It’s official now. Stephen Curry has been great for most of this series. But with that 22 point outburst in the 3rd quarter of this game, Curry officially joined the ranks of NBA superstars.
It’s pretty easy to tell that for the last week, George Karl has woken up thinking about Stephen Curry, and gone to bed thinking about Stephen Curry. Because every single adjustment he has made to his lineup — and he has made several, completely radical adjustments to his lineup in this series — has been specifically designed to stop Curry. In Game 1, he blitzed Wilson Chandler off of the David Lee high picks. In Game 2, with Lee out and Bogut setting the high picks, Karl went to Anthony Randolph in the second half over Koufous and McGee, simply because he needed Randolph’s quickness to continue blitzing Curry. In Game 3, Karl made his first completely radical adjustment: benching his centers, and starting Faried at center against Bogut. With Wilson Chandler at power forward. Going 6-7″, 6-8″ across the front line. Why? So that he could use Faried to blitz Curry in the pick and roll.
It didn’t work. In the second half of Game 3, Curry made mincemeat of the tiring Faried.
Did Karl surrender? Retreat into conventionality? No, he didn’t. In this Game 4 he literally doubled down, and made one of the most radical adjustments you are ever likely to see in an NBA playoff. He switched the assignments of Faried and Chandler. Faried guarded the Warriors’ newly-minted stretch-four Harrison Barnes. And 6-8″ 225 lb. small forward Wilson Chandler got the assignment to guard 7-0″ 260 lb. Andrew Bogut.
Why did Karl make this almost absurdly radical adjustment?
To stop Stephen Curry. Karl did it so that he could once again use Wilson Chandler to blitz Stephen Curry when Andrew Bogut set the high pick.
He also refused to allow his defenders to come off their men to guard the wide open Andrew Bogut. Only when Bogut received the ball and drove the lane did the Nuggets move to pick him up.
Once again, George Karl rolled the dice, determined to get the ball out of Curry’s hands. He guarded Bogut with his small forward, when he guarded him at all. He DARED the Warriors to try and beat the Nuggets with Andrew Bogut. He DARED Andrew Bogut to give the Nuggets 20+ points.
You saw the result: Curry was held to 7 points on 1-3 shooting in the first half. And Andrew Bogut had his biggest offensive half of the season, scoring 12 points on wide open dunks. Every single basket a dunk.
Karl’s strategy didn’t pay dividends in the first half. The Nuggets went into the locker room down 12. But I’m pretty sure I know what was on Karl’s mind at the time. I’m pretty sure, because when the Nuggets came out for the second half, Wilson Chandler was still guarding Bogut.
Karl was thinking: I’m going to continue to take Curry out of the game. I’m going to continue to make Andrew Bogut beat us. Can Bogut keep it up for an entire game?
It would have been interesting to watch, but it never happened. Why?
Because Warriors head coach Mark Jackson — who has been coaching the pants off the great George Karl in this series — made a brilliant counter-adjustment to start the second half. He made a counter-adjustment to get the ball back where it belonged.
In the hands of his superstar, Stephen Curry.
Stephen Curry’s Third Quarter for the Ages: Yes, Stephen Curry played like the superstar he is in the third quarter. But let’s be clear about something up front: Mark Jackson made it happen.
How? By getting Bogut out of the way. By completely doing away with the Bogut high pick, and the pick and roll.
The Warriors opened the second half with Curry getting picks from… Klay Thompson. And guess what? If you blitz off of a Klay Thompson pick, you’re going to get a wide-open Klay Thompson three in your mug. Which is exactly what George Karl got. Assist, Curry.
From that moment on, Stephen Curry and Jarret Jack were single-covered at the top of the key.
It took awhile to get going. The Warriors wasted time trying silly things like posting Bogut up against Chandler and Iguodala. They tried Harrison Barnes, to the tune of a couple of turnovers. Barnes was yanked less than 3 minutes into the half, replaced by Landry. And the single-covered Jack made several nice drive and dish connections to Landry for mid-range jumpers. But after a Landry turnover at 8:00, the Nuggets cut the lead to 4, 62-58. The Warriors were putting the ball in the hands of the wrong players.
Landry traded two more baskets with the Nuggets, but then, finally, Mark Jackson’s adjustment kicked in, and Stephen Curry took over the game.
6:22 3Q: Carl Landry sets one of the few high picks of the quarter, for Jarret Jack, resulting in Landry getting the ball in the key. Corey Brewer idiotically leaves Curry on the wing to rotate to Landry. (Cardinal Rule: You should never leave a three point shooter to guard a two point shooter. Pope Rule: You should never leave Stephen Curry to guard Carl Landry.) And Curry buries the wide-open three point shot in front of the Nuggets’ bench.
There are two big reasons why that shot was utterly amazing. The first is that those were Curry’s first points of the quarter. Just think about that. Stephen Curry put up those 22 points in the final 6:22 minutes of the quarter.
The second reason is this: (And you must go back and rewind the tape to watch this again. Please, please, please go back and watch this.) Curry is 0-1 for the quarter at this point, hasn’t made a shot. But as soon as the ball leaves his hand, he makes a 180 spin to stare at the Nuggets bench. Stephen Curry is staring down the Nuggets bench, his back to the basket,
WHILE THE BALL IS STILL IN THE AIR.
Uh oh. Game on.
- 4:24: Jack single-covered, drives and dishes to Curry for open three.
- 4:00: Curry iso’d against Andre Miller at top of the key, drives by him and scores the floater.
- 3:00: Early offense right wing iso against Miller, 18-foot step back J.
- 2:00: The first center pick of the half, with Festus Ezeli. But Chandler decides to give up on the blitz and return to the rolling Ezeli. Oops! 29-foot 3 pointer in Miller’s mug.
- 1:30: Top of the key iso against Miller. Easy drive by, and ridiculous left-handed floater, AND ONE.
- 1:15: A steal leads to a walk-up three.
- 0:28: Curry iso’d against Brewer, drives by him and dishes to the open Jack, then back-pedals to the three point line. Jack finds him wide open for 20, 21 and 22.
I guess that’s why George Karl wanted to keep the ball out of Stephen Curry’s hands.
Stephen Curry Superstar: Has Stephen Curry suddenly developed into a superstar? Has he suddenly “emerged”?
36-13-10 against the Clippers. 30-13-7 against Denver. 31-11-5 in Atlanta. 35-10-6 and 29-12-8 against Toronto. 30-11-5 against Memphis. 27-14-8 in Minny. 42-9-8 in Portland.
Remember those games? Curry put them up in his rookie season, when he averaged 20-8-5 after the all-star break, while shooting 46% from the field, 44% from three, and 89% from the line. And when I was discussing then why giving the Rookie of the Year award to Tyreke Evans would be utter idiocy, I stated that Curry had me wondering, not whether he was a future all-star, but whether he was a future Hall of Famer.
Because Stephen Curry was already a superstar. Playing for a genius coach, with a rookie stretch-four, in an up-tempo Nellieball system, with total freedom to create and look for his own shot.
Just like he is now.
Stephen Curry is back to the future.
Andrew Bogut: The ignorati will be jumping up and down screaming. Look at those dunks!
The cognoscenti will recognize that Karl was simply daring Bogut to make those plays, leaving him wide open. It would have been completely humiliating if he hadn’t made those plays. A D-Leaguer could have made them.
Except maybe that facial he administered to Javale McGee. That one was pretty special. (I can only imagine what the Oracle sounded like at that moment, not being an Authentic Fan.) McGee, of course, was ridiculously slow to see the play coming. If there is anyone in the league who deserves to wind up on a poster, it’s him.
The second half, by contrast, was a bit of a disaster for Bogut. Denied of the high-pick-setting role that left him completely unguarded, he was held scoreless by much smaller players. The attempted post-ups of Chandler (8:00 3Q) and Iguodala (10:00 3Q) both ended in turnovers. He got diced up in the lane on defense by Ty Lawson. He got beat down court by Chandler after a made basket (8:56 3Q).
He and the Warriors were a disastrous -8 for the third quarter, until Draymond Green replaced Landry with a little over 5 minutes left. Bogut finished -4 for the quarter, and never came back into the game.
-2 for the game. 5 rebounds in 25 minutes. Perhaps there was something to Karl’s devious strategy.
Jarret Jack: Cleaned up the turnovers and was simply dominant.
It’s hard not to feel that he’s an ideal backcourt mate for Stephen Curry (assuming James Harden is not available). Capable of taking the pressure off, running the point, getting Curry open looks off the ball, frequently dominating the game in his own right.
Maybe there’s something to that small backcourt concept, after all?
Yes indeed, in the right system.
Carl Landry: Helped stabilize the game in the third quarter. Continues to bury his open jumpers, which is pretty remarkable, considering. I read before this series that Landry shot his mid-range jumpers at 41% this year. (Up from, I believe, 36% over the previous two years.)
So, um… keep it up, Carl!
Draymond Green: The Warriors exploded when he came in for Landry in the third quarter. He was +15 for the quarter (and the game). Jackson left him in for the entire fourth quarter.
Spread the floor. Hit two threes. (I think he’s correctly toned down his jump a bit.) Hit that crazy runner in the lane.
Crazy defensive energy. 6 rbs, 4 steals, 1 block. Even when going up against McGee and Koufus on the boards, he was a force. There are no uncontested rebounds when he’s on the court.
This is the game where Green fulfilled the promise I saw in him in summer league, and early in the season. This is the game that indicates that Green might have a real future in the league as a stretch-four.
His best game as a Warrior.
Harrison Barnes: This rookie fell with a thud. Faried ate him alive.
Not going to fault him for missing his open threes. That’s going to happen, and he’s already overachieved in that regard in this series.
The rest of his floor game, though… not great. It gets a little tougher when you’re not being guarded by Ty Lawson and Andre Miller.
Festus Ezeli: Take a look at his line: nothing but zeroes, a total bagel. Makes you worry a little bit about that knee with the heavy brace on it.
+9 though. Like Ekpe Udoh, Ezeli can be an asset on the floor without putting up stats. Or maybe he was just sharing the floor with Draymond Green.
The Series: Sure looks dire for the Nuggets, doesn’t it? You have to feel just a little bit sorry for them, because before Gallinari and Faried got injured they looked absolutely invincible, and were smelling a deep run. Gallinari would have been huge for them in this series. Not just with his desperately needed floor-spreading, but with his burgeoning all-around two-way floor game. Most importantly, he would have vastly improved the Nuggets imploding defense, by moving Chandler back to the three, and Iggy back to the two. None of that disastrous Lawson/Miller backcourt that the Warriors are so viciously exploiting.
I don’t buy the common wisdom, circulated by the Warriors media before this game, that this Game 4 was a game the Nuggets absolutely had to have. If they were actually the best team in this series (I don’t believe they are, now that Mark Jackson has fortuitously discovered the Warriors’ true Nellieball identity), how far-fetched would it be for them to win at home in Game 5, and then steal Game 6 here? Not far-fetched at all. The better team has frequently come back from 3-1 deficits.
Traditionally, you can expect teams in the Nuggets’ position to win Game 5 at home. It’s the first close-out game, the first game that either team truly needs. And traditionally, you can expect teams in the Warriors’ position, on the road in a game they don’t need, to have a let-down.
It might not play out that way, because the Nellieball Warriors truly look like they have the Nuggets’ number, and this is most of the Warriors players’ first playoff series: they’re hungry, not tired enough and not self-confident enough to take a game off.
But if Game 5 holds true to form, and the (now truly) desperate Nuggets prevail, then I predict that the series will be decided by Game 6 at Oracle.
Meaning that the winner of Game 6 will win the series.