Game 7: Curry Is (More) Back
So how did the Warriors pull this Game 7 out? So today things changed on offense. The story on defense was similar to Games 5 & 6: increased intensity, keeping the rebound battle close, and staying with the game plan of Klay guarding RWB (7-21), Andre guarding KD (10-19 but had to work) and the others staying home on the role players (17-49 for 42 points).
The story on offense is that Curry has reloaded the module that lets him stepback and crossover big men for open threes. It's not as crisp as pre-knee Curry and the sidestep still isn't fully back, but at least Curry can now create 3s against big men, which he hasn't been able to do all playoffs.
Here's Russell Westbrook's gracious take:
Russ on Curry: "He scored a lot on our bigs."— Fast Break (@GSWFastBreak) May 31, 2016
I know that RWB sounds a bit like a self-serving jerk. RWB just does not know how to honor an opponent. And here he sounds like he also chucked his bigs under the Russ Bus. But even self-centered buttheads can be absolutely correct: the Warriors torched the OKC bigs from the three point line.
Review: OKC's Bigs Defending the Three Point Line
One of the themes of this series has been the Thunder defense stifling the Warriors. The Thunder have adopted the now-league-standard defense against the W's, which is a switching scheme. Basically, whenever a defender is screened, the screener's defender switches onto the ball. This is enough to stifle the basic Warriors motion playbook. So the Warriors have to go Next Level with their offense to overcome the switching, and this is still a work in progress. You can read the last ten Explain posts of the season to see various approaches. (See a summary from Explain One Play: Around the world for a Stephen Curry 3.)
But basically, OKC was able to counter the W's switch counter by disrupting passing lanes, and up until this game, having their big men Steven Adams and Serge Ibaka (and I count Kevin Durant as a big man too) defend the three point line well. How can they do it? They defended well with great energy, but a big part of it was Stephen Curry's limitations.
If you look at Curry's play against the Thunder in the regular season, you can see that he absolutely tortured Steven Adams and Kyle Singler on the perimeter. (Compare Explain 1 OT: Curry & Klay Break Records & Hearts.) Because of his knee recovery, throughout the playoffs until now, Curry has not had the stepback and side-step moves he needs to create space off big men. Curry's flashes of excellence came in bursts and most came in the flow of the offense, and not the cheat mode that we know and love.
If Curry can't hit 3s over big men, they can stay close to him and force him to drive past them into help defenders, and also disrupt his shot from behind. And Klay in general has not been known for creating threes one-on-one.
Game 7's Seventeen Threes
So anyway, Curry seems to be improving, and eventually threes started dropping over the OKC Bigs. Here are clips of all 17 threes the W's hit tonight, and we are going to annotate all of them.
- Andrew Bogut takes out Russell Westbrook with a thumping (moving) screen, putting Steven Adams on Curry. Curry gets a quick pass back and forth to reset his dribble and then heat checks a long three over Adams. This is the long range three that has been missing all playoffs for post-knee Curry.
- Curry steps back on Russ. Can't blame Russ for sinking back and letting Curry prove he can hit the step back. Can't blame Curry for the hero ball shot here. The W's were discombobulated by the OKC D, and they were possibly too amped up for the game.
- Enes Kanter is guarding Marreese Speights here, and Andre Iguodala comes to set a flare screen for Mo. Kanter. Kanter and Dion Waiters get confused about whether they are supposed to switch (answer: it's confusing because I believe the OKC scheme is to switch on all screens except when Kanter would switch onto Curry -- in that case, blitz with a double team). Mo gets open for three, and his novelty-act-turned-essential-part-of-bench-O continues.
- Andrew Bogut sets a pindown screen for Klay Thompson curling up. Bogut nails Andre Roberson and Steven Adams is a couple of seconds late in switching, possibly because Andre is cutting to the basket right in front of him and he has to tag him. This is a really nice play that I hope the W's keep using.
- OKC gets caught in early offense and Durant has to defend both Andre on the right side and also Klay at the arc. Curry drives and forces KD to choose. KD seems to pass Andre off to Steven Adams (good call -- Andre passed on multiple layups tonight). I believe here Curry is pitching to Andre who is clear for a layup, except he slips and the ball goes to the corner. Klay finds the lucky dime, pump fakes and side-stephs for a very nice three.
- I'm not sure what OKC could have done here. Maybe Adams could have run to Klay instead of following Andre. Anyway, a nice pass, nice catch and shoot for Klay, who up until these last two threes had been something like 0-7 from the field.
- Barnes dribble pitch to Klay. Steven Adams is a split second late to contest and Klay cooks him.
- Curry gets Ibaka on a switch. From Game 6 (see Explain One Play: Klay and Curry splash to Game 7), you saw Curry get some confidence driving past Ibaka. Now Curry doesn't even make much of a move, he just tries out his fast release over Ibaka. It works.
- Klay gets Adams on a switch. It's his turn to try out his quick release over Adams. It works.
- Here Ibaka has Andre on a switch. Curry gets partly by Durant (his defense really took a step forward this series, didn't it?) but KD contains the drive. At this point, Ibaka probably should have checked on his man. Curry shows some superior court vision for a guy who isn't a real point guard and finds Andre for the three.
- Curry gets Adams on a switch. He tries the basic Level 1 version move on Adams, which is a simple crossover to the right, straight into a three pointer. It's not the side-steph, but it works. Tie game, all the way back from 13 down. There was always the sense this game that if the W's could get up two possessions, the crowd could carry them the rest of the way.
- The same as #11 but on the other side of the court. Curry gets Adams on a switch. Curry simple crossover to the right straight into a shot. Bang.
- Curry runs a high pick and roll with Anderson Varejao (you know Ezeli is screwing up his assignments if Kerr is running Andy out there to steal a couple of minutes). Enes Kanter would normally switch onto Curry, but even injured Curry was able to score on Kanter, so now OKC automatically double teams Curry on any pick and roll involving Kanter. Now Andy gets the keys to the car and -- talk about your found money -- drives and finds Barnes for a corner three. He plays Draymond's role perfectly. (Compare Explain One Play: Curry & Green's Favorite Play.) Next play, same double team happens and Andy -- what in the name of Brazil -- drives in for a layup. Glad Barnes is starting to hit from 3 again. The Warriors don't play nearly as well when he's a weak link.
- This is the first sighting all playoffs of Curry doing an effective side-step. He gets Durant in isolation and no crossover dribble here, he dribbles up to his body, then steps back quickly to get separation and launches on the landing. Welcome back, side step. And yes, by the time the ball goes through the net, Curry has already turned around and scooted left off camera. A little bit of the Swagger module is loaded too.
- This is a nice little Three Man Game play where Curry gets a screen from Klay and Andre, and Andre immediately sets a screen for Klay. This kind of action can confound switching defenses. For instance, on this play, Klay is guarded by Roberson, who sticks with Klay through Klay's screen, and Russ switches onto Andre. But then Andre screens Roberson, so should Russ switch to Klay or not? Russ figures it out a split-second too late. (More on Three Man Game at Explain One Play: Stephen Curry to Open Bogut Dunk.)
- This is a switching mixup where Ibaka and Durant have to agree who takes Draymond and who takes Barnes, who cuts through to the basket. Ibaka takes Barnes, but Durant stays near Barnes too. Durant finally figures out that Draymond is his man too late, as Dray hits the three.
- This was the discombobulated ending of the game. I don't know why the Thunder didn't foul Curry, but they sort of pressured him then let him walk around, and finally Curry figured he should drive the stake in with some flair. Bang.
So, by my count, of the 17 threes, exactly three (including the last one in le temps de garbage) were against smalls. Russ was right, the Warriors really did bomb the bigs with threes.
Final Thoughts: Praise for the Thunder
What a great series and what a magical comeback.
And the Warriors had a great opponent in OKC, who over the course of the year and really even during the playoffs started putting it together.
The Thunder played very well and really had the Warriors on the ropes all series. I really disagree with the whole choking thing. It's true that the Thunder were bad in crunch time in Game 6, but that's what happens when two guys carry the load all game for many many minutes. Fatigue, bad decisions, bad habits.
If they (and I mean Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook) embrace what Coach Billy Donovan is trying to do (install a system that will complement KD and Russ so they don't have to create magic all the time to score) and bring top defensive intensity all the time, then they will be really frightening next year.
(I assume KD will re-sign for 1 year plus 1 year player option).
Final note. KD and RWB said they weren't laughing at Curry, they were laughing at the idea of being asked to praise an opponent. I've always been offended by the consistent disdain that Westbrook shows for his opponents. Doesn’t he know that having great opponents raises the quality and value of your struggles and victories? If you're playing a bunch of losers, then what does it mean when you lose to them?
When you respect your opponent with appropriate fear, you have to elevate your own play and you both become part of something bigger and honorable. I personally hope Russ keeps on doing Russ and that it holds him and his team back from growing. Otherwise OKC may finally grow up, put it all together and take over the league.
Okay, time to rest the nervous system. We go through more emotional upheaval on Thursday! What a world!