2018 NBA Finals: Warriors vs. Cavaliers

Finals Film Study: Despite poor shooting, Stephen Curry draws attention in Game 3

John Schuhmann

John Schuhmann

* Tonight on ABC: Warriors vs. Cavs, Game 4 (9 ET)

CLEVELAND — Stephen Curry has played in 89 postseason games, and in none of the previous 88 had he shot as poorly as he did in Game 3 of the 2018 Finals.

Of course, the Golden State Warriors won Game 3 with an efficient offensive performance despite Curry shooting 3-for-16, including 1-for-10 on 3-pointers. One reason is that Kevin Durant had himself a night, scoring 43 points, with 28 of them coming on an incredible 11-for-15 from outside the paint.

Another reason is that the Warriors scored 48 points in the restricted area, tying their high for the postseason. They didn’t shoot as well in the restricted area as they did in Games 1 and 2 (82 percent), but their 37 attempts there were five more than they’ve had in any other game in these playoffs.

It’s been written here before (including between Games 2 and 3) how the Warriors leverage their 3-point shooting (along with the Cleveland Cavaliers’ defensive issues) to get better shots (layups and dunks). But the attention paid to Curry in Game 3 was particularly important in getting shots at the basket, and adds some context to that 3-for-16 performance.

Early attention

On the Warriors’ first possession of the game, Curry fed Draymond Green at the high post. Green proceeded to fake a hand-off to Curry…

Green fake hand-off

Appropriately, J.R. Smith made his first defensive mistake of Game 3 just 20 seconds in, initially staying with Curry as Tristan Thompson switched onto the shooter.

Smith mistake

Green went right to the basket and Smith was forced to foul.

On the Warriors’ next possession, JaVale McGee set an off-ball screen for Curry beyond the 3-point line…

McGee screen

Once again, the big (Kevin Love this time) switched onto Curry. And once again, Smith stayed with Curry too. This time McGee was free to roll to the basket, where Green found him for a dunk.

Smith mistake

The Warriors may be the most difficult team to defend in NBA history, but it’s kind of amazing that, in his 27th game against the Warriors over the last four seasons, Smith is making the same mistakes over and over again. Smith scored five points in the first minute and a half of Game 3, but he gave four right back to the defending champs.

After Game 3 and again after practice on Thursday, LeBron James put an emphasis on having “cerebral” players in this league.

“Not only do you have to have the talent,” James said Thursday, “you have to have the minds as well.

“We’re all NBA players. Everybody knows how to put the ball in the hoop. But who can think throughout the course of the game?”

Beating the trap

After having their switches punished too often in Games 1 and 2, the Cavs chose to trap Curry in Game 3. And that just freed up the Warriors’ bigs for more dunks and layups.

Midway through the second quarter, Jordan Bell set a screen for Curry on the left side of the floor, triggering a trap from Smith and Love…

Cavs trap

Curry quickly got off the ball. Green was his release valve and the Warriors had a 4-on-3 situation.

Warriors 4 on 3

Rather than settle for a jumper, Green attacked Tristan Thompson and found Bell rolling to the basket before Love could recover.

Bell drew a foul on almost the exact same play on the Warriors’ next possession and again on a direct feed from Curry early in the fourth. To start the third quarter, McGee was the roll man taking the feed from Green in a slightly different spot on the floor.

Midway through the fourth, Durant was the roll man, slipping the screen, taking the feed from Curry, and finding Andre Iguodala for a layup after weak-side help from Love. And the Warriors’ final layup of Game 3 came when Curry slipped a screen, drew attention on the left wing, and found Green on the baseline.

“I thought we did a good job of taking the ball out of Steph’s hands,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said Thursday. “The first two games, I thought with the switches, he really hurt us. So we went to the blitzes and tried to get the ball out of his hands. When that happens, you’re going to give up some easy shots for (JaVale) McGee and (Jordan) Bell and those guys.”

Double attention on the pin-down

The best job in the Warriors’ offense may be setting pin-down screens for Curry and Klay Thompson, because it can get you free layups a few times a night.

A few minutes into the third quarter, Durant didn’t set a textbook pin-down for Curry, but Curry came up from the baseline and the two exchanged places on the right wing, with James initially defending Durant and Smith initially on Curry.

Durant-Curry exchange

Once again, Smith stayed with Curry, while James chose to switch…

Durant roll to the basket

Durant got a clean roll to the basket for a layup and James could do nothing but shake his head.

The ATO

On the Warriors’ first possession of the fourth quarter, they ran an after-timeout play that started as a weave into a pick-and-roll with Bell setting a screen for Shaun Livingston. But that was just a decoy action to set up a back-screen set by Curry on Larry Nance Jr., who was guarding Bell.

Curry back-screen

Rather than switching onto Bell, Jeff Green stayed with Curry, leaving Bell open under the basket.

Curry back-screen

The Cavs defended Curry in Game 3 better than they did in Games 1 and 2. But the extra attention he got freed up some other things in the Warriors’ offense, which has had its most efficient series (121 points scored per 100 possessions) of the playoffs. Curry finished with six assists, including a particularly gorgeous dime to Andre Iguodala in the first quarter when Smith left Iguodala under the basket to help on Curry’s isolation on Love.

Even in shooting 3-for-16, Curry was a valuable part of the Warriors’ offense on Wednesday. And maybe he still deserves series consideration for Finals MVP should the Warriors win Game 4.

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John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail himhere, findhis archive hereandfollow him on Twitter.

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