OAKLAND, Calif. -- Stephen Curry presents a difficult problem for opposing defenses while also testing the decision-making of his own team. The star point guard excels at creating offense on and off the ball. Although that’s an enviable combination, it’s difficult to know how exactly to profit off the embarrassment of offensive riches.
The Warriors eventually figured it out on Thursday en route to a 102-99 overtime win over the Houston Rockets, a team that has bedeviled them in the recent past. After suffering poor results with a series of late David Lee isolations, Golden State put the ball in their star’s hands down two points with six seconds left in regulation. It wasn't the worst of plans.
Curry received the inbounds pass at the top of the key in what looked to be a setup for a catch-and-shoot. Instead, with Chandler Parsons hot on his tail, Curry sharply turned and went right at Dwight Howard’s hulking frame. Somehow, Curry’s lefty layup sneaked over the top of Dwight’s enveloping presence and saved the game for the Warriors.
“Truth be told, the last play of regulation I set it up for him to shoot a 3 and left it in his hands,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said after the game. “It shows you how far he’s come as a basketball player that he didn’t settle. He made a big play for us.”
The Warriors just traded for Steve Blake, after trading for Jordan Crawford earlier in the season. The goal of both moves is to help Curry by easing his burden. To ensure that Curry doesn’t wear down, others will be tasked with bringing the ball up and creating offense. That’s a difficult balance, considering that “easing the burden” can mean taking shots away from your best player.
When asked about the juxtaposition of feeding Curry versus getting other players involved, Jackson said, “You just read it. Fortunately as a point guard in this league and a point guard my whole life, those are decisions I had to make my whole life.”
Curry backed up that sentiment, reducing these seemingly difficult decisions to a matter of basic basketball literacy.
“It’s just about reading the situation,” Curry said. “When you have mismatches, you feel pretty confident in guys to make plays. Obviously you want to make the right call and the right adjustment each play down the stretch.”
Those calls, those adjustments, were made difficult Thursday by an absolute pest of a defensive presence. The Rockets' Patrick Beverley is about as unknown a name as you’ll find when listing starting players on playoff teams, but he’s one of the best at humanizing opposing playmakers. The most interesting aspect of his biography, that he played professionally in Russia, just speaks to his relative anonymity. The league’s best point guards know who Beverley is, though.
“He makes me better,” Curry said of Beverley, who fouled out in overtime. “I love that challenge. You know that’s his mission on a night: to come in and stop you.”
Through six meetings between them, Curry has shot 39 percent with Beverley on the floor. Perhaps this game represented a shift in Curry’s tactics and his success.
Beverley wasn’t the only person flaunting a dogged defensive game. The Warriors rank third in the league on that end and managed to hold Houston’s vaunted offense to a night of 36.6 percent shooting. If the play of the game wasn't Curry’s sneaky floater, it was definitely Jermaine O’Neal’s vicious block of Chandler Parsons' dunk attempt with 23 seconds left in overtime.
"[O'Neal] timed it well at the rim. It was just perfect timing on his part," Parsons said.
The Warriors, contrary to public perception, are carried by their defense. To truly be a multiround playoff threat, they must find a way to improve their much-talked-about offense. Right now that offense implodes when Curry takes to the bench, scoring 18.4 fewer points per 100 possessions.
Although the Warriors' offense runs far better when Curry is in, it can get into ruts where there’s little ball movement and many post-ups to ball stoppers like O’Neal, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes. Now that they’ve added more pieces through trades, the Warriors must strike a more favorable balance. The task likely won’t be as easy as “just read it.”