There were several scenarios that could’ve defined the result of Game 7.
For one, the Golden State Warriors could’ve just ridden off into the sunset and waved goodbye to this dynastic era. With so much uncertainty surrounding the franchise — Bob Myers possibly leaving, Draymond Green’s contract situation, and the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that explicitly targets a high-spending team such as them — a loss could’ve sent the NBA into a new era by ending one.
That scenario could still very much happen — but not today. Not when Steph Curry chose to lean forward on the chair, grip the controller tight, and manipulate the Sacramento Kings’ defense like puppets on a string.
Curry had another transcendent performance that really shouldn’t surprise anyone anymore, considering that — at the very least — he is a top-10 player of all time. Still, you can’t help but be awed and perplexed at the magic he cooks up when the chips are down and the stakes are at their highest.
When the team — and the organization as a whole — needed him the most, Curry carried them on his back anew. As the face of the franchise — nay, as the franchise himself — Curry did not disappoint.
The all-time greats are defined by their ability to transcend humanity on the basketball court and cross over to the realm of superhuman. Curry’s Game 7 performance — 50 points, eight rebounds, and six assists on 65/39/60 shooting splits (2P/3P/FT) and 62.2 TS% — is one that definitely is not of this world.
The Kings deserve tons of credit for displaying poise and composure that belies their youth and playoff inexperience. But even fortitude boosted by the audacity of youth has its breaking point.
That breaking point’s name was Wardell Stephen Curry II.
Name every kind of shot from any point of the floor — layups, mid-range jumpers, three pointers — and Curry had at least one of each in this game. Even while the Kings threw everything including the proverbial kitchen sink at him, Curry found ways to score and to use how the Kings were defending him to create advantages for his teammates.
The first two offensive possessions from the Warriors didn’t even start with Curry buckets — but were born out of the consistent fear he generates on the court:
Kevon Looney comes over to set the high ballscreen for Curry on the possessions above, which forces Domantas Sabonis to step up to the level of the screen, turning the coverage into a virtual double. Instead of directly passing to Looney on the short roll, Curry finds Green on the wing, who has a better passing angle toward Looney.
The concept above is called “shorting” the pick-and-roll, or plainly, “short” action.
The first possession created a clean passing lane for Green, who hits Looney on the roll with a dunk. The Kings adjusted in the second clip by having Harrison Barnes rotate in front of Looney — but in exchange for leaving Andrew Wiggins free to cut baseline and make himself available in the dunker spot.
When the Warriors started the second half with another “short” action for Curry, the Kings fully adjusted to it by changing the coverage: Sabonis playing slightly below the level of the screen, De’Aaron Fox navigating, and Barnes playing Green tightly to eliminate the release valve pass.
The Warriors audible into a Curry isolation against Barnes on a switch — one heck of a last resort:
Whenever Curry finds a target he deems as fodder — which is pretty much anyone on any given day — seeing him lock in and do his thing is arguably the most entertaining thing that can be seen on a basketball court today.
Keegan Murray has oft been that fodder for Curry. The Warriors have been targeting him all series long and trying to get him matched up against Curry as much as possible — mostly for two reasons:
- He’s a rookie
- He has trouble defending in space
One thing the Warriors do so well -- and something that has helped them win crucial playoff games in the past -- is identifying and singling out pressure points and relentlessly attacking them.— Joe Viray (@JoeVirayNBA) April 27, 2023
The latest pressure point they've identified?
To be fair to Murray, he was far from being a traffic cone. But against an elite isolation scorer in Curry, Murray was served one heck of an education from an all-timer:
Trey Lyles — hailed as the game-changing piece in Game 6 that allowed the Kings to beat the Warriors at their own small-ball game — wasn’t spared from an isolation skewering:
Possessions such as the ones above are why teams don’t want Curry to isolate and size up a defender — but they also don’t want to risk a straight-up double from anywhere on the floor, considering the personnel surrounding Curry.
Which is why most teams only really commit to aggressive pick-and-roll coverages whenever there’s a ballscreen for Curry, who — going into Game 7 — averaged 1.20 points per possession on pick-and-rolls in the playoffs, second only to Anthony Edwards among 25 players with at least 25 pick-and-roll possessions.
But committing to aggressive coverages also puts teams at risk in terms of defending second-side actions and 4-on-3 backline disadvantages.
This team most certainly belongs to Curry and revolves heavily upon his generational skill set. But the team is also built to create efficient offense out of the advantages he generates:
After Green sets the screen and triggers the double team on Curry, he goes over to set a wide pindown screen for Klay Thompson — an action called “Veer.”
This puts Terence Davis on an island against the second-side action. His desperate closeout causes him to foul Thompson on an attempt that goes in, turning the possession into a four-point play.
The importance of staying attached to Curry at all costs — whether through sending another defender to force him to give up possession or just plainly fighting over screens in an attempt to deny or crowd his space — wasn’t lost on the Kings. But Curry’s greatness entails extensive knowledge of defender manipulation, space creation, and on-the-fly creativity.
Curry has mastered the action known as “Get” — passing the ball to a hub and quickly following his pass to receive it back, which forces his defender to chase and navigate screens. When coupled with sneaky push offs that direct his man toward screens, Curry is near unstoppable on these actions:
But Curry is near unstoppable even against tight defense. Words aren’t enough to describe some of the buckets he gets, especially when teams try to knock him off kilter with physicality:
This performance was another legacy-defining notch to a career that has already secured its place among the pantheon of all-time careers. But what makes it even more special is the way Curry did it and the context he was in.
An unstoppable force in a hostile environment, in a must-win game that teetered between the continuation of a dynasty and the end of an era.
Curry clearly chose to preserve the former — and he’s not done just yet.