When the Golden State Warriors are dialed in from distance, there is no good way to defend them.
We've all seen it before. Stephen Curry gets in his zone, fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson joins him and the defense's priority changes.
Suddenly, getting a stop is no longer important. At that point, the goal becomes simply making it out alive.
"Nothing you can do," Dwyane Wade said after Curry torched his Miami Heat for 36 points and eight triples earlier this season, per The Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "You contest it and hope he misses."
Golden State's gunners can leave defenses feeling awfully helpless. Curry is hitting 39.2 percent of his long-range looks, which puts him behind three of his teammates: Andre Iguodala (43.6), Thompson (41.8) and Harrison Barnes (41.7).
The Dubs get 8.5 triples a night out of that four-headed monster and 9.6 as a team (second overall). Their collective 39.0 percent success rate is third-best in the league.
The potential potency of this attack can cause some a sleepless night before a game and an even longer one the night of.
But there's a secret to this system. Golden State doesn't have any more control over this weapon than the defense does. Igniting these flames can be just as hard as controlling them.
The Warriors have made double-digit threes in 18 of their 41 games this season. The 23 games where they failed to hit that mark might not sound like much, but this is a team that averages 24.5 three-point attempts. A rough shooting night can easily become disastrous at this volume.
This kind of reliance on the three ball leaves such a razor-thin margin for error.
It's not just the difficulty of the shot itself.
It's the potential for long rebounds that become transition opportunities for the defense (Golden State is tied for the 16th-most fast-break points allowed at 13.4 per game, via TeamRankings.com). It's the string of empty one-shot possessions from having no one cleaning the offensive glass (the Warriors are fourth in overall rebound percentage but only 15th at the offensive end).
Jump-shooting teams can compete at the highest level, as long as there are other eggs in their baskets. That's where the Warriors have problems.
Bad things happen when this team struggles from distance. Or good things stop happening, rather. Whether for a lack of talent, discipline or focus (truthfully, it's a combination of the three), this offense self-destructs when its snipers stop hitting their marks.
Coach Mark Jackson puts an everything-must-go wrap around his offense when the three game isn't working. Ball movement, creativity, rim attacks—everything seems to leave at once.
If Jackson thinks he's spotted a mismatch, he'll go to all ends to try to exploit it. The problem is he doesn't have players built to consistently beat one-on-one matchups.
Whether he needs someone in the isolation or post-up game is moot. He doesn't have either one.
The Warriors have the 14th-most effective isolation game (0.81 points per possession), via Synergy Sports (subscription required). Their post-up offense is equally inept (0.83, 18th).
Golden State does two things really well: move its shooters and hit them with pinpoint passes. The Warriors hold top-five rankings in spot-up shots (1.11, first), shooters coming off screens (1.06, second) and off-ball cutters (1.26, fifth).
But that type of offense relies heavily on defensive breakdowns: blown coverage, missed assignment, late rotation, etc. When a defense plays it correctly and forces the Warriors to make a play, Golden State goes on a fruitless search for answers.
That's part of the reason they took a flier on well-traveled, four-year veteran guard Jordan Crawford. There's an individual creativity in his game that his new teammates don't share.
But he doesn't create the most efficient offense (career 40.4 field-goal percentage), nor pay much attention to the opposite end of the floor.
Still, the problem is bad enough the Warriors were willing to overlook his shortcomings. They know all too well they'll need to win games with something other than passing and shooting.
When those options have been taken away, the results haven't been pretty. The Dubs have the highest turnover rate in the league (17.0 per 100 possessions), thanks in no small part to their primary ball-handler, Curry (4.4 turnovers per game).
Those turnovers can open floodgates at the opposite end, and the strength of Golden State's defensive foundation has started to come into question of late.
"We've just got to compete better," Andrew Bogut said of his team's defense, via Jimmy Durkin of the Bay Area News Group. "There's no reason for alarm bells, but it's two games in a row where we've given up huge margins."
Maybe those alarm bells aren't ringing in the Bay just yet, but this team's sharpshooters can only keep them quiet for so long.
The Dubs might still have a championship run in them, but they have to evolve into true contenders.
There's an aggression to be found at both ends of the floor, a fluidity that cannot be sacrificed just because Jackson thinks he sees a size advantage, a dribble-drive game that can be used to both complement and elevate this long-range attack, not serve as a hurried, last-case resort when the shots aren't falling.
Even a group of marksmen as deep and talented as this will have its off-nights. The Dubs can't let those nights disrupt their path to the podium.
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