Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant — the latest duo in the hallowed list of elite duos to have played in the NBA — combined for 76 points in a huge victory against the Dallas Mavericks. Sporting a home record of 16-5 coming into Sunday night’s game, the Mavericks sought revenge for their loss in Oakland — and based on how well they have been doing on their home court, they had every reason to feel confident.
Meanwhile, the Warriors are at the start of their 16-day roadtrip, with 7 of their next 8 games being spent away from the comfy confines of Oracle Arena. To add an extra layer of difficulty to the trip, the Warriors are set to face off against some of the top teams from both conferences, forcing them to be at their absolute peak focus to prevent coming out of the trip battered, bruised, and beaten.
There are a couple of silver linings to this daunting trip, the first being the return of DeMarcus Cousins. No one knows what he will look like when he finally takes the floor, but it will give the Warriors plenty of reason and motivation to give it their all.
Another silver lining — one that certainly brought a lot of cheers and cries of “finally” to a lot of Warriors fans — is the demise of the Curry/Durant stagger.
Back in mid-December, Steve Kerr began experimenting with a new rotation pattern: taking Curry out of the first and third quarters at around the four-minute mark, and inserting him with the second unit to start the second and fourth quarters. Additionally, he would take Curry out briefly in the middle of the second and fourth quarters, and re-insert him after a two to three minute rest.
Initially, the results were promising. Having one of Curry and Durant on the floor at all times was the ideal, and it sought to eliminate the problem of offensive stagnation in the second unit. But it was clear that it had an unintended side effect — disrupting the rhythm of Curry.
Curry had become used to playing the full twelve minutes of the first and third quarters, and it was clear that he thrived in such situations. He is a player that is heavily dependent on rhythm and flow; disrupt that rhythm even for a tiny bit, and his game will be thrown off.
The coaching staff noticed this — and without announcing it, they reverted the rotation to its old pattern of maximizing Curry’s time on the floor during the first and third quarters. And just like that, the experiment of staggering Curry and Durant’s minutes died a quiet and unceremonious death.
First quarter explosion
The first quarter was a portent of the brilliance to come from the Warriors’ cream of the crop. The first two field goals made were examples of the ability of Curry and Durant to create points by solely relying on their offensive talent and skill.
With Durant matched up against the lengthy Maxi Kleber — who is listed at 6-feet-11-inches — he goes up for the turnaround jumper over the outstretched arms of the tall German, and he makes the shot despite being contested well.
When Curry gets switched onto a big man, he often makes mincemeat out of their effort to stop him from scoring. A past victim of Curry’s big man hit list is DeAndre Jordan, and he once again makes his way into that list in this possession. Curry gets the mismatch, smells blood, and drives inside against the slower Jordan. Curry fakes a pass and goes up for the tough up-and-under finish with his left hand.
While Kleber wasn’t able to bother Durant with his length, Durant doesn’t give Kleber the same courtesy. With Kleber preparing to go up for the catch-and-shoot three, Durant quickly closes the gap and uses his outstretched arm to deny the shot. Defense quickly turns into offense, as Durant converts the block into an easy dunk on the other end.
Another excellent defensive sequence results in points scored on the other end. Draymond Green tracks down Luka Doncic and stifles his attempt to score, leading to another one-on-one face-off between Durant and Kleber. Durant creates space through a dribble step-back, and he once again buries the mid-range jumper despite being contested by the long arms of Kleber.
Curry proceeds to turn on his Human Torch persona by going on a 14-point personal run, all of which proved to be crucial in keeping the Warriors well within striking distance of the Mavericks’ four-point lead at the end of the quarter.
1. The Warriors use a simple play from the low post to get Curry a three, made possible by Kevon Looney’s rock-solid screen to give Curry all the time and space he needs for the shot.
2. A vintage give-and-go relocation for Curry, who draws several defenders upon his initial foray into the paint. He gives up the ball, runs to the corner, and gets the ball back for the open three.
3. Curry simply beats his defender off the dribble by leading him slightly to the left, then quickly crossing over to the right and using the open lane to make the layup.
4. No one picks up Curry as he crosses the half court line. He simply walks into his spot and pulls up for the three, making the defense pay for ignoring him.
5. Curry gets a high pick from Jordan Bell, and with Dirk Nowitzki stationed in the paint — and in no condition to try to run Curry off the line — Curry gets another open look for the easy three.
The most notable occurrence of the first quarter, however, was the time at which Curry was subbed out. With 36 seconds to go, Jonas Jerebko was inserted for Curry — not quite the full twelve minutes, but close enough to conclude that Kerr was veering away from the idea of putting Curry in as the focal point of the second unit.
Uninterrupted second quarter minutes for Curry and Durant
Curry would be reinserted in the second quarter at the seven-minute mark of the second quarter, and Durant would follow not long after. Again, this is a staple of the old rotational pattern that Kerr would often rely on in the past. With plenty of rest piled up, Curry and Durant were ready to continue where they left off.
A steal by Andre Iguodala leads to a two-on-one transition opportunity. Curry gets the pass from Iguodala and puts in the layup.
Durant would respond with two straight threes of his own. Working in tandem with Curry, who uses Durant’s screen to draw two defenders onto him, Durant pops out to the three-point line, gets the threaded bounce pass from Curry, and knocks down the three. Not long after that, Durant buries another three by receiving the kick-out pass from a driving Iguodala.
Curry gets off another three from a play that uses Durant as a distraction. Curry sets a backscreen for Durant, and the defense prepares to shut down Durant’s dive toward the rim. But the backscreen by Curry is actually a decoy — the actual action then commences, with Curry using Green’s screen to curl and receive the pass for the wide-open three-point look at the basket.
A good start to the second half
To start the third quarter, Durant shows his elite one-on-one scoring prowess by easily blowing by his defender to get the baseline dunk. With the game staying close, spurts of individual brilliance from Durant and Curry were all the more crucial.
Durant would continue the display of individual brilliance through a combination of playmaking and scoring.
1. Curry sets an off-ball screen for Durant, forcing the defense to switch a smaller man onto the seven-footer. Durant blows by his defender and puts in the up-and-under layup, with a foul to boot.
2. The Warriors get a stop, and Durant pushes the pace in transition. He sees Curry on the weak side wing and whips a skip pass straight into Curry’s shooting pocket, resulting in an assisted three-point shot.
3. Durant gets matched up against Kleber on the right block, and as he has already done twice before, Durant gets the best of Kleber by knocking down the turnaround jumper.
While Durant is an elite isolation scorer, capable of beating his man one-on-one through a variety of methods, Curry himself is one of the best at creating shots for himself during one-on-one sequences. Curry scores five points off of these two isolation possessions — the first involving another switch onto Jordan, where he uses his speed advantage to get past the big man for an easy layup; and the second being a classic step-back three in the face of Dorian Finney-Smith.
Curry comes out at around the two-minute mark of the third quarter. Again, it isn’t the full twelve minutes, but Curry reaching ten minutes of playing time in the third quarter is more than his previous amount during the staggered rotation, where he would usually come out at around the four-minute mark.
Curry’s intact rhythm puts the game away
With Kerr setting aside the stagger, an obvious disadvantage to doing away with it is the absence of both Curry and Durant on the floor to start the fourth quarter. The Warriors’ second unit lineup of Shaun Livingston, Klay Thompson, Iguodala, Green, and Jerebko is replete with playmakers and high-IQ decision makers — but the lack of spacing and elite shot creation is apparent.
When Curry returns at around the eight-minute mark of the fourth quarter, the Mavericks are closing in on the Warriors’ lead — and with them playing on their home court, the possibility of surpassing the defending champions is extremely high.
Off of a time out, Kerr draws up a play to get Curry open for a three. In his desperation, Curry’s defender stumbles, leaving Curry wide open for the three (aided in part by Looney’s solid screen).
Down by five with crunch time approaching, the Warriors decide to go to their main man, who happens to have the hottest hand at the moment. Even when Curry has another mismatch, he isn’t satisfied with the look that he’s getting — so he decides to pass to the corner, after which he immediately relocates further to the left to get the ball back for another three.
But the Warriors allow the deficit to go up to five again. This time, they go to Durant to score a quick basket off of an inbound. He is close enough to the rim to rise up for a one-legged fadeaway jumper, as if to pay tribute to the man sitting directly across him on the Mavericks’ bench.
But even Durant knows that if the Warriors were to win the game, they would do so by going back to the man who has been in full rhythm all night long. Durant himself said so during his post-game engagement with the media.
Kevin Durant confirms he changed a couple plays in the huddle tonight to get a Steph Curry iso: “He had a mismatch and he was making shots over everyone tonight. Why even run plays?” pic.twitter.com/Kn8k0nAXp7— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) January 14, 2019
To close the game out, the Warriors needed to call only one play — and that play is called “Stephen Curry.”
The play comes in a variety of forms and a plethora of options. This option allows the Warriors to get an open floater to tie the game.
But the deadliest and most effective option of the “Stephen Curry” play is the pull-up three to effectively put the game away for good. It’s the option that has won the Warriors many games, and it’s the option that is responsible for elevating the two-time MVP to a place among the elites of the NBA.
Sometimes, the right play to call is the simplest one: give the ball to Curry, and let him work his magic.
Forty-three down, 39 more to go.
Stay Golden, Dub Nation.