OAKLAND, CALIF.—The hypnotizing dazzle of Stephen Curry is fading.
Of course, that’s such a San Antonio Spurs thing to do to a guy.
Gregg Popovich’s Spurs dulled the Golden State Warriors sharpshooter for the second consecutive game, holding Curry to just 16 points on 5-of-17 shooting on Friday in a 102-92 Game 3 victory.
After Curry’s burst of 44 points on 18-of-35 shooting in Game 1, the Spurs have quieted the league’s postseason favorite to just 12-of-37 shooting and 19 points per game—from scorching to medium heat.
Popovich isn’t revealing any special San Antonio recipe. And why would he start now?
Instead, the veteran coach of veteran players is keeping his effective plan outwardly simple: He said his team is now just “more aware about what’s going on.”
No, Popovich knows exactly what’s happening, even if only clear adjustments have been necessary to make the fix.
San Antonio is finding more success by throwing the length of its young wings at Curry. The 6’7” Kawhi Leonard and 6’6” Danny Green have led the defensive aggression against the league's best three-point shooter.
The Spurs' longtime coach is throwing a number of defenders at both Curry and fellow shooter Klay Thompson. Popovich addressed the slowdown of Curry in his postgame news conference after Game 3:
The clear difference has been San Antonio's improved pressure on Curry to give him less space to shoot.
Warriors coach Mark Jackson simplified it even further in regard to Curry’s poor shooting night: “He missed shots. This is a make-or-miss league. That’s all.”
Spurs lead man Tim Duncan said after the Game 3 win that the big guys are also doing a better job of getting up in the pick-and-roll to prevent open looks.
Duncan spoke with dry intonation when he discussed the importance of defending the two best shooters in the league—“as everyone is saying”:
Though the backcourt of Curry and Thompson has authored the hype in this series, it was Tony Parker who reacquainted himself with the spotlight in Game 3.
Parker, with a serene disinterest to the attention that’s been given to the Warriors backcourt, played Friday like the more experienced, elite point guard who’s already won three titles.
He outdid both Curry and Thompson.
Parker scored 32 points on 13-of-23 shooting and had five assists in the win. Curry and Thompson shot a combined 12-of-37 for 33 points.
“I don't really pay attention to the top-five point guard [lists]; they always forget about me anyways,” said Parker, who was asked after the win if all the talk about Curry and Thompson after the first two games fired him up.
“It doesn't matter to me anymore, seriously I play for the city of San Antonio, for the Spurs, all our fans, Coach Pop, my teammates. That's what makes me go."
Part of the Spurs’ increased success against Curry has been through pulling Parker off him defensively.
Looking ahead to Game 4 on Sunday, though, both Parker and Curry could be slowed.
Parker was kicked in the left calf in the fourth quarter, and he said after the game that his calf was swollen.
Curry also suffered an injury—perhaps a more serious one—when he tweaked his left ankle in the fourth quarter, though he played through the pain. It is the same ankle he sprained in Game 2 against Denver. His right ankle is the one that received two surgeries last season and multiple sprains this past regular season.
Curry has played hurt through most of the postseason, even receiving an injection in his ankle before Game 3 against Denver. The ankle seemed to be improving before it rolled again Friday.
Who will win this series?
Entering Sunday’s Game 4, if Curry’s ankle doesn’t respond, the Spurs’ defensive responsibilities become lighter.
Then again, it also wouldn’t be a surprise if Curry responds as he has throughout the season, playing through pain and then lighting up the scoreboard.
But as of now, there's no understanding to the extent of the injury. While Parker said after the game that he will play Sunday, Curry was receiving treatment on the ankle and did not address the media.
The remainder of the Warriors postseason may rely on the status of Curry's ankle. But even if he's a go, Curry will need to once again catch fire against a Spurs defense that has been quieting him.
If Curry can't find his way again, Golden State's postseason will give way to the Spurs' way of doing things.