How Warriors Can Get Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson Clicking
- Updated: May 15, 2013
After a series of cannonballs during the early goings of the 2013 NBA playoffs, the Golden State Warriors’ “Splash Brothers” looked more like Olympic divers on Tuesday night.
Neither player caused as much as a ripple in the team’s crushing 109-91 defeat to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 5. Stephen Curry couldn’t find his touch from inside the arc (3-of-7) or beyond it (1-of-7), while Klay Thompson abandoned the three-point shot altogether in a rough 2-of-8 shooting performance.
The result was as bad as its been all season for Golden State’s sharpshooters:
Curry shouldered the heaviest responsibility for the loss after the game. “I was terrible, plain and simple,” he said. “They outplayed us as a team, but individually I didn’t have anything on either end. I was a step slow, shot wasn’t falling.”
Not surprisingly, this was as lopsided a defeat as the Warriors had suffered in more than a month.
So what exactly caused this untimely collapse?
Perhaps fatigue has finally set in for Golden State’s young gunners. Neither player had ever logged a single minute of postseason NBA basketball before this season, and they’ve seen more than 424 of them since this series began on May 6.
The Spurs, on the other hand, have been to this dance before. In fact their aging but still wildly productive trio of Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker (who combined for 49 points in the win) have now shared the second-most postseason minutes of any three-headed monster in league history:
But the Warriors guards aren’t simply drained from the playoff minutes. It’s the physical toll being placed on them by a pair of athletic wing defenders, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.
Green’s been tabbed as the Curry stopper, a move that appears wiser with each passing game. Since his 44-point outburst in Game 1, Curry has averaged just 17.3 points on 34.8 percent shooting. The sprained ankle he suffered in the closing minutes of Game 3 hasn’t helped matters.
Leonard has drawn Thompson duty and reduced the sophomore to a volume scoring role that’s seen a dramatic decrease in decibel levels by the day. Thompson averaged 26.5 points on 51.2 percent shooting in the first two games of this series, but has managed only 10.3 points on 34.1 percent shooting in his last three outings.
Thompson needs points to leave an offensive imprint on a box score. As those have been stripped away, so too has any positive impact he’s made on the series:
“Kawhi, he’s a good defender,” Thompson said after the Game 5 loss. “I’ve got to make plays in other areas and find offense in other ways.
There’s some semblance of hope that when (or if) Curry and Thompson get rolling again they’ll be joining a retooled offensive machine that’s added another weapon to its arsenal in the playoffs:
Then again, that could very well be a false sense of hope. The Spurs have stuck the smaller Tony Parker on the rookie Harrison Barnes, and San Antonio’s more than willing to allow Golden State’s offense to funnel through Barnes as opposed to Curry or Thompson.
The Warriors, led by first-year general manager Bob Myers, dramatically bolstered this team’s depth over the past 12 months. They landed a trio of productive rookies in the 2012 draft (Barnes, Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli), then added a pair of battle-tested veterans (Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry) to round out the rotation.
But this team’s immediate future lies in the hands what Mark Jackson once proclaimed as the greatest shooting backcourt in NBA history.
Curry and Thompson traded the scoring load in the Warriors’ six-game series win over the Denver Nuggets in the opening round, but now have to shine together to topple the battle-tested Spurs twice in as many games.
So how exactly does this dynamic duo get back on track?
For starters, the Warriors need to see more aggression from this pair. Neither player attempted a free throw in the 70 minutes of action they saw in Game 5.
This has been a challenge all season for the perimeter-oriented Warriors, but Curry and Thompson have each shown flashes of a strong dribble-drive attack game.
Curry has tremendous touch around the basket and good enough handles to put defenders on his hip. Thompson looks like a different player when he decides to attack the rim and has the basketball IQ to make plays both for himself and his teammates when he’s on the move.
Jackson’s screen-heavy system also needs a greater commitment from the bigs to plant momentum-killing picks (without fouling) to free up these shooters for cleaner looks from long range. If Green and Leonard pay a heavy enough physical price on the defensive end, they won’t have the legs to pour in the 33 points (on 13-of-18 shooting) they tallied in Game 5.
And Jackson has to ease up a bit on his isolation calls for Barnes and Jack. Neither player is a particularly willing passer (they had 34 field-goal attempts and three assists in 69 minutes in Game 5), meaning Jackson’s playing right into Gregg Popovich’s hands when he dials up those same locks on multiple, successive possessions.
If fatigue is truly a factor in this pair’s struggles, then perhaps the Bay Area faithful will provide a badly needed shot of adrenaline on Thursday night:
Confidence clearly isn’t an issue. This is, after all, already the most prolific perimeter-shooting tandem in league history.
They have the poise and the pedigree (both are NBA legacies) to work their way out of this funk.
But the clock’s ticking.
One more loss between now and Sunday and this dream season becomes nothing more than an optimistic take-off point for next season’s Warriors.
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