Playing in his sixth NBA Finals, Stephen Curry is off to the best start of his career on the biggest stage.
The Warriors lost Game 1 in stunning fashion, but Curry led all scorers with 34 points on 7-for-14 shooting from 3-point range. He followed it up by scoring 29 points in Golden State’s blowout win in Game 2, connecting on five more triples.
Curry has now scored a total of 63 points in 70 minutes against the best defensive team in the NBA this season. It’s also the most points he’s ever had through two games of the Finals, a fact made all the more impressive given he sat the entire fourth quarter of Game 2.
It’s too early to be talking Finals MVP, but there’s a reason why he’s now the betting favorite to win the elusive award he has yet to capture.
Just as interesting as what Curry is doing is how he’s doing it.
Here’s a closer look into how the two-time MVP has completely changed up his game and thrown a wrench into Boston’s vaunted D.
Stephen Curry’s biggest adjustment in the NBA Finals
Part of what makes Curry the greatest shooter of all time is his versatility.
Whereas most players are more comfortable shooting a particular way, whether it’s on the move, off the dribble, or off the catch, Curry can do it all at an incredibly high level. The Warriors make the most of that by using him as both a point guard and shooting guard on offense. One play he’ll run a pick-and-roll with Draymond Green, the next he’ll fly off of a pindown like he’s a 6-foot-2 version of Klay Thompson.
As such, the way Curry generated his scoring in the 2021-22 regular season was pretty balanced. In the playoffs? Not as much. He’s still breaking defenses with his movement, but he’s not scoring with the same frequency off-ball. Curry is instead of taking matters into his own hands quite literally.
According to InStat, Curry is running almost twice as many pick-and-rolls in the NBA Finals compared to the regular season, continuing a trend that started over the course of the first three rounds of the playoffs.
Why is Stephen Curry running more pick-and-roll against the Celtics, specifically?
Curry has long been among the most efficient pick-and-roll scorers in the league. He just doesn’t rely on them as much as the likes of Trae Young, Luka Doncic, and Damian Lillard because of everything he does away from the ball.
The Celtics are better equipped than almost every other team to defend those actions. Not only does Marcus Smart match up well with Curry one-on-one, but their ability to switch almost everything makes it hard for Curry to get loose when he’s operating off of screens.
When Curry doesn’t have the ball in his hands, you’ll likely find Smart glued to his hip, no matter where he is on the court.
If Curry receives a screen, the Celtics almost always switch to prevent him from getting any daylight and force someone else to beat them.
The Celtics will also switch pick-and-rolls, but it’s harder to keep the ball out of Curry’s hands in those situations because … he already has the ball in his hands.
Al Horford and Grant Williams are two of the better switching bigs in the league, but Curry looked comfortable attacking them in Game 2.
The Celtics don’t switch every pick-and-roll, though. They threw some different coverages at Curry in Game 2 in an effort to “keep him off balance.” There’s just not a whole lot the Celtics can show him that he hasn’t already seen in his career.
“Just feel and matchups, and you understand how the series is going to continue to go,” Curry responded when asked about him leaning more on pick-and-rolls against the Celtics. “There are going to be adjustments and different looks. If I can get in those one-on-one matchups and be able to play-make out of that and read the defense well, we can create a lot of good shots.
“Thankfully those types of possessions, either we got a good shot or the ball started moving and we weren’t turning the ball over, which helped our offense kind of settle in a little bit. Then when we have a good offense and good shots, that helps our defense a lot. So we’ll see how it goes the rest of the series, but it’s been working.”
Curry took advantage of the Celtics dropping in pick-and-rolls in the first quarter of Game 1. They’ve done a better job since then of meeting him higher up the floor, but his comfort pulling up from deep puts a tremendous amount of pressure on Boston’s bigs.
It doesn’t help that Robert Williams III hasn’t looked like himself through two games of the Finals. He’s still making plays at the rim, but the knee soreness he’s dealing with appears to have zapped him of some of his mobility.
And, of course, if the screener’s defender slides too far over or traps Curry, it frees up the roll.
Curry and Green have been picking teams apart like this for years:
Ultimately, this is what makes Curry one of the greatest players of all time. The stat sheet only tells part of the story of how much he impacts the game, and he can scale up and scale down as needed.
With the Finals tied at 1-1, it’s going to be fascinating to see how the Celtics defend him the rest of the series.