By Shane Young
With his mouthguard halfway in, he received the inbound pass with 12 seconds to go in regulation. On the road, Stephen Curry is a hitman. He’s the executioner nobody in the arena wants to see with the ball, dribbling up court, with the game tied or the Warriors trailing by two.
Ask the hyper fans at Chesapeake Energy Arena, the kind folks of New Orleans, or the loyal diehards in Portland. They have all witnessed Curry rip their hearts out in nail-biters, whether it’s a regular season game in the dog days of January or meaningful playoff bouts.
Wednesday night in Dallas, Curry nonchalantly took the ball, looked at coach Steve Kerr, and waved for his teammates to set up offensively. His former teammate, Harrison Barnes, had just tied the game off a drive through the lane, spinning around Patrick McCaw. Barnes has yet to win a game against the franchise that had to let him go in restricted free agency, and was trying all he could to stamp his name on this thrilling Mavericks’ comeback.
But, they left the chef with too much time.
Curry was on the same page as Kerr, not calling the Warriors’ final timeout and allowing Rick Carlisle to change anything with his defensive scheme or personnel. Dallas decided to close the game with Yogi Ferrell, Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews, Barnes, and Dirk Nowitzki. Against the Warriors, there are a couple defensive liabilities there that would handicap the Mavericks, and Carlisle likely would’ve devised a better plan.
In about 70 percent of late-game situations before, Durant would be the one calling for the ball at the top of the key, remaining stationary until the five second mark, and crossing over a helpless defender with his insane wingspan for a mid-range dagger.
Not this time.
Curry called for something Golden State made its bread and butter during the marvelous 73-9 season: A pick-and-roll with Draymond Green, an action that would involve the Mavericks’ two worst defenders on the floor. Ferrell, because of his size, doesn’t have a chance to get around the Warriors’ screens. Nowitzki, because he’s almost 40 years old, doesn’t have the legs to navigate up to the three-point line in time, or stay with a guard as fast as Curry.
The end result is Ferrell getting completely absorbed by Green’s screen, and Nowitzki having no chance to contain Curry in space. The chants of “DE-FENSE” in the American Airlines Center vanished. Suddenly, tons of arms flew up in the air, with hands on the back of their heads, wondering how the greatest shooter of all-time got that clean of a look:
There was no way Curry wasn’t going to pull up from downtown once his eyes lit up and saw Nowitzki hanging back. But, if he didn’t want the triple, there was still enough time for some razzle-dazzle to get to the rim.
Curry’s game-winner capped the best all-around offensive game for the Warriors’ big four (Curry, Durant, Thompson, Green), as they scored 100 of Golden State’s 125 points and shot 39-of-70 (55.7 percent) from the field.
Actually, the two final scoring possessions for the Dubs didn’t include Durant. One common criticism of Kerr is that he likes to stick to the beautiful motion offense instead of running simple pick-and-roll when they need it most. Sometimes they like to get a little too cute with cuts and risky passes, and it backfires due to a turnover. On Wednesday, though, they initially took the lead in the final 30 seconds off a well-designed cut by Thompson.
They used Curry as the terrific screener he is, and got Green posted up in a mismatch with Ferrell. This allowed him to use his height advantage as an open window to make a crisp pass in the lane:
Thompson finished at an absurd angle here, which triggered the next series of events by Barnes and Curry.
The Warriors are finding a healthy balance in their playstyle, and this could be the second straight January that Curry explodes. Since his return on Dec. 30 (two games), Curry has scored 70 points on 8-of-10 shooting from inside the arc and 16-of-26 (61.5 percent) from deep.
He is the Warriors’ MVP, and the late-game trepidation he induces on a defense is all the evidence you need.