February 15, 2019

Stephen Curry is often called a glitch in the system for his ability to hit 40-foot pull-up three-pointers off the dribble, as he did to end the first quarter of the Golden State Warriors 118-112 victory over the Miami Heat.

But if you watch close enough, you can see the loose threads the Warriors start pulling on early to unravel their opponents, systematically destroying teams.

For the San Antonio Spurs, it was an overactive state of fight or flight, hurrying instead of moving quickly, and overreacting to everything. Against the Cleveland Cavaliers, it was Kevin Love’s inability to defend in space. In Miami, it was Hassan Whiteside’s defense that spelled out the Heat’s demise long before it actually happened (from a tweet early in the fourth quarter):

Miami played admirably all night, pushing the Warriors to their limits behind a classic performance from Dwyane Wade (32 points, seven assists), a blue collar effort from Luol Deng (16 points, 11 rebounds), great energy from rookies Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson, and to be fair, an efficient 21 points (on 11 shots) from Whiteside.

Wade may have lost quite a bit of his explosiveness with age, but when both legs are under him, he’s still shifty and strong, running Klay Thompson right into screens, using his strength to keep him off balance, and his change of direction to create space.

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The Heat were actually able to puncture the Golden State defense for most of the night, either through dribble penetration or catching the ball in good position after little resistance. Most of the damage Whiteside did came in his first stint off the bench in the first half, scoring 15 of his 21 while shooting 5-for-6. Entering the game for an ineffective Amar’e Stoudemire, Whiteside was an immediate impact, rolling to the rim for lobs, running in transition, and rejecting or altering a few shots—taking advantage of Anderson Varejao, who was making his debut for the Warriors.

For better and worse, it’s hard not to notice Whiteside when he’s in the game. And for all the explosive plays he’s able to make, it only shines the spotlight on some poor decision making, like how he chose to defend screens against Golden State:

Whiteside 2

Andrew Bogut is capable of setting some bone crushing screens, and throughout the fourth quarter, Whiteside left his teammates to navigate through them on their own, refusing to leave the paint—with the Warriors having Bogut set them both on and off the ball for a series of wide open jumpers. In the screenshot below, Curry waived off a Bogut pick, directing him to set an off ball screen for Thompson to exploit Whiteside’s sagging defense.

Whiteside 4

This is how a center can lead the league in blocked shots and still be a negative on the defensive end. Thompson and Curry combined for 27 points in the fourth quarter on 8-for-13 shooting, finding room for open looks by running actions at Whiteside. And while he did well enough to closeout on his own man in the final minute, blocking a Green shot, he once again sank back too low against the most dangerous three-point shooter in NBA history:

Stephen Curry may be a glitch, but the way the Warriors separated themselves from the Heat in the fourth quarter was completely by design.

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Jesse Blanchard

Jesse Blanchard is the author of Dynasty: the San Antonio Spurs Timeless 2013-2014 Championship, author/illustrator of the unpublished #LetBonnerShoot, A Dr. Seuss Story, and former contributor for 48 Minutes of Hell, Project Spurs, and ESPNsa.com. Boris Diaw is his pickup game spirit animal.

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