We know what the Golden State Warriors are, at this point — a high-octane collection of talent capable of incinerating defenses at all levels and from multiple angles, married to a cephalopod defense with the length, limbs and smarts to douse your offense like a matchstick. The best team in the NBA, when they’re feeling like it, though some folks in Houston aim to have something to say about that come May.
Sometimes, though, it’s cool to get a reminder of where, how and why this all started. We got that on Thursday night, when the Warriors outlasted the very game Los Angeles Clippers in an entertaining 134-127 shootout.
Yes, Golden State boasts four All-Stars, a claim no other team can make. Yes, the Warriors have Kevin Durant, a confirmed MVP whose evolution on the other end has turned him into a possible Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and who remains the sport’s preeminent “in case of emergency/the chance of losing, break glass” option. Yes, the Warriors’ front office has built a deep, talented and versatile roster that can match styles against just about any opponent the league can offer.
But none of this could have happened without Stephen Curry being literally unprecedented, and even now — even with KD, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and the rest of the gang well-established and deeply embedded — he’s still the straw that stirs the drink for Steve Kerr’s squad.
OK, granted, it is not exactly a fuego take to highlight the two-time NBA Most Valuable Player’s value, importance and performance after he popped for 44 points on 14-for-19 shooting — including an 8-for-11 mark from 3-point range, and he took some bombs — to go with 10 assists, six rebounds and two steals against four turnovers in 37 dynamite minutes:
But watching Thursday night, and rewatching Friday morning, I found myself drawn over and over to how Curry’s presence opens doors for his teammates to get wide-open looks all over the floor, whether he’s making the direct pass, cutting away from the ball to draw attention or back-screening to occupy a defender so a teammate can flash to the ball:
It's well established at this point, but it's still a big deal: fear of Steph creates a *ton* for the other dudes he plays with. Lanes for alley-oops, space to duck in from the dunker spot, room for cuts flashing into the lane, etc. pic.twitter.com/a8SodSiwlw
— Dan Devine (@YourManDevine) February 23, 2018
Why do defenses like L.A.’s — not elite by any stretch, but solidly middle-of-the-pack in terms of points allowed per possession (and just outside the top 10 in 2018 before Thursday night) — find themselves giving up so many open, high-quality looks to Steph’s teammates? Because they’d much rather do that than have Steph roast them himself … which, y’know, isn’t all that easy to stop, either.
And, of course, that fear also creates a lot for Steph. Gotta switch out there, because you can't give him any space. But step out too far, he's at the rim for layups/fouls. Don't come out far enough, he's dotting your eye. And those double-high screens? Just evil. pic.twitter.com/xbs3X58KBm
— Dan Devine (@YourManDevine) February 23, 2018
The brain-busting problem of how to deal with Curry — in full possession of his powers, in range once he gets in the gym, and in complete command of Kerr’s offense — once he gets screens just crumbled the Clippers down the stretch, helping Golden State keep L.A. at arm’s length despite the valiant efforts of Lou Williams, Tobias Harris and Milos Teodosic. Four straight trips, the Warriors ran the same double-high screen for Steph … and four straight times, they got exactly what they were looking for.
The Warriors have run the same double-high ball screen four times in a row.
The results: two Curry threes, a Green layup and a Durant three.
— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) February 23, 2018
It was especially glaring in the final few minutes, when the Clippers seemed to have no idea how they wanted to handle that particular action (or any when Steph had the ball, really).
“It was working,” Kerr said after the game, according to Anthony Slater of The Athletic.
But for almost the entirety of the second half, and maybe even longer, Curry — leading all NBA players averaging 20 or more minutes per game in net rating, in whose minutes the Warriors play like a 68-win team (as opposed to the admittedly-still-excellent 53-win side they are when he sits) — just seemed to dictate everything, every time Golden State had the ball.
I can't remember the last possession in this game where Steph Curry didn't get exactly what he wanted. Shot, pass, lane, whatever.
— Rob Mahoney (@RobMahoney) February 23, 2018
This is not the story every night — that Durant guy is pretty good, too, and he carries the mail his fair share — but it is, overwhelmingly, the story of the Warriors. They go as Stephen Curry goes. And when he’s feeling it, he can go wherever he wants.
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