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Explain One Play: Curry stealth-bombs threes

Steph dives into the belly of the defense and springs out for surprise threes in Game 2 of the Warriors-Spurs series.

San Antonio Spurs v Golden State Warriors - Game Two Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Unfamiliar terms are defined in the glossary at the end.

No, it never gets old blowing out the Spurs. The Spurs have, over the years, so many times beaten the Warriors without trying too hard, and often without their stars. So we can’t take for granted that the W’s had this game against the Spurs without Kawhi Leonard.

Stephen Curry has seemed more comfortable against the Spurs in the last few games, dating back to the 2015-16 season. That season he and the Warriors figured out that the Spurs were REALLY good at handling the basic Warriors’ motion offense and they needed Curry to use his gravity to mess up the Spurs’ defense. This meant not only pick-and-rolls, but also curls and back-cuts when overplayed.

Here is an action that Curry has had some success with. Let me just roll a couple of clips and see if you can figure out the basic action.

Stealth Bomb 1

From the March 29 Spurs game:

Curry drives into the paint. Of course, the first option is to score. But he’s confronted with a big defender in Pau Gasol double-teaming him. So Curry throws the ball out to the left wing, and then immediately flares out to the left side, getting a flare screen from Shaun Livingston, for a catch-and-shoot. Manu Ginobili is the only one with a hope of contesting the shot, but he doesn’t even know Curry is there.

Why doesn’t he know? It’s because the ball came out to the left wing, so Ginobili has to watch the ball in the opposite direction from which Curry is sneakily cutting. I will call this action a Stealth Bomb, and see if a better name emerges.

Stealth Bomb 2

Here’s another example, from Utah WCF G2:

Okay, I think you get the idea. Curry drives into the paint. Of course, the first option is to score, but he’s confronted with the big defender, Rudy Gobert, the Stifle Tower. So Curry throws the ball out to the left wing, and then immediately flares out to the left side, getting a flare screen from Kevin Durant, for a catch-and-shoot.

Durant can see perfectly well where Curry is coming from, and Durant’s defender Joe Johnson can’t. Johnson is lost, doesn’t switch and it takes a poor screen from Durant and strong effort from Joe Ingles to pressure Curry’s shot, which he makes anyway.

Bonus: Did you notice how Ingles put his feet right into Curry’s landing space (and Curry actually seems to land on the feet). No call, nor any comparison to manslaughter. I guess Ingles must have learned this dirty trick from Zaza Pachulia, right? (Or maybe this is just a common dangerous situation with big men closing out on shooters.)

Stealth Bomb 3

This is from Game 1 of this Spurs series. Can you see how it’s the same action?

Curry drives into the paint, while LaMarcus Aldridge is sitting in the paint to guard against Curry’s drive. So he kicks it out to the perimeter, and immediately flares out for a catch and shoot. Pachulia helps free up Curry by grabbing at Patty Mills as he goes by.

Tonight’s Stealth Bomb

... which brings us up to tonight’s game. Here’s the clip. By now, I don’t think you need my commentary.

DeJounte Murray switches off Curry right at the start, and Ginobili takes over. Then Dewayne Dedmon also jumps out to double-team Curry. Then David Lee steps over to deter Curry’s drive. That’s 60% of the Spurs surrounding Curry. Curry looks off Patrick McCaw in the near corner.

McCaw had a nice game tonight, but his shot seems more accurate when he has time to casually load his catapult. So Curry tries to do a stealth bomb by kicking it out to the wing and flaring out to the left side from under the basket. It’s interesting that when Curry kicks out, all Spurs’ eyes turn away from him under the basket. Ginobili sniffs trouble first, but Curry now already has a two-stride lead.

Murray is taken by surprise when he sees Curry flash by him. Livingston figures out what’s happening on the late side, but he sees it soon enough to nail the trailing Ginobili with the flare screen.

The game in tweets

Bonus Zaza related tweets

Here’s Coach Nick calling out Popovich for hypocrisy on the dirty closeout issue:

My position on the Zaza thing was that I didn’t like the closeout, but it didn’t seem different from many similar closeouts with feet under the shooter. Furthermore, I’m not sure how to change the NBA rules to discourage it. Making it a flagrant-1 probably would help, and it would only help Curry, Durant and Thompson who shoot a lot of contested threes.

Anyway, to prove the point about this dangerous closeout being common, notice we even got an example from Ingles in the Utah clip above, and I wasn’t even trying to find an example. Enterprising people pulled clips from Game 1 itself, and then from tonight’s game:

Durant was even asked about this, and he was classy:

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