I booked the plane tickets after Game 2, thinking there was a distinct chance I could cover a championship celebration tonight. Instead the Warriors are hoping to get a chance to do the deed at home, but that will only happen if Stephen Curry responds to the many challenges the Cavaliers have put in front of him.
This isn’t about LeBron James wanting to knock Curry off the pedestal he feels is rightfully his, this is standard playoff behavior. Cleveland wants to cut off the head of the snake, and that means making Curry work on every possible offensive possession, and attacking his preferred pick-and-roll combo (he and Draymond Green) with a healthy dose of James, who has clearly studied Curry’s tendencies closely.
This is what being a superstar is, and Curry has faced this sort of challenge before. The Spurs were as stingy as a team could get when they beat the Warriors in San Antonio. Curry figured out how to prevail the next time the two teams played in Texas.
However, Curry was healthy back then. He most certainly isn’t now. That’s not an excuse, because James (as an example) hasn’t missed a single playoff game in his playoff career. Surely he played through some injuries along the way, and no one sheds a tear for him when he’s dealing with a sprained wrist or whatever.
There have been several good stories written by Bay Area News Group team, all going into different reasons why Curry has looked off in these Finals, Game 3 in particular.
- Adam Lauridsen: A Unified Theory of Stephen Curry’s Struggles
- Marcus Thompson: Splash Brothers looking for answers against the Cavaliers
- Tim Kawakami: Looking for rational, practical answers to the question: What’s really wrong with Steph Curry (and Klay Thompson)?
It’s true, Thompson also needs to give the Warriors more — at least something in between what he’s provided over the first three games of this series and his transcendent performance in Game 6 against the Thunder. And if that bruise courtesy of Timofey Mozgov’s knee is still bothering him, that could prove difficult. But as good as Thompson has been in these playoffs, Curry is the MVP.
Here’s what he must do tonight:
Be precise. When teams trap Curry or knock him around, it’s almost like he doesn’t want to show the opponent that he’s affected. When he’s hitting shots, his passes connect, and his gambles lead to steals, he looks like one of the smoothest athletes in North America. During rare off-nights — like Game 3 — he overcompensates and makes more sloppy plays than anyone on the court. As the leader of this team, his successes and mistakes carry more weight. The Warriors can survive the occasional turnover by Draymond Green, especially since most of those happen closer to the basket. Curry’s turnovers generally happen near halfcourt, and even if he gets back (which is a big “if” if he drops his head and feels bad about what just transpired), he doesn’t offer much resistance in transition. Just as the Cavs follow James’ lead, something he explicitly told them to do before Game 3, the Warriors follow Curry’s. This is not the time for overly risky, nonchalantly-thrown passes.
Play defense. His lack of attention to detail was alarming on that end two nights ago. We knew before the series that the Warriors must win the Finals with defense that belies their image throughout much of the league that they’re a finesse team. This doesn’t just apply to Green, Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala and Thompson. Kyrie Irving went from being a huge minus defensively in Games 1 and 2 to a relative plus in Game 3, and there’s no reason why Curry can’t do the same.
Stop reaching. Officials don’t care a bit when the Cavs impede Curry’s progress off the ball, but they can’t blow their whistles quickly enough when he tries to swipe at the ball from a player who created separation from Curry a split-second earlier.
Don’t let his shot affect the rest of his game. Curry hasn’t started a game hot since Game 1 of the Houston series, if I remember correctly (maybe I’m forgetting a game). He even started Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals with a 3-for-8 first quarter. But even if his first couple three attempts don’t fall tonight, that doesn’t mean he can’t contribute in other areas. He got into early foul trouble in Game 2, but that didn’t prevent him from grabbing 9 rebounds in just 25 minutes. In 31 minutes of Game 3 action, Curry ended up with only 1 rebound.
The Warriors can win at home without a great, or even particularly good performance from Curry. But they can’t win on the road if he plays sloppily, not against a team that’s geared up to stop him above everyone else.