Stephen Curry has earned a reputation as the most uniquely dominant player in the NBA today. At 6’2 and 185 with a 6’4 wingspan, Curry isn’t physically dominant like a LeBron James or Russell Westbrook. His dominance comes from his ability to shoot the lights out, his underrated creative finishes at the rim, and his All-Galaxy gravity that gives his teammates all the spacing they need to shoot or attack the rim.
After 13 seasons in the League, Curry has started to earn acclaim for his impact on the defensive side of the ball. Long are the days when Coach Steve Kerr would hide him on defense. Curry has had key moments engaging high-scoring wings and guards in the most significant moments of the game.
Steph was so happy when he got called a two-way player pic.twitter.com/uQ4L3QWCbS
— 95.7 The Game (@957thegame) May 16, 2022
At this stage, winning the 2022 title takes figuring out how best to take advantage of your opponents’ weaknesses. The Warriors made switch-happy defenses famous in the League eight years ago, and now offenses have countered the switch by running actions to get their best offensive threat against the weakest defender on the floor.
Curry is no longer a go-to target when opponents run pick-and-rolls to create those mismatches. At 34-years-old, he’s acquired the basketball IQ, quick hands, and added bulk that has made him one of the Warriors’ most important defenders and presents Boston with the problem of figuring out who they can exploit when they run pick-and-rolls.
“Teams used to try to call Steph into every action and just try to pick on him, but that doesn’t work anymore,” Draymond Green said per The San Francisco Chronicle. “He’s able to hold his ground, so you’re not able to bump him off his spot, and that’s been huge for us. I’m not shocked he’s playing that type of defense.”
With Curry evolving into a stronger perimeter and team defender, the Boston Celtics are prone to offensive droughts. The Celtics have had to deal with a fearsome seven-man rotation of stars in their two-way role in former Defensive Player of the Year Green, effective positional defender Kevon Looney, former All-Defensive teamer Klay Thompson as starters can deploy ball-hawk Gary Payton II, and the savvy Otto Porter Jr. off the bench.
After Jayson Tatum knocked down a three-pointer to cut Golden State’s lead to six late in the third quarter, the Celtics were subsequently overwhelmed and allowed the Warriors to unleash a 19-2 run, being outscored 35-14 on the way to a 107-88 Game 2 loss on Sunday.
Curry played his part during that dominant defensive stretch by disrupting passing lanes, communicating effectively, and smothering Tatum and Jaylen Brown on pick-and-rolls. Curry’s effort was highlighted by two plays. One where Curry muscled through a Derrick White pick-and-roll and was able to stick to White’s hip long enough that Curry forced a contested three-pointer from Marcus Smart at the end of the shot clock.
The second came when Curry walled up on Al Horford in the paint, forcing the former Florida Gator to swing the ball out to Grant Williams. Curry followed up that stop by picking Williams’ pocket. The sequence showed that Curry can’t be bullied in the low post or get exposed for making bad reads. Curry is now one of the smartest and most physically strong players on the Warriors’ roster.
Steph Curry might be best known for his offense but he’s been spectacular on defense, playing passing lanes and picking off steals in bunches!
Check out Steph’s best defensive work from this season pic.twitter.com/VwosW6PAGh
— NBA (@NBA) June 7, 2022
Curry finished the regular-season ranked second in defensive win shares. He also averaged 2.0 fouls per game in 35.4 minutes per game. Curry has a better understanding of angles and spacing now, helping him become a better rotational defender, keeping him patient while looking to force turnovers, or making it difficult for his matchup to catch the ball.
“It’s always been a point of emphasis in terms of trying to win basketball games and do your job,” Curry said of his defense. “Over the course of my career, it’s been a physical development that’s happened over time that obviously helps, a lot of work that’s gone into that.
“But at the end of the day, from my rookie year to now, it’s always been about effort and just a care factor, overcoming physical limitations with matchups or whatever it is. If you try hard, good things will happen.”
Curry being able to become a plus defender was never the expectation. The only unanimous MVP can do more on the defensive side than just guarding spot-up shooters in the corner. However, Curry remains to get attacked on pick-and-rolls. In the Western Conference Finals, part of the Dallas Mavericks’ game plan was to wear down Curry as the game went on.
The eight-time All-Star was involved in 42.4 pick-and-rolls per 100 possessions. That figure is 6.1 more than any other player in the conference finals. Although his teammates and Kerr have complimented Curry’s defense, many teams, like Dallas, still see Curry as a mismatch. Curry has changed that narrative on the most prominent basketball stage, playing defense at a high level in the Finals.
“He can guard 50 screen-and-rolls a game and run 50 screen-and-rolls a game,” Kerr said. “Not many people can do that.”
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