re: point guards
Steph Curry and Kyrie Irving are two of the three best point guards in the NBA. Russell Westbrook is the other slice of this elite trifecta. John Wall was part of the group before the year began but Irving has eclipsed Wall so far in the young NBA season. Now after that little ranking match, we can move on to the matchup (My point here is that some immense talent will grace our television screens tonight).
Kyrie Irving learned to play defense
The Boston Celtics are winners of 13 in a row. They lost their first game of the year and sustained a massive blow when Gordon Hayward broke his leg. All was not lost though as they’ve gone an astonishing 13-1 since. Boston’s supporting cast, led by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown (the Jay-Team), are playing out of their minds, but no one has been better than Kyrie Irving. Irving has long been one of the best offensive players in the NBA, but now Brad Stevens, Boston’s part-time magician/ full-time head coach, has tricked Irving into playing defense. Yes, Kyrie Irving is under a spell. Not only does he think the earth is flat, but he is now “guarding his yard” as Chauncy Billups puts it below.
Some numbers: Irving is averaging two fewer shots per game this year and is only shooting 32.6% from beyond the arc. Despite the early-season shooting slump, he is still averaging over 20 points a game and playing the best defense of his life. Uncle Drew’s steals have increased by nearly one per game, his Defensive Box Plus/Minus is positive (0.9) for the first time in his career, and he has an impressive 0.9 VORP. Irving is the most talented player on his team and his new focus on defense (and playing in Stevens’ defensive-minded system) is making an impact for the Celtics.
Steph Curry is still criminally underrated
Curry returns tonight from a thigh contusion he sustained last weekend. Tonight, he needs two special ingredients to get things going for the Dubs.
Two spices for the Curry:
- Defensive switching: If Curry is switching onto guard Irving or off Irving to guard another player, the switch must be seamless. This usually isn’t a problem, but Irving is so innovative on offense, can draw fouls, and will hit contested shots. The Warriors don’t want to be in foul trouble tonight or allow Irving any space to find a rhythm with his jump shot.
- Attack the basket: I love when Curry hits 400 threes in a game, but Golden State doesn’t need that to beat the Celtics. Test Irving. Everyone is talking about how great Irving is on defense. He’s improved, but it doesn’t mean he can guard Curry. Curry's incredible consistency inside the arch should catalyze his confidence against the Celtics. Drawing an early foul or two, and making Irving feel wobbly on defense might go a long way tonight to help the Dubs.
Some numbers: Like Irving, Curry’s three-point shooting has yet to get going—his 38.8% clip from three is the worst in his career (yes, take that in, and remember how underrated Steph Curry is). However, Curry is having his best year shooting two pointers boasting a 57.3%. On shots between 10 and 16 feet from the basket, Curry is hitting an otherworldly 68.2% of his takes. Damn, it feel good to be a Warriors fan.
It only takes one quarter
Tonight is the first game Irving is going up against the Warriors as a member of the Boston Celtics. Irving broke our hearts in 2016, and doesn’t want his big Game 7 shot to be a one time thing.
The good news is that the Warriors have like three Kyrie Irvings. Even if Curry struggles offensively, the squad can pick him up. In big games like this, we as fans can pinch ourselves and remember WE HAVE KEVIN DURANT.. AND KLAY THOMPSON! It might take Curry and company a quarter or two to stop Boston and find their rhythm against a good defense. Wait it out, the third quarter will happen, and the Dubs should have their lead. Whatever the outcome, we can anxiously await the end of the game when Brad Stevens and Steve Kerr each whisper, “you are my role model” simultaneously into each other’s ears.
Don’t get tricked
At the start, I mentioned that Irving and Curry are two of the three best point guards in the league. Don’t get tricked though, Curry is a better player than Irving. Let’s hope Curry and the Warriors show Boston what it feels like to play a defending champion.
[all stats via basketball-reference.com]