In the early stages of the final series that would cement Stephen Curry as one of the 10 greatest players to ever lace them up, the Celtics willingly picked what they thought would bring them profit.
With just over five and a half minutes left in the first half, Boston’s Marcus Smart threw the ball to 6-foot-8 franchise player Jason Tatum, who was ahead of Curry, who was six inches shorter, about the elbow. After making the catch, Tatum immediately spun around Curry, only to find Kevon Looney standing behind the Warriors defenseman to cause a miss on the basket.
The initial misfire didn’t stop the Celtics from trying again. By no means. On the next possession, they attacked Curry, with forward Jaylen Brown overpowering him on the standing to get the basket. Then, just a few plays later, Tatum got into a deep position in the limited circle, caught the ball and earned a foul on Curry.
In less than five minutes against Curry, the most important player in the series, there were three shots and two great opportunities to score a goal. With Boston’s much bulkier wings, strategy will almost certainly become a bigger topic if Curry and the Warriors can’t find a solution.
But then something interesting happened: the Celtics overdid it by targeting him.
After hitting or fouling Curry three times in five tries in his first three games, Boston went on to hit Curry nine more times in games 4, 5, and 6. Two scores and three total points for the Celtics. In Thursday’s final Game 6, Boston tried him. four time Curry forced two passes and two missed shots, including an airball from Smart, according to Synergy.
In other words, the Celtics went out of their way to make their physical mark on Curry’s career. But, in the end, it was Curry who left a notable mark on the league’s most dominant defense.
Yes, that last part should be obvious enough considering that Curry averaged a whopping 31 points on 31 triples on fast 43.6% of the arc during the series. However, it was more about how he did it than fact what he did it to begin with.
Unlike the previous Golden State title, where Clay Thompson was closer to the metronome sequence before catastrophic leg injuries or before Kevin Durant was arguably the deadliest hitman in NBA history, Curry didn’t have a very consistent second option this time around. It is clear that Thompson was up and down. Except for a few moments—and a few whirring thumps—Jordan Poole looked more like a young, talented role player than an Endgame star; especially considering its defensive problems.
Andrew Wiggins, suddenly rehabilitated after a heap of criticism as a former No. 1 pick who didn’t become a superstar, basically answered the call as a second choice. Not only did he take on the task of serving as Tatum’s primary defender, but he also took on a huge offensive slack. His fifth game with 26 points and 13 rebounds will not soon be forgotten by the Warriors’ loyalists, especially since it was the only game in which Curry didn’t shoot very well. In fact, it was the worst record of Curry’s entire playoff career, 0-for-9, the first time he had gone without a triple.
After Game 5, some spoke of the odd prospect of Wiggins potentially earning the Finals MVP award, given his invaluable secondary record, his dominance on the glass and his solid stopper instincts, which slowed Tatum down and made it easier to challenge a star scorer from inside the arc. At that point, Wiggins was averaging 18.4 points and 9.4 rebounds on 45.8% shooting; all very good numbers.
But apart from averaging over 31 points and being top scorer (for both teams) in five of the six games in the final, any argument realistically supporting Wiggins lacked additional context. And it’s the fact that Wiggins was only effective on offense with and because of Curry himself.
Wiggins shot almost 49%, scoring 102 points and hitting 11 triples in playing time with Curry in the final. However, in 38 minutes of the final he played without Curry. Wiggins made 20% of his shots – just 3 of 15 overall.– at the same time he did not get into the top three and scored only eight points.
Scroll to continue
The numbers that were harsh but highlighted the same downward trend seen in Wiggins’ regular season., just illustrate how much more players can do with the unprecedented openness that Curry provides them with. And that’s why, throughout the series, we’ve usually seen Golden State struggle to achieve anything when Curry was sitting and then look like a championship-caliber club whenever he played. Curry has long been an insult to itself.
Defenses — even elite ones like Boston, which boasts a Defensive Player of the Year winner defending Curry — are more or less breaking themselves by trying to favor the sharpshooter and his seemingly limitless range. Again and again, Robert Williams and Al Horford failed to get high enough on the Golden State screen and rolls to take on Curry, who calmly took what the defense “given” him from almost 30 feet.
The culminating hit and take was Curry’s ludicrous 43 points in Game 4. And even when he wasn’t at his best in Game 5, scoring just 16 points on 22 attempts, Boston still covered him as the only threat he posed. . , occasionally sending a second person to him. Curry read correctly, skilfully beating Williams for an open mid-range look one play, then calmly passing the ball to a wide-open Thompson the next as two Celtics tried to get him to make a mistake.
As a result, Curry made eight assists against only two losses in a key fight; the difference between day and night, which on some level explained exactly how this series was won. Curry had 30 assists and 15 assists in the final, while Tatum and Brown had a combined 64 assists and 43 assists.
Curry’s chaotic, perpetual movement combined with his range leaves even the best defenses on the line, fearing he’ll get an open look if you lose him even for a millisecond. Preoccupation with him creates more opportunities than you might imagine for a struggling shooter like Draymond Green, whose offensive aggression came to a head late in the series when Boston felt compelled to outplay Curry. Players who exploit loopholes, such as Gary Payton II, also benefit from Curry, as the defense often seems more concerned with giving up an open three to Steph than letting Payton or Thompson break free for downtime.
Effort-filled games like this, where Curry seemingly ran an entire marathon just to find a chance on one possession, are the norm.
And on some level, they explain why it took the Warriors so long to get back to this point.
Three years ago, during the 2019 Finals against Toronto, Durant tore his Achilles tendon and Thompson tore his left cruciate ligament. Then, while trying to rehabilitate himself, Thompson tore his right Achilles in 2020. In between these incidents, Curry broke his arm, which pretty much made the 2019-20 season a breeze. a waste for the Warriors, besides what it meant for their lottery prospects. .
That, and the team’s failure to make the playoffs last season — the Warriors lost to Memphis in a playoff game — instilled in Curry and his teammates a newfound respect for how difficult it is to get back to the top of the mountain; one that came to the fore Thursday night when Curry openly cried on the TD Garden floor in the last minute of Game 6.
“Without a doubt, this is his least talented team from Golden State,” ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy said live, as it became clear that Curry would win his fourth championship in eight years. Between Thompson’s mid-season return and Green and Curry’s own injuries, it always looked like it wouldn’t be easy to see the Warriors back in full force again. That they didn’t even need enough time together on the court says a lot about their superstar.
Generally speaking, the Celtics were much more athletic and at times more physically fit than the Golden State. They had more bilateral talents and more sizes. They led in the series 2:1 and went to the line much more often. But no matter how hard they tried to leave their mark on history, they failed.
The greatness of Curry was simply impossible to overcome. And throughout this series, Stephen Curry has established himself as one of the greatest players of all time in a way that no one can doubt.
More NBA coverage: