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Explain One OT: Steph shuts out LeBron?!

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In 2018 Finals Game 1, LeBron James had torched GSW for 49 pts, and in OT he started picking on “weak link” Stephen Curry. To everyone’s surprise, LeBron and CLE got shut out until the game was settled. Co-starring great help by Draymond Green, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson.

NBA: Finals-Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors
“So when does Incredibles 2 come out?”
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Stephen Curry is 6’ 3”, 190 lbs. He can dunk, but not fly high. But given those limitations, he is a really good defender. In the Houston series, he was isolated repeatedly against James Harden and despite careless fan opinions, he did well.

Most importantly, as a team GSW defended HOU well despite the isolations, and as the series went along, HOU targeted Steph less.

Lead assistant coach Ron Adams told me:

After the flurry of criticism after the first game of the Houston series, I thought Steph played really good defense. There are people on the other team that... (shrugs cryptically, implying not all Rockets played good D). But when you look at the numbers, you can get any stat on anything. How many times I directly was scored on, for example. His numbers were not that bad! And in the Houston series, who was our second leading rebounder for the series? Steph! Third overall in the playoffs. So he’s doing a lot out there. I think that was overblown, you could analyze the game statistically and circle some other guy, you know (chuckles cryptically, see above).

Okay, that’s all well and good for small Harden. But Curry faced a whole bigger challenge (literally) in LeBron James. And in regulation time, nobody on GSW could defend James. Notably though, he did not isolate much on Curry (also attacking Kevon Looney, Jordan Bell, JaVale McGee and Nick Young). He was saving that ace in the hole for overtime.

And much to everyone’s surprise, Curry held up well in overtime under repeated isolations by James. So well that Cleveland scored NO points in the first three minutes, when the game was decided.

Here is video analysis of the individual and team efforts that made it happen.

How Stephen Curry shut out LeBron James

In 2018 Finals Game 1, LeBron James had torched GSW for 49 pts, and in OT he started picking on "weak link" Stephen Curry. To everyone’s surprise, LeBron and CLE got shut out until the game was settled. Co-starring great help by Draymond Green, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. By @EricApricot. More videos and articles at http://tinyurl.com/ericapricot

Posted by Golden State of Mind on Friday, June 1, 2018

(alternate YouTube link)

Final Thoughts

First, LeBron James has very very bad statistics when guarded by Curry. So bad that I suspect the stats, and of course it’s unreasonable to expect Curry to guard him at this level in the future:

Second, as you can see from the video, a smart NBA defense never leaves players on an island. Stephen Curry is the defender closest to LeBron James, and yes, he has to play good defense to stop from getting immediately destroyed, but he defends in the context of a team effort of tricky and changing help schemes.

I’ll give Ron Adams the final word:

As coach, my area of concern is not [Steph’s] one-on-one defense. That’s more of a fan thing, a fantasy league thing. I’m more concerned with other things that we want him to do within our scheme. But he’s a lot tougher than a lot of people think, and when he’s focused, which in the playoffs he generally almost always is, his defense is more than acceptable.