Steph Curry cuts the noise


Ranked 12th on the NBA Finals scorers list, Stephen Curry is one of the greatest Finals performers of all time – and this streak has been a masterpiece. He started Game 1 hitting six triples in the first quarter, tied for the most in playoff history since 1996-97, and he finished with 34 points. Three games later, he added a 43-point, 10-rebound effort, becoming the second goaltender to accomplish that in the Finals.

Curry is perhaps one of the best players in the league with the ball in his hands, in large part because of the pulling shot that casts a big shadow over league style. And with the ball in his hands, Curry has been consistent throughout the series. Pick and roll is by far his most frequent type of play, and he’s run between 45 and 55 plays per 100 possessions throughout the series, according to Second Spectrum. He uses his touches consistently, taking between 11 and 13 jumpers each game, and he’s been excellent on such shots, with an effective field goal percentage of 65.32.

Of course, the Warriors lost Game 1 after Curry tied the record 3-point first quarter. Still, they won Game 5, in which Curry failed to make a triple – for the first time in his playoff career. Curry was fantastic with the ball in his hands. The Warriors have just been better when it’s not.

With his range of cuts on the pitch, Curry is used to spending time off the ball. During the regular season, he cut the third most off-ball screens of anyone in the NBA. In fact, he’s long been one of the best and most frequent cutters in the league. Per Second Spectrum, since the player tracking era began in 2013-14, Curry is one of 10 players with at least 10,000 cuts and is the only player with at least 6,000 cuts whose team scores. on average at least 1 point per chance. He’s a deadly shooter – he’s also been among the best 3-point shooters to catch and shoot over the same period, the threat that underpins all his abilities – but shooting the ball into the hoop from distance doesn’t isn’t the only way he wreaks havoc. among the defenders.

He carried that cutting excellence into the finals, leading the series in scoring cuts efficiency among players with at least 10 cuts. And the Warriors have had more success when he cuts than when he runs any other type of play.

Steph does the most when he doesn’t have the ball

Points per chance for Golden State Warriors on actions initiated by Stephen Curry in 2022 NBA Finals

Stock Total number Per 100 pos. Points per chance
Off-ball cuts 62 16.802 1.241
Delivery 25 6.775 1.130
Insulation 31 8.401 1.074
Pick and roll 186 50.407 1.060

Source: second spectrum

Probably with that knowledge in mind, Curry went from 91 touches in Game 1, his sixth-most all season (and most this playoff), to 66 in Game 2, his 14th-most all season. season. He was back to 89 touches in Game 4, but in Game 5 he only recorded 72.

Not all haircuts are created equal, of course. Curry was the king of the regular season, leading the league in total cuts from those screens by a huge margin. A pindown screen sees the screen facing the rim and the knife curves behind the screen towards the arc, often for a 3-point pointer. While pindowns made up the majority of off-ball screens for Curry in Game 1 of the Finals, the Celtics regularly changed them to defend the cut and force Curry to attack after receiving the ball rather than shoot a catch-and-shoot jumper. .

Curry can use this to his advantage by drifting down the half court and allowing his teammates to play four on four with the extra space. But more often during Games 2-4, the Warriors responded by shifting the weight from Curry’s off-ball screens to wide pindowns, which use more space on the court. The sieve is angled to the edge in both sieve types, but wide pindowns start from the corner and often see the knife curl toward the edge instead of jumping behind the arc. The Warriors benefited from Curry’s modifications, averaging 1.5 points per chance when Curry cuts a wide pindown versus 1.0 from pindowns.

Curry’s wide pindowns force defenders to protect him from longer distances. While pindowns are a useful way for the cutter to find open triples (and sometimes layups when returning to the edge if defenders are concentrating too removing triples), wide pins seem to better leverage the cutter’s gravity to unlock teammates. Of Curry’s six pindowns that did not result in a touchdown for him, four ended in turnovers and two in misses; the Warriors performed 15 wide pindowns without Curry touching the ball, and they gave up 1,538 points by chance.

That’s not all the Warriors changed to optimize Curry’s cuts. Draymond Green placed five of 15 off-the-ball screens for Curry in Game 1 – most players – and had none in Game 2. Instead, the ball was mostly in Green’s hands when Curry began his cuts, allowing their best passer to carve the defense as their best cutter held it out. Golden State didn’t commit to that setup in Game 3, returning to off-ball screens for Green’s Curry (who set up six of 14 overall). And then in Game 4, Green again only put one. In two wins in those four games, Green averaged 0.5 screens off the ball for Curry; in two losses, it was 5.5.

The Celtics didn’t watch idly as they died by a thousand cuts from Curry. They adapted their defense for Curry off the ball, playing a step behind him both literally and figuratively. Early in the series, they opted to change Curry’s off-ball cuts. But such a defense can still open seams for well-timed passes to the rim. As the streak continued, Boston instead opted to follow Curry as he cut the ball, closing space behind his long cut paths on wide pindowns.

Hanging out was far more effective for Boston than switching in the Finals, but it’s not foolproof. Trailing behind Curry can help defend the rim as he runs past it after using wide pins, but the defensive approach opens up space in front of him on the other side of the field. Curry’s wide pindowns starting in one corner can turn into pindowns on the other side of the floor, forcing defenders to switch between switching and running on a single play. Boston was one of the best teams in the regular season to defend off-ball cuts, awarding fifth-fewest points by luck, according to Second Spectrum. But even the Celtics defense can’t close all the holes created by a Curry cut.

When Boston tries to wall off Curry’s three, his teammates find layups. When Boston focuses on layups, Curry’s three open up. This cycle led to Game 5, as the Celtics opted to change Curry’s cuts again; Curry again used more pindowns than wide pindowns; Green even set up more off-ball screens for Curry. The journey of defense and offense trying to get one step ahead of each other was back to the start.

No matter how the Celtics chased the Warriors — and their defenders physically chased Curry — the speedy star found advantages. At times, Curry turned Boston’s defensive strengths into weaknesses. In Game 5, the Celtics defended a pindown well, dragging to deter a jumper without opening holes elsewhere. But Curry kicked the ball into the post and circled his cut from the arc to the edge; because his defender was dragging, Curry found himself open for a layup, shooting free throws.

Curry’s work without the ball in his hands was a big reason for the Warriors 3-2 lead. Golden State and Boston played arm wrestling trying to control play when Curry cuts, changing styles of screens, players setting them and coverage. And much like the Curry Cuts themselves, the schematic dance between the teams has often ended where it began. But Curry cuts the noise.

If you’re guarding a superstar, it’s natural to feel a bit of relief and a bit of a breather when he gives up the ball. But when you guard Curry, that’s when he becomes most dangerous. Even in Game 5, when Curry recorded his first playoff zero-treble, the team’s offense was incredible with Curry on the floor and miserable with him on the bench. He was a perfect example of Curry being so much more than just a shooter – he’s a scorer who doesn’t even need to take shots to win his team.

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