Preview: Celtics pressed Curry more, it didn't work... What to do now?
a Dynasty (re)born
A friend of mine recently pointed something out about old photographs and it brought up some feelings for me. The old ones where you only got a certain number (24?) of grabs on a roll to capture moments, and you got whatever you got back. It leaves a lot more fun unplanned stuff to the imagination...they were blurry, random without meaning to be random, eyes closed and silly poses.
When Kevin Durant was here, I think I lost some of that. Looking for pure basketball perfection, it was like the wins and losses were less important somehow against the backdrop of this incredible basketball machine that you wanted to see run like the finely tuned racecar that it was. But this team is different. It’s that old family car that you loved the most when you look back at your halcyon memories of childhood. Draymond Green a step slow perhaps, but still wrecking opponent’s offenses. Klay slowly coming back from big injuries, but still good enough to be known by just one name. Curry I guess would be the reliable old V8 that still turns heads when you floor it, and pushes you back into your seat under the acceleration power.
And now a second wave. Andrew Wiggins, Jordan Poole, Kevon Looney, and all the others stepping into their opportunities and significantly helping the team win. This is so much fun; basketball perfection of another kind.
One game away from another championship. Close this out and start the party. Just one more win to rebirth the dynasty!
WHO: Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics
WHEN: Thursday, June 16th, 2022 // 6pm PDT
Warriors lead series 3-2
Injury update: “Repeatedly drained"?!
Celtics pressed Curry more, what to do now that it didn’t work?
Ahead of game five, a lot of the chatter was about Curry’s big game. The Celtics responded by adjusting to apply more pressure, a delicate balancing act that they’ve been tinkering with throughout the entire series.
But because they lost, by definition, the defensive adjustment didn’t work. Worse, by doubling Curry, they opened themselves up to the Warriors downstream options. Now the Celtics are in that rare, but often talked about position: a must-win game… against an absolutely demoralizing Warriors team that seems to have an answer for everything.
It now leaves the Boston Celtics in a head-scratchingly difficult position. Is there some perfect balance to even find here? From this excellent bball breakdown video, I noticed some eye-popping stats on the results of Curry’s possessions. I’m just going to post both the table and the figure here, since people learn in different ways and I can’t figure out which format I prefer. The big number here is that when the Celtics doubled Curry in game five, their defense gave up 14 points on 7 possessions. A classic example of winning the battle (slowing Curry down from his historic game four performance) but losing the war.
That’s not good — well not if your Boston, anyways. That’s game-breakingly bad, in fact, and a big part of Curry’s beautifully gaudy on-off stat on a night where he quite literally couldn’t hit a three. Every time you double him during one of his possessions, it was good for two points? Curry finished off the night with eight assists and one turnover, so the Celtics got a bad shooting night, but were punished in enough other ways (like Andrew Wiggins' 26 points and 13 rebounds) to make it not worth it.
So what to do…
Eric Apricot built his Explain 1 Play off this same premise: Wiggins and Klay and Warriors teamwork counter Celtics face guarding Steph Curry in Game; The truth is that there’s no simple answer. But like Global Warming, it seems like there’s enough consistently going wrong to trigger a wholesale, urgent response… that likely isn’t going to come in time. …Sorry, that was dark. Darker than the skies over Boston tonight. ZING!
This isn’t entirely happening in a vacuum. As resident humble pie eater when it comes to Andrew Wiggins, I feel obliged — no, honored — to point out that a huge part of the complexity of any solution to Curry in these Finals will also have to do something about the Warriors’ second-best player in these playoffs.
Have you watched this play? Like really watched it? One dribble from the three-point line:
Wiggins has almost single-handedly responded to Golden State’s purported lack of athleticism and size with an array of poster dunks, clutch rebounding performances, and key scoring drives — often in the form of a dagger dunk like the one above. On defense, it’s getting Tatum free of Wiggins lockdown coverage that is really at the heart of Boston’s primary offensive issue. Another idea is to attack the paint more. The Celtics are getting stymied, but have a huge free throw advantage through five games.
Much like Curry’s gravity, Two-Way Wiggs’ approach to basketball has found a synergistic symmetry alongside the existing Warriors’ core. Because while Boston has plenty to figure out on the defensive end between Curry and Wiggins (not to mention the impending doom that is Game 6 Klay), that’s far from the end of their list of problems.
According to Anthony Slater, check out the defensive results the Warriors are getting, compared to the other team’s that Boston has faced in their 20 games leading up to contact in the Finals (emphasis added):
They gave up only 16 first-quarter points and only 20 fourth-quarter points. The Celtics, in this series, have scored 88, 94 and 97 points in their three losses. In their entire run through the East, they failed to reach 100 points only twice in 20 games.
One defensive adjustment I’d expect to see from Boston’s offense is to lay off the transparent matchup hunting. The Warriors are too good at navigating it, and Boston isn’t especially adept at getting through an intransigent defense and into their preferred action:
The Warriors have been through the ringer. Sure, some of the personnel and coaches have cycled through, but the institutional memory is very much intact. This veteran Warriors team has seen it all, and also used it all. It’s that sort of flexible approach that has me feeling extra rosy heading into game six.
I talked in the intro about old photographs, and how this version of the Warriors isn’t quite as perfect, but still somehow just as (if not more) beautiful than any previous iteration. From that same Slater article linked above, listen to Curry talk about the effort and determination; to attributes that aren’t correlated to success as tightly as something like athleticism.
“We’ve tried a lot of different things over the course of the year,” Curry said. “Traditional man coverage, all the box-and-one, zone stuff that we can kind of sprinkle in from time to time. But at the end of the day, it’s just effort and intensity and kind of relentlessness on that front. We’ve done a really good job of maintaining that for the most part throughout the year and trying to plug in where there’s a little — I guess you call it deficiencies compared to teams of the past.”
It’s funny how much our definition of perfection can change over time, or even how many different versions of perfect there may be. One way or another though, these Golden State Warriors are within one game of making the world lose its mind yet again.
Street party in downtown Oakland tonight, as it was foretold.
DUBS. IN. SIX.
Let’s go make some memories!