What Sparked Curry at the End of Game 3?
*Photo via Getty Images
Another game, another sensational ending, welcome to the 2015 NBA Finals. Game 3 saw the Cleveland Cavaliers barely hang on against the Golden State Warriors 96 to 91, after being up 20 points in the third quarter. Golden State, the team with the second highest offensive rating during the regular season, scored an anemic 55 points through three-quarters. After averaging 18.33 points per quarter through the first three, the Dubs erupted for 36 points in the final frame, including 17 points from Stephen Curry.
Even though the Warriors posted the first 30+ point quarter this series for either team, it didn’t lead to a victory. However, Golden State fans may be able to sleep better knowing Curry, who struggled to find his shooting form in Game 2, found his splash stroke in the last 19 minutes of Game 3.
During the first 29 minutes, Cleveland continued to double Curry off all ball screens, forcing him to make the correct basketball play by passing back to the open screener. According to SportVU tracking, Draymond Green set 18 ball screens which led to 0.5 points per possession. Green shot 0 of six in those situations, including; missing wide open three-point attempts as well as challenging Timofey Mozgov three times and coming up empty each time. Reserve center, Festus Ezeli wasn’t effective either, with Golden State averaging 0.4 points per possession on his 10 ball screens.
Golden State also ran a 1 – 2 screen & roll using both Splash Brothers which led to a basket. Cleveland hard hedged on Curry which led to a pass back to Klay Thompson, who, because of his shooting ability, forced Mozgov to come out to the three-point line to prevent an open shot. Klay took advantage of the big man and got to the paint and found a teammate for an open layup.
Curry was able to consistently get in the lane or get good looks when Golden State didn’t use any ball screens because it allowed Curry to attack Matthew Dellavedova one on one. Although he wasn’t able to convert, look for more isolation sprinkled in during Game 4.
With seven minutes left in the third quarter and Cleveland building their lead, Steph was finally able to attack Cleveland’s defense. Curry passed the ball to Draymond, faked away and went directly into a hand off ball screen, which caught Dellavedova and Tristan Thompson off guard and allowed Curry to get north and south to attack Thompson, leading to a midrange splash.
Curry was also able to take advantage of Mozgov as the screen & roll defender by drawing him 25-feet away from the basket, forcing Cleveland to cover the roll man and allowing Curry to make a skip pass to the corner for another bucket. Next time Mozgov was put into a pick & roll, instead of a hard hedge, he helped and tried to recover to his man leading to an open three-pointer for Curry.
Steph Curry may have been the one who exploded in the fourth quarter for 17 points, but it doesn’t happen without David Lee. The former All-Star, who was dubbed the “White Chris Webber,” by Shaquille O'Neal, has seldom been used this season. However, he had a major impact in the fourth quarter.
Golden State ran pick & roll using Lee as the screener throughout the fourth quarter which resulted in 1.54 points per possession. Because Curry was getting doubled on all pick & roll plays, Lee did something different from the other Golden State screeners by releasing and rolling to the basket almost immediately after setting the screen. This allowed Curry a quick pass option before the double could put any real pressure on him. Lee did well after receiving the pass including, two assists and scoring on a three-point play the old fashioned way,
Cleveland eventually decided that Lee was creating too many easy baskets for the Dubs and decided to take away the quick pass option and switch Tristan Thompson onto Curry in all Lee pick & rolls. This is when Curry began to feast. Curry shot seven of nine from the field including four of five from three en route to 18 points when guarded by Thompson in Game 3. Also, because of the switch, David Lee was able to get a putback dunk and post a smaller defender which led to free throws.
The Warriors are now down two to one in the series, but they may have found a spark plug in David Lee, which could help power their offense and get Stephen Curry out of the no splash zone. And once Curry gets it going, watch out, because even incredible defense won’t keep you dry.