The Golden State Warriors outscored the Houston Rockets by 22 points in the 27 minutes that Chris Paul played. On the other hand, the Warriors were outscored by two points in the 31 minutes that Steph Curry played.
While it’s a positive that the Point God — especially in the minutes that Curry sat down — was able to lead a second unit that was once at a loss without their superstar on the floor, the plus-minus figures mentioned above don’t tell the entire story. Superstars are a valuable commodity in the NBA for good reason: teams need someone to close games out and take over when they need them to take over.
Curry is still very much the main man on this team and will continue to be the main man for as long as he can dribble the ball and put it in the hoop at an elite level. In a game that the Warriors once led by as much as 16 points, they suddenly found themselves in a mudfight against a young but hungry Rockets team who weren’t making it easy for them — a situation ripe for superstar talent to take over.
Curry was having a rough shooting night — 2-of-9 from the field, 1-of-8 from three-point range — before the Warriors were getting ready to run a baseline out-of-bounds (BLOB) set that they ran heavily during the preseason, simply called “Rub.”
“Rub” is called as such because it involves a “rub” screen for the inbounder to cut underneath the basket. But it’s also important to note who sets the rub screen.
As you may have guessed, in lineups that have Curry on the floor, he’s the one designated as the rub screener, adhering to the decade-old Warriors principle of having your best and most dangerous shooter on the floor be a screener in order to generate an advantage.
The hand signal Steve Kerr uses for “Rub” is simple: he rubs his chest.
In order for Curry to be the screener underneath, the Warriors set their formation to have him run toward the baseline to set the screen. Draymond Green starts midway between the elbow and the baseline, while Kevon Looney is stationed at the short corner.
“Rub” banks on the hope that Curry’s defender won’t switch off of him. By having Curry set the screen, the inbounder’s man will get caught up on it — and with no switch, the inbounder will be open underneath the rim.
The ball is inbounded to the decision maker — Green in this instance — and the rub screen is set:
If the pass to the inbounder isn’t there — a clean switch happens, or the inbounder’s defender is able to stay attached — the next option is activated:
Looney sets the “exit” screen for Curry. Take note of Curry’s man — Jae’Sean Tate — losing Curry moving off of the screen. It’s simply a product of miscommunication and coverage confusion: Jalen Green, Wiggins’ man, thinks that he should stay attached; Tate, on the other hand, backs off of Curry, as if to expect him and Green to switch assignments.
Curry takes advantage of the confusion by coming off the exit screen, with Alperen Şengün in no position to switch out toward Curry:
In the final 5:15 of the game, Curry — the shot above included — went 4-of-7 from the field. All four of those makes were on threes.
On this “Get” action with Green, a vintage link-up between teammates who have a near-telepathic connection with each other. Şengün hedges out toward Curry, but in an attempt to recover back to his assignment, Curry initiates “Get” (the pass to Green, followed by immediately chasing his pass to receive it back) to punish the recovery:
When Şengün hedges out again, Curry doesn’t even let him recover and forces the outright switch. A slow-footed big man against the greatest pull-up shooter in history — you can probably guess how that matchup ended:
And on this absolutely filthy move by Curry on Dillon Brooks, who was on a string controlled by a master puppeteer:
The fire that was sparked by “Rub” turned Curry into the Human Torch, who burned the Rockets anew. He finished the game with 24 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists. Even though he shot just 37.5% from the field on a 6-of-16 clip, he still scored efficiently, as evidenced by his 63.4 true shooting percentage. All but two of his shot attempts were on threes; all six of his makes were threes, on 14 attempts; and he was a perfect 6-of-6 at the free throw line.
Perhaps the most satisfying part of it all if you’re Kerr and the coaching staff: Curry did it all in only 31 minutes.