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Explain One Play: Stephen Curry's "I'm Back" Game

Stephen Curry's "I'm Back" game. Plus Harrison Barnes sends the game to OT.

I'm back.
I'm back.
Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

1. Stephen Curry Is Back


What do you say about a performance like that?  This will be forever known as Stephen Curry's "I'm Back" game.

If you didn't see the game, go watch highlights. I'll try to embed a good collection for you. You can see Stephen Curry scoring 17 points in overtime. That's the most any player has ever scored in overtime, by the way. Not bad for a system player.  I'm not going to break down those plays because most of them were just stupendous Steph Gonna Steph plays on very simple screens or isolations. Totally worth watching, but you can say "GET OUT OF HERE" just as well as I can.

Here are full game highlights:

Also recall that the game was freaking 16-2 Blazers when Curry came in with six minutes left in the first quarter. 16 to TWO!!  Curry missed his first nine threes -- he apparently lent his Curry powers to Marreese Speights for much of the game -- but he settled the offense and steadied the defense.  He drove to the hoop for layups and hit short jumpers to try to get in the flow. Finally in the fourth quarter, he loosened up and started draining threes.

Here are Curry highlights:

Okay, here is another highlight from the game.

2. Harrison Barnes Ties The Game

That was pretty coldblooded for a guy who was just sitting cold on the bench for minutes on end having a pretty dreadful... series. Barnes's game-tying three pointer came on a set play after a timeout. It was a fake Spurs Hammer play. So here's what the Hammer play usually looks like.  Basically, someone drives on the right side, and on the left side (on the "weak" side) somebody sets a back screen for a shooter who sneaks to the far left corner. Then the driver passes to the left corner. Here's an example. After some preliminaries, Curry will drive on the right and Klay will sneak to the left corner getting a back screen from Ezeli.

Got it? Drive down the right side, shooter sneaks to the left corner, getting a back screen. This is the Hammer action which the Spurs made famous. Good play. The Blazers know it too. You can bet they were briefed that this is an option for the Warriors.

So here is the game tying play.  It's a Hammer action, right?  Curry drives down the right, Klay Thompson cuts to the far left, getting a screen from Barnes. Look how well the Blazers defend Klay in the corner. And then...

Surprise, surprise, the play has a second option. Klay is thoroughly covered... look at how Allan Crabbe goes full tilt through the Barnes screen. Damian Lillard leaves Barnes to cut off any baseline pass Curry might throw to get to Klay in the corner. Unfortunately for the Blazers, Harrison Barnes cuts to the arc after Lillard leaves him, and he hits an absolutely monster clutch three pointer.

Final Thoughts

So... how good are the Warriors without Steph Curry?  Kevin Pelton says they are a 57 win team without Curry, using RPM. Many people picked the Warriors to beat the Blazers easily even without Curry, wanting to save him for the next series.

I was on record as saying they were only a step above a .500 club without him. I also estimated the no-Curry Warriors had a 50% chance of beating the Blazers.  After Rockets games 3 and 4 and Blazers games 1 and 2, I felt kind of foolish for thinking that, since the Warriors just looked unbeatable following the defense + Klay/Dray recipe from Explain One Play: Blueprint to Wins Without Curry.  Then after Game 3 and the 16-2 discombobulated disaster start tonight without Curry, I felt like I was overestimating them.

The truth is somewhere in between those extremes. My thinking went like this: The Warriors without Curry look a lot like the Hawks, who have a strong defense (except against the Cavs), have a sniper in Korver, and a Spurs-inflected motion offense. The Hawks won 48 games, so that's a generous high end.  Given what we saw in the playoffs, the Warriors are clearly better than the Rockets who, in addition to being the basketball version of a nasty custody battle, were a .500 team (41 wins). However, the no-Curry Warriors are probably only a little bit above the Blazers, AT BEST. Without Curry, this is a 2-2 series. The Blazers were a 44 win team and they are missing Meyers Leonard (but Mason Plumlee has discovered a poor man's Draymond gear).  Yet the Blazers have outplayed the Warriors for long stretches of this series.  So I still reckon that the Warriors are about a 42 to 45 win team without Curry.

More importantly, I believe the Warriors can be game planned without Curry. In a playoff series, you can isolate and pick weaknesses. So hound Klay off the three point line, play Draymond in the post to pass, only send one player in for offensive boards and stop the Warriors fast break. If you can do that, then you turn the game into a slugfest and let Dame or C.J.'s hot streaks get separation. That's the story of game three.

With Curry? That plan falls apart. Even an 80% Curry was enough to put the Warriors over the top. Welcome back, Steph!  Let's never have to do this whole no-Curry Warriors thing again.

ps. Curry almost had a triple-double, 40 PTS (on 32 shots), 9 REB, 8 AST, +21.

If you want to read more video breakdowns, check out the rest of the series of Explain One Play articles. For the full updated index, go to The Explain One Play series index.

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