NBA Finals 2022: Stephen Curry, Warriors played the hits in Game 4 as Golden State refused to die against Celtics


NBA Finals 2022: Stephen Curry, Warriors played the hits in Game 4 as Golden State refused to die against Celtics

BOSTON — According to Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, the biggest bucket in Game 4 of the NBA Finals wasn’t one of Stephen Curry’s amazing threes. It wasn’t even one of Klay Thompson’s jumpers or Andrew Wiggins’ putbacks. No, after the Warriors’ 107-97 win on Friday, Kerr said that Kevon Looney’s left-handed finish was the biggest bucket:

Kerr isn’t just crazy about Looney. It’s about context. With about a minute left, Al Horford had just scored a 3, ending a more than three-minute Boston Celtics drought. Looney’s layup turned a one possession game into a two possession game, and it drained a crowd ready to explode.

You’ve seen the Warriors perform passing sequences like this umpteen times and that’s the point. Your bread-and-butter stuff didn’t work particularly well against the Celtics. Coach Ime Udoka said before the start of the series that he felt other teams tended to overreact to Golden State’s 3-point shooting, leading to slight looks at the basket. Rather than trying to get the ball out of Curry’s hands, Boston has largely rotated its guards or trusted them to stay on the ball and navigate the screens. That it changed course at the crucial time, sending two defenders to Curry and serving up a 4-on-3 for Draymond Green is testament to a Curry performance for the ages: 43 points in 41 minutes, 14-on-26 Shooting, 7-for-14 from deep, 10 rebounds, four assists, two days after Horford landed on his previously injured foot.

“This man’s heart is amazing,” Thompson said. “The things he does we take for granted from time to time but to go out there and lay on his back – I mean we have to help him on Monday. Wow.”

After falling 2-1 in the finals, Golden State said Thompson got “big 2015 vibes” from the series. It was its first experience of the stage, and it lost 2-1 to the Cleveland Cavaliers before winning three straight games. However, the vibe I get is more reminiscent of 2019, when a battle-hardened Warriors team constantly refused to die.

There was Game 5 of Round 2 against the Houston Rockets in which Kevin Durant injured his calf late in the third quarter and Golden State held it off. There was the euphoria of Game 6 in Houston, where Curry had zero in the first half and 33 in the second, a crucial win for the Warriors and for Kerr’s offensive philosophy. There were also games 2 and 5 of the finals, both in Toronto, both narrow, brave victories against an opponent who was ahead of the series and pulled out all the defensive tricks in the book.

The Celtics’ defense combines the best attributes of those Rockets (switchability) and those Raptors (intelligence). It’s put Kerr in an uncomfortable place where every lineup decision is a bet on Golden State either sidestepping a spacing issue or making just enough stops to survive. As impressive as the Warriors were in Game 4, their half-court offense was tough: 83.9 points per 100 half-court moves, their worst mark of the series, according to Cleaning The Glass. They won by hitting the glass, picking up the pace and, most importantly, accepting that it won’t always be pretty.

“Their normal sets or just normal flow probably aren’t going to be there from the start of the game just because they’re good at that and they dominate games at that end of the floor,” Curry said. “So these are the times when you can be a little bit more aggressive, try, say, push the issue a little bit. It doesn’t mean shooting all the time, but it just means attacking, being aggressive and finding lanes, doing it over and over again.”

Faced with a potential 3-1 deficit, essentially a death sentence against this huge, athletic, and well-coordinated defense, Curry and the Warriors found a way to play the hits. We’ve seen some crazy shots behind the 3-point line:

We’ve seen Curry’s grip, balance, and touch inside the 3-point line:

We’ve seen the classic crevices in the post, giving Curry juuuust enough room to fire his shot even when his defender Derrick White came across the screen and flew at him:

We’ve seen a fair number of transition plays and early attacks, situations where Curry wreaks havoc and confusion – on one game, both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown took him out, leaving Thompson unguarded:

We saw Gary Payton II make his best impression of Zaza Pachulia, freeing Curry for a 3 by cornering the ball and shielding it openly:

And we saw Golden State’s stellar defense — Boston scoring a terrible 101 points per 100 possessions — overshadowed by the curry flurry. In this instance, Curry’s brilliance with the ball overshadowed how he struggled and rotated at the other end and withstood the Celtics’ repeated efforts to target him.

In Green’s estimation, every game in these finals was decided by Makes — who brings the most defensive intensity, who cuts harder, who shields harder, who enforces his will. Curry said that although Golden State got off to a bad start offensively, the tone of the game was completely different from the previous one: “It wasn’t a perfect first quarter, but we gave ourselves enough life.” This life allowed the warriors to weather some rough spots, hanging around and enabling Curry to take them home.

“He didn’t let us lose,” Green said. “That’s what it boils down to.”

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