The Warriors needed every ounce of superstardom from Stephen Curry against one of the legitimate contenders from the Eastern Conference. Curry gave it his all — but in the end, the rest of the team could not escape the defensive prison established by the Philadelphia 76ers.
Curry finished the night with a sublime 41 points on 14-of-27 shooting from the field (51.9 percent), with a 10-of-18 line from deep (55.6 percent). An MVP-level stat line such as this from Curry is usually enough to get the Warriors over the hump on most nights — but basketball is still a team game, and the 76ers simply played better as a collective on both ends of the floor.
On a night where Curry had an overall excellent performance — magnified by the fact that the rest of his teammates had a horrible three-point shooting night — there were also some glaring pitfalls from Curry that cost the Warriors several opportunities to score, as well as allowing the 76ers to pounce on those mistakes and helping them come back and snatch the victory in Oracle Arena.
The Good: Curry’s three-point shooting
Even in a loss, the importance of Curry to the Warriors is extremely magnified; take away his offensive performance, and the Warriors would have lost in a more convincing fashion. Despite the presence of the other four All-Stars, this much is clear: Curry is the engine that keeps the Warriors’ offense flowing.
His first three of the night came as a result of setting a back screen for Kevin Durant. It forces the defense to pick a poison, and they choose to cover Durant inside, leaving Curry to pop out to the arc and shoot an uncontested three.
The presence of DeMarcus Cousins in this sequence nets Curry a four-point play. Off of a missed shot by Draymond Green, Cousins imposes his physical presence under the rim by pushing his man out of the way for the rebound and finding Curry stationed at the arc. Curry lets the defender fly by him and goes up for the three while getting fouled.
Curry is deadly in catch-and-shoot situations, especially when the Warriors run their patented low-post split. With Green on the low post, Quinn Cook sets a screen for Curry, and the defense is caught unawares by this basic action. Curry makes them pay with another three.
Curry is a master at throwing his defender around for a loop, much like a puppet master dictating movements and having complete control over the fate of an object that is completely subservient to the whims of its owner. Curry does the same to his defender here — a simple movement to the right forces his defender to cut off his path, but Curry has his defender right where he wants him; he simply shifts to the other side, receives the pass, and has his defender suddenly out of position to contest a deep three.
Curry’s next three serves as another example of his ability to be a perpetual motion machine. The Warriors run what seems to be a Durant/Curry pick-and-pop, with Curry slipping the screen and popping out to the arc. Durant opts to drive inside, after which he passes the ball to Green in the corner. Meanwhile, Curry relocates to the left corner and gets the dribble hand-off from Green. The defense is once again caught with their pants down, and they are unable to prevent Curry from knocking down another three.
It’s always a fun exercise to keep track of Curry during an offensive possession, and this sequence is one glaring example. Notice Curry as he navigates his way from one side to the other as he tries to find an open spot on the floor for a three. He finally chooses the right corner as his launching pad. The defender does a great job of closing into Curry’s space — but as soon as Curry touches the ball, he does away with any semblance of a dipping motion and instantly lets the ball go without much breathing room to work with.
Curiously, Curry and Cousins rarely link up for a pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop situation, but one can safely assume that the two would make a deadly combination in a potential two-man game situation.
The Warriors finally unleash the 1-5 pick-and-roll using Curry and Cousins, with the defense not opting to switch this action due to the potential mismatch that Cousins can use to feast on a much smaller defender. Instead, the defense opts to play drop coverage against Curry, who is liberated from his defender by a solid screen from Cousins. Drop coverage against Curry often spells disaster for the defense, as he can pull up for a wide-open three.
In close game situations during this season, the Warriors have often elected to unleash several variants of the Durant/Curry pick-and-roll. In this possession, the Warriors have Curry as the screener — but Curry doesn’t intend to make contact and instead pops out to his left, which catches the defender off guard for a split second. A split second is plenty of time for Curry to catch the pass and bury another three.
A great irony in how the Warriors play is that despite the beauty in the organized manner that they execute their motion offense, they highly thrive in chaos and disorganization. When a Cousins shot doesn’t fall in, Curry jumps up among the trees and taps the ball to Durant, who saves the ball to Cousins. With the defense disorganized, Curry relocates to the left corner, receives the pass, and buries the three.
Curry once again shows his ability to direct his defender to a position that allows him to acquire space for a shot. After a timeout, Curry receives a screen with the goal of forcing a switch away from Jimmy Butler, who is an excellent defender. Curry fakes a cut to shake his defender off of him, leaving him with enough space and time to catch and shoot the three.
The Bad: Curry’s six turnovers
If there is one glaring knock on Curry that has hounded him during his ten-year career in the NBA, it is his penchant for committing turnovers. His style has always been described as “free-flowing” and “loose”, which sometimes crosses over to the realm of being nonchalant, overly carefree, and even reckless.
Curry will have nights where he skirts the line and reaps the rewards of his gambles with the ball in his hands. On other nights, he crosses the line and commits egregious turnovers that are of the head-scratching and head-shaking variety.
In this sequence, Curry drives inside and goes up for what seems like a floater or layup. But instead, he decides mid-air to drop the ball to Shaun Livingston, who doesn’t expect the pass from Curry. The turnover eventually translates to two points for the 76ers on the other end.
The Warriors run a high pick-and-roll for Curry, with Looney as the screener. Curry attempts a pass on the short roll to Looney, but the pass is too strong and it ends up sailing over Looney’s head and into the hands of a defender, which translates into an easy fast break basket for the 76ers.
Curry commits back-to-back turnovers of the head-scratching variety. After Joel Embiid is successfully stopped, Curry pushes the pace and attempts a jumping pass inside to Durant, but the defender anticipates Curry’s pass and steals the ball. The 76ers fail to score on the other end, with Curry hauling in the rebound. Green runs along the baseline, with Curry attempting to advance the ball toward him to push the pace and take advantage of the defense in transition. But Ben Simmons plays the passing lane perfectly and easily intercepts Curry’s pass.
In this sequence, Curry attempts to drive inside, but the defender does an excellent job of going up with Curry without fouling, forcing Curry to pass out of a hairy situation. No one is ready to catch the pass, and Curry is forced to save the ball from going out of bounds. His hustle play quickly goes awry, as his save allows Jimmy Butler to dunk the ball on the other end uncontested.
And for Curry’s final turnover, he receives the ball and prepares to pass it off immediately to a cutting Livingston off of a slipped screen. But Curry uncharacteristically hesitates mid-air, forcing him to land on his feet with the ball still in his hands, and forcing the referee to whistle him for a traveling violation.
Curry’s turnovers were among the 15 that the Warriors committed on Thursday night, which is well above the 12.5 turnovers per game that the team averaged during their eleven-game winning streak.
Coupled with the abysmal three-point shooting of everyone not named Curry (1-of-20) — as well as the suffocating defense of the 76ers down the stretch — the huge offensive night of Curry was ultimately rendered moot.
It’s unusual that a team with an embarrassment of riches gets relegated to relying on a single superstar, but the 76ers’ defense managed to transform the Warriors from a team reliant on the strength of their numbers into a team having to rely solely on their best and most important player. Curry is no doubt a generational talent, and on most nights, his 41 points would be enough to save the Warriors from defeat.
But Curry isn’t perfect, and like most superstars in the league, he will need all the help he can get from his supporting cast. Against the 76ers, the help wasn’t sufficient, and the winning streak is now a thing of the past.
Fifty-one down, 31 more to go.
Stay Golden, Dub Nation.
Statistics courtesy of NBA.com