Steph Curry scored 16 of his 37 points in the fourth quarter alone.
It was a much-needed burst of scoring from the Golden State Warriors’ main offensive engine. Even with scoring support from Klay Thompson (24 points on 7-of-19 shooting, 55.5% True Shooting) and Brandin Podziemski (19 points on 7-of-15 shooting, 59.8% True Shooting), the Warriors were on the verge of blowing another double-digit lead that, at one point, ballooned to as high as 18 points.
Conversations about Curry having the secondary scoring support he needs on the team have been swirling furiously. It wasn’t as much of a problem in this particular game against the Brooklyn Nets — but the fact that Curry still had to take it upon himself to transform into Superman for the Warriors to win the game speaks to just how much the team leans on him to save the proverbial cat (the Warriors) from the tree (their flaws).
The team’s own version of Superman may perform feats like an otherworldly alien, but he still has the body of a human who gets fatigued — especially when the team keeps counting on him to carry an offense that has little going for it beyond him.
The fact of the matter is that this version of the Warriors cannot generate any passable semblance of half-court offense if Curry isn’t on the floor — or if he’s having an off game. This certainly doesn’t count as an off game for Curry, who scored his 37 points on a 14-of-22 clip (8-of-14 on twos, 6-of-8 on threes) and a 79.3% True Shooting mark.
Mikal Bridges has historically been a good foil for Curry — the combination of length, agility, and instinct gives Curry plenty of trouble, especially whenever he tries to create space both on and off the ball. Whenever Bridges gets the Curry assignment, the Warriors are forced to be a bit more creative in their methods of getting Curry open.
Helped by the fact that the Nets started with base drop coverage against Curry on off-ball screens, it made it initially easier for the Warriors to separate Bridges from Curry:
Steve Kerr calls for “Quick” action, which is a wide screen at the top of the key for Curry to curl and come toward the ball. Bridges tries to navigate, but Kevon Looney’s wide screen proves too much of an obstacle to overcome. Curry gets space around the screen due to Nic Claxton being in drop coverage.
Virtually the same possession happens later on in the second quarter, but the wide screen starts with Curry in the corner, turning it into a wide pindown. Claxton is once again in drop coverage, which allows Curry — shooting 52% on “long” mid-range jumpers this season, 86th percentile among point guards — to comfortably step into a pull-up middy:
With the Nets comfortable switching virtually every screening action, Curry also employed the “come here, buddy” strategy (coined by Steve Jones Jr., one half of The Dunker Spot Podcast and the best in the business in terms of breaking down film) — in other words, hunting for someone he deems he can take advantage of in isolation.
The first victim of the come-here-buddy approach: Cam Johnson. Johnson proved to be a much better target for Curry to isolate against compared to Bridges.
Double-drag screens to get Johnson to come over and switch onto Curry did the trick here:
Johnson wasn’t the only Cam victimized by Curry.
Cam Thomas — who scored 41 points to lead the Nets — was zeroed in as a switch-hunt target by Curry, who repeatedly challenged the young scorer to “come over here and try to stop me” in isolation:
When the Nets stopped dropping Claxton and had him switch out, he also wasn’t spared from the “come over here, buddy” strategy. Claxton happens to be one of the league’s premier switch bigs, capable of guarding quicker perimeter operators, which unlocks the Nets’ ability to switch virtually everything.
The goal of switching everything is to flatten out actions and stall offensive movement. Curry happens to be the one Warrior who can create something out of nothing, much to Claxton and the Nets’ chagrin:
The payoff for Curry going on a flurry by constantly having his way with whoever he’s trying to hunt down came on a couple of possessions where he was either outright doubled — or was denied the ball altogether.
The beneficiary of those possessions? Thompson.
On the possession below, peep at Kerr calling out “Quick” again. Unlike the version above, this one turns into a “Gut Chicago” variant (“Gut” meaning Curry runs down the middle and up toward the ball; “Chicago” meaning a pindown is set for him to toward the DHO) due to Bridges top-locking him away from the wide screen:
The Nets choose to double Curry around the DHO instead of switching, which leaves Podziemski open on the slot. With two defenders committing on the ball, the Nets are disadvantaged on the backline. Spencer Dinwiddie is the sole defender zoning up on the weak side against Podziemski and Thompson.
Dinwiddie commits to Podziemski on the closeout, which makes the rookie’s choice to make the extra swing pass an easy one.
When Curry again sees multiple bodies his way later on, he opts to clear toward the weak side and let action happen on the side that doesn’t involve him. The Warriors run “Quick” action again — this time, for Thompson:
With another superhuman feat on his resume, Curry helped the Warriors stop a three-game skid. But if Curry needs to be superhuman every night for the Warriors to have a chance to win games, it’s not a sustainable approach whatsoever — especially with Curry turning 36 in three months and having to deal with the emotional fallout of the Draymond Green fiasco.
Kerr alluded to such after the game: