fails and Redick's momentum takes him out of the play, and now Curry pivots and has an open shot.  Wesley Johnson is in the area, but he realizes too late that he needs to switch on to Curry.

Curry hits a normal person's three pointer off of the defensive mistakes.

ps. Here's what the play is supposed to look like:

The Warriors Vs. The Switching Defense

The Warriors haven't had a chance to practice and game plan to counter the new switching defense that the entire league is trying to play against the Warriors.  The Pelicans sprung it on them on Mar 14, but that felt like a novelty, and the W's ran away with the game.

But then in the last six days the Warriors have had the Mavs, Spurs, Timberwolves and Clippers spring this defense on them, and they haven't had any practice time, since they've been traveling. On the one hand, only the Spurs have played this D at the master level. On the other hand, they are a very likely roadblock to a repeat championship.

Now that they will have some rest and practice time, it's exciting to think about what new tweaks the Dubs will introduce to counter the latest anti-Warriors technology.

Bogut on the same topic:


Final Thoughts

These three scores are what the NBA is supposed to look like. A player like Curry runs the offense and then punishes defensive mistakes. My partner and I went to the game, and we felt like Curry had a bad game.  No, Curry did not have a bad game. He had a solid MVP level game pouring in 33 pts on 12-23 shooting (4-10 from 3) plus 4 REB 5 AST. But he had to earn his points in mortal fashion and he missed the off-the-dribble shots and long bombs that have been going in all season.

Stephen Curry has come down to earth. He has been brought down by the wear of the long season, plus having to carry the team for so many games, plus some unknown wear from his sponsorship and charity work.

His playmaking and passing game are still top-notch, and he gets to the rim well and finishes creatively. But he's now hitting threes at a human rate from human range. This is a break in the greatest stretch of offensive basketball the NBA has ever seen, stretching from the start of this season through That OT Thunder Game.

Time will tell whether it's an end, or a temporary pause as he recharges. But one shouldn't assume he's going to go right back to Insane Cheat Mode Curry.