Stephen Curry didn’t register a single field goal attempt during the fourth quarter of the Warriors’ 122-113 loss to the Dallas Mavericks.
The Warriors have now lost three straight games, and are 2-7 over their last nine. You can blame their recent struggles on a couple of factors: a defense that hasn’t quite lived up to their reputation as the best in the league (116.6 DRTG, 24th over the last nine games), and an offense that has mightily struggled to score in the half court (94.8 half-court ORTG, 20th over that period).
While the Warriors have been doing fine this season in clutch situations (defined as the last five minutes of the game with the score within five points) — their 5.9 net rating has them as the 10th best team in clutch situations — their ability to execute in the clutch has suffered tremendously during their slump.
In five out of the last nine games that have triggered the clutch period, the Warriors are:
- 22nd in ORTG (97.0)
- 29th in DRTG (150.0)
- 28th in net rating (minus-53)
Curry scored an efficient 21 points: 8-of-15 from the field, 4-of-5 on threes, a single free throw made, and 68% True Shooting. But all of that was from the first three quarters; it was lights out during the fourth, partly due to Curry’s failure to be aggressive and take matters into his own hands, and partly due to the Mavs forcing Curry to have to give up possession of the ball so that he couldn’t take matters into his own hands.
The Mavs consistently threw out aggressive coverages against Curry around ball screens, putting the onus on Curry’s teammates to make plays and create shots against an oft outnumbered defensive backline. The Mavs were willing to live with someone not named Stephen Curry to score, as long as it wasn’t Curry who did the scoring.
That has been a long-running theme throughout Curry’s career. It’s not a novel concept — but when Curry’s teammates are consistently punishing aggressive coverages by making shots or finding the open man on 4-on-3 situations, Curry being blitzed or hedged doesn’t feel like a losing battle.
The common denominator in the possessions above: Moses Moody, whose 13 points on a perfect 5-of-5 clip from the field (3-of-3 on threes) all came during the fourth quarter. It came to a point where the Warriors were intentionally spamming Moody ball screens for Curry and daring the Mavs to leave Moody open on pops.
While Moody is shooting 33.8% on threes overall, he’s been shooting a blazing 50% on threes since January 31 — an 11-game stretch that has seen him attempt nearly four threes per game.
But when the shots aren’t falling in and the non-Curry contingent are unable to act as proper release valves, the aggressive coverages aren’t being punished to the point that they become pick-your-poison endeavors. And that’s where Curry being consistently eliminated from the offensive equation becomes an uphill battle.
When the Mavs are allowed to funnel the ball toward someone with whom they can live with shooting the ball, the decision-making process becomes easier for them on defense: keep throwing out aggressive doubles and hedges toward Curry, and force the Warriors to have to face us in the half court on our own terms.
And those terms consisted mostly of forcing the Warriors to switch Curry onto one of either Luka Dončić or Spencer Dinwiddie.
Seeing no resistance from the Warriors on the switches above is baffling. Leaving Curry alone on an island against Dončić and Dinwiddie is not ideal, for reasons twofold:
- It would be giving up easy scores — not because Curry is inherently terrible as a defender, but because both Dončić and Dinwiddie are bigger than Curry and can use their advantages to power through or simply go up for an open jumper.
- Leaving Curry to have to shoulder the individual load on defense puts a heavy physical toll on him, which greatly affects his effectiveness on the offensive end.
Which is why preventing Curry from having to defend one-on-one and forcing the ball out of Dončić’s hands (sound familiar?) should’ve been the play from the get-go. When the Warriors opted to throw out aggressive coverages toward Dončić, the results were mixed.
Curry and Klay Thompson double Dončić instead of capitulating to a switch, which leads to a Dinwiddie catch on the short roll and a pass to Dorian Finney-Smith in the corner that leads to a missed three. Dwight Powell hauls in the offensive board, and the Mavs look for another switch onto Curry that doesn’t materialize. Dončić finds himself having to create a shot against Thompson — a more palatable matchup for the Warriors — and the jumper misses badly.
But other attempts at getting the ball out of Dončić’s hands weren’t as successful.
Reggie Bullock victimizes the Warriors in an identical manner to how Moody punished the Mavs: a “ghosted” screen that leaves him open for a three. Finney-Smith attacks the Otto Porter Jr. closeout, and with help from Powell’s seal, finds an open lane for the layup.
Both Curry and Dončić had to face aggressive coverages. There were pockets of success for each of them, while there were also unsuccessful attempts to take advantage of the opposing backline. But in the end, the Mavs were a smidge better when it came to late-game execution, on both ends of the floor.
When pitting Curry and Dončić’ directly against each other, Dončić (41 points on 26 shots, 68.4% True Shooting) took care of business and brought Curry to deep waters. Curry was unable to do the same — and while the Mavs had a huge hand in that, one can’t help but feel that a superstar and offensive talent of Curry’s caliber should’ve found a way to take control when the situation called for it.