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Explain One Play: How Steph hit a Finals-record nine threes

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Watch Stephen Curry pour in a Finals-record 9 three-pointers in Game 2 of the 2018 NBA Finals. We explain the clever plays and the defensive breakdowns and how Steph’s game-sealing desperation shot over Kevin Love was actually rehearsed. Co-starring JaVale McGee, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green. 

NBA: Finals-Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors
Tell me who in this house knows about the Quake? I mean really
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Golden State Warriors leader Stephen Curry claimed another three-pointer record in Game 2 of the 2018 Finals against the Cavaliers. (You figure he’ll have most such records by the time he retires.). In this case, he hit nine three-pointers, going 5-for-5 in the fourth quarter to seal the game.

So, how did he do it? It was a combination of clever plays, defensive mistakes, and Curry just doing Steph things like unguardable stepback off-the-dribble threes. We’ll show you all the threes and explain how he got open to shoot in each case.

Quick sidenote on the scramble shot over Love

A highlight of this little video study is unearthed practice footage of Curry practicing exactly the kind of chaotic ball-rolling scramble shot that he hit over Kevin Love to seal the game. I tweeted about this:

To my amusement, while I mostly got reactions of enjoyment, I got a bit of flak from two sources:

  1. People who thought there was no way Curry could meaningfully practice this and to just accept it was lucky; and
  2. People who thought I shouldn’t call it lucky, because it was a good controlled shot from Curry

So here’s my reply. You can’t hit a shot like this without some luck. It’s not like a free throw. But, you can increase through practice your odds of shooting well in awkward positions and under scramble circumstances and after picking up the ball from the floor.

Video study of Steph’s 9 threes

How Stephen Curry hit a Finals-record 9 threes

Watch Stephen Curry pour in a Finals-record 9 three-pointers in Game 2 of the 2018 NBA Finals. We explain the clever plays and the defensive breakdowns and share rare practice footage to show how Steph's game-sealing desperation shot over Kevin Love was actually rehearsed. Co-starring JaVale McGee, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green. By @EricApricot. More videos and articles at http://tinyurl.com/ericapricot

Posted by Golden State of Mind on Monday, June 4, 2018

(alternate YouTube link)

Finals thoughts

The root of the CLE defensive breakdowns is bad switching. CLE can’t fix Curry being Steph, and can’t fix their disorganization in transition defense. But they can choose whether or not to handle screens by switching.

Now, I don’t think (do I?) that CLE just saw HOU switching on TV and said, hey let’s do that. But if CLE has not been switching all year, then they don’t have the habits and communication to pull it off well. If CLE had played the Warriors before Houston, they might have surprised GSW and stolen some games while GSW adjusted their offense to beat the switching.

However, the Warriors had just been forced to evolve or die in the Rockets series. The Rockets used switching as their base defense and spent the whole year perfecting it. They played the best switching and help defense you’ll see (outside of GSW’s own defense) and certainly better than what the Cavaliers can muster up. They forced Kevin Durant to question his own scoring identity, and they forced the Warriors to evolve in real-time, transforming themselves from a motion offense plus Kevin Durant post-up system back to a Stephen Curry perimeter pick and roll engine offense.

I asked Ron Adams what the Warriors figured out about their offense at the end of the Rockets series and he philosophized the following (he won’t give away specific tactics on the record):

Well, they are a switching team, and their switching was bothering us and so on. And I thought we probably got back to some better ball movement. As well as with switching sometimes you have to attack with principles, not always a set that you’re going to run. Sometimes it can be. But I think that was the evolution. Moving the ball better, making some simple passes. Offensive basketball, you can’t get into this home run pass mentality. You just got to chip away chip away chip away and maybe a pass that I’m able to pass to my partner here to get a good shot is the critical one, so. I’ll say one other point so maybe this’ll make more sense. I have friends, they’re basketball nuts and so on, and they’ll say “God the game was kind of grungy! And it didn’t flow!” Yes, because it’s the playoffs! I mean, I can remember as a kid watching the playoffs — it was really, really physical and you can’t do the things that you always did (during) the normal season because of the pressure of it, so I think we kind of flipped that and did a better job perhaps the last two games. We played well all the way through, I thought. They defended us well.

I, not being a coach needing to conceal tactics, wrote an analysis of the specific adjustments GSW made. In brief, run on everything, slip screens, and have Curry relocate after passing. Those tactics ended up loosening the offense just enough for the Warriors to squeak out the series victory.

Now, in the Finals, the Warriors have freshly evolved their offense to beat Houston’s elite level switching and you can see in the video they applied those EXACT tactics and sliced up the Cavaliers. Beyond the Curry three-pointers, these tactics created open layups and jump shots throughout.

So the big question is whether the Cavaliers will remain switching, or go to their go-to defensive scheme. This is the “secret defense” that Tyronn Lue promised in the past, which is blitzing traps. My guess is that CLE will stick with the switching to start Game 3, but if it remains disastrous (and I suspect it will), they will switch to blitzing. CLE spent the last four games of the 2017 Finals blitzing and when it came to closing time in Game 5, GSW went to the Durant-Curry pick and roll. It will be interesting to see how long it takes Coach Kerr to get to that point.