2022 NBA Finals: Stephen Curry, Warriors Played the Hits in Game 4 as Golden State Refuses to Die vs.  Celtics

2022 NBA Finals: Stephen Curry, Warriors Played the Hits in Game 4 as Golden State Refuses to Die vs. Celtics

2022 NBA Finals: Stephen Curry, Warriors Played the Hits in Game 4 as Golden State Refuses to Die vs.  Celtics

BOSTON — According to Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, most of Game 4 of the NBA Finals was none of Stephen Curry’s mind-boggling threes. It wasn’t even Klay Thompson’s jumpers or Andrew Wiggins’ putbacks. No, after the Warriors’ 107-97 win on Friday, Kerr said the biggest win was this left-handed finish by Kevon Looney:

Kerr isn’t just crazy for Looney. It’s about the context. There was about a minute left and Al Horford had just made a 3, ending a three-minute drought in the Boston Celtics. Looney’s layup turned a one-ball game into a two-ball game, and it deflated a crowd that was about to explode.

You’ve seen the Warriors perform this kind of passing sequence countless times, and that’s the point. Their bread-and-butter stuff hasn’t worked particularly well against the Celtics. Coach Ime Udoka said before the series started that he thinks other teams tend to overreact to Golden State’s 3-point shooting, which makes it easy for them to see the basket. Rather than try to take the ball out of Curry’s hands, Boston has largely switched or trusted its guards to stay stuck and navigate screens. That it changed course in crunch time, sending two defenders to Curry and serving a 4-for-3 for Draymond Green is testament to an all-ages Curry performance: 43 points in 41 minutes, 14-for-26 shooting, 7-for-14 from deep, 10 rebounds, four assists, two days after Horford landed on his previously injured foot.

“That man’s heart is unbelievable,” Thompson said. “The things he does, we sometimes take for granted, but to go out and lay us on his back — I mean, we have to help him on Monday. Wow.”

After Golden State fell 2-1 in the final, Thompson said he got “big 2015 vibes” from this series. That was the first experience of this leg and it trailed 2-1 against the Cleveland Cavaliers before taking three straight wins. However, the vibes I’m getting are more reminiscent of 2019 when a battle-tested Warriors team constantly refused to die.

There was Game 5 of the second round against the Houston Rockets in which Kevin Durant injured his calf late in the third quarter and Golden State held them back. There was the euphoria of Game 6 in Houston, where Curry scored zero points in the first half and 33 in the second, a decisive victory for the Warriors and for Kerr’s offensive philosophy. There were also Games 2 and 5 of the final, both in Toronto, both close, gutsy wins against an opponent leading the way in the series and taking every defensive trick out of the book.

The Celtics’ defense combines the best features of those Rockets (switchability) and those Raptors (intelligence). It’s pushed Kerr to an inconvenient place, where any lineup decision is a gamble that Golden State is either sidestepping a distance problem or racking up just enough stops to survive. As impressive as the Warriors were in Game 4, their half-court attack was rough: 83.9 points per 100 half-court plays, their worst score of the series, according to Cleaning The Glass. They won by hitting the glass, picking up the pace and, crucially, accepting that it won’t always be pretty.

“Your normal sets or just the normal flow probably won’t be there from the start of the game just because they’re good at that and how they dominate games on that side of the floor,” Curry said. “So those are the times when you can be a little bit more aggressive. Try, say, force the problem a little bit. That doesn’t always mean shooting, but it just means attacking, being aggressive and finding jobs, doing it over and over and over again.”

Faced with a potential 3-1 deficit, essentially a death sentence against this massive, athletic and well-coordinated defense, Curry and the Warriors found a way to play the hits. We saw some downright crazy shots from behind the three-point line:

We saw Curry’s handle, balance and touch within the three-point line:

We saw the classic post splits, leaving Curry juuuust plenty of room to get his shot off, even with his defender, Derrick White, coming across the screen and flying at him:

We saw loads of transitional play and early attacks, situations where Curry causes chaos and confusion – in one game, both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown picked him up, leaving Thompson unattended:

We saw Gary Payton II make his best Zaza Pachulia impression, freeing Curry for a 3 by dropping the ball into the corner and screening him open:

And we saw Golden State’s excellent defense — Boston scored a whopping 101 points per 100 possessions — being overshadowed by the Curry Flurry. In this case, Curry’s brilliance with the ball overshadowed how he fought and rotated on the other side, despite the Celtics’ repeated attempts to aim for him.

According to Green, every match in this final is decided by power — who brings the most defensive intensity, who cuts harder, who screens harder, who imposes his will. Curry said that while Golden State had a bad start offensively, the tone of the game was completely different from the last: “It wasn’t a perfect first quarter, but we gave ourselves enough life.” That life allowed the Warriors to withstand some rough spots, hang out and be in a position for Curry to take them home.

“He didn’t let us lose,” said Green. “That’s what it comes down to.”