Golden State Warriors Need More Than Stephen Curry's Heroics to Win in Playoffs

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Golden State Warriors Need More Than Stephen Curry's Heroics to Win in Playoffs
Danny Johnston

The Golden State Warriors need Stephen Curry to have a special series for them to do the same in their opening-round matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers.

That's not the Warriors' key to an upset victory, though. It's just one of a number of entries on the team's to-do list.

Curry's in-the-zone moments are mesmerizing. With 25-foot bombs, tear-drop floaters and everything in between, the sharpshooting point guard can—and does—score from anywhere on the floor.

The Warriors, understandably, look to ride his hot hand whenever it's available. Considering he's a .467/.440./.896 shooter for his career, that availability would be best characterized as often.

But Curry the scorer can't carry the Dubs to their third playoff series win since 1991 on his own shoulders. The matchup just won't allow it.

Not when Chris Paul, a five-time All-Defensive team selection, and Doc Rivers, as savvy a defensive coach as you'll find east of the Windy City, are standing in his path. Not when all five defenders on the floor keep Curry in check, jumping him on pick-and-rolls and physically challenging him at every opportunity:

The Warriors need more from Curry (19 points, 7.5 assists and 4.5 turnovers in the series), but he needs more out of them—a lot more.

Through the first two games, Golden State has four players averaging double figures. Two of them, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes, are shooting below 39 percent from the field.

Curry might have a superhuman shooting stroke, but this team has fallen apart when he's been forced to go hero-scorer mode:

Simplifying the attack plays right into the Clippers' hands.

L.A. has an above-average defensive efficiency against isolations (0.82 points per possession, 11th in the NBA), post-up plays (0.83, 10th) and pick-and-roll ball-handlers (0.70, second), via Synergy Sports (subscription required).

Where this team has struggled, though, is providing help and rotating correctly. This group has been gouged by pick-and-roll screeners (1.16, 29th), off-screen shooters (0.96, 23rd) and off-ball cutters (1.24, 20th).

The Warriors have all the pieces needed to exploit those areas. They have versatile roll men in David Lee and Draymond Green, knock-down shooters in Curry, Thompson and Steve Blake and explosive slashers in Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala.

The Clippers forcing the ball out of Curry's hands should be a good thing. He's a ready, willing and able passer, evidenced by the career-best 8.5 assists he averaged during the regular season (sixth most in the NBA).

In Saturday's 109-105 Warriors win, it was a good thing. His teammates worked to give him passing lanes when the Clippers' swarm closed in. Off the catch, those recipients were ready to attack, finding their own shot or whipping the ball around before the defense had time to recover.

Rotations broke down, and good shots selflessly became great ones.

Five different Warriors finished with double figures, eight had at least six points. Golden State had 26 assists on 40 made field goals (65 percent).

Heading into Game 2, Curry's teammates sounded ready to counterattack the barrage their All-Star point guard was sure to face, via Truehoop's Ethan Sherwood Strauss:

It sounded good—up until the opening tip.

Then, the Warriors looked shell-shocked, outclassed in a merciless 138-98 beating. Curry was human (24 points on 17 shots), his teammates were helpless (74 points on 59 field-goal attempts).

The energy was high, but the execution was atrocious.

"We came out with a sense of urgency, but nothing was clicking," Curry said, via Beth Harris of The Associated Press. "They just outplayed us from start to finish."

Golden State got double-digit efforts out of two of its five starters, including Lee (11 points), who was blocked on three of his eight field-goal attempts. The Warriors had 18 assists (two fewer than Paul and Darren Collison combined) on 36 makes (50 percent).

Curry had a cleaner floor game (eight assists, two turnovers) than the series opener (seven and seven), but he had no scorers to find. Thompson battled foul trouble, Iguodala couldn't find his shot on the rare moments he looked for it (four points, 2-of-6) and Lee seemed rattled by the awesome power of the Griffin Force.

Part of this falls on the game plan.

L.A.'s defense schematically swarmed the same way it had in Game 1, but it moved with a purpose. Those defensive breakdowns the Warriors had exposed never appeared. When they needed to manufacture a clean look, it seemed their arsenal was empty:

Curry knew he needed help and tried to get it. He entered intermission with four points and a single made field goal.

"I think it was a little bit of us, yeah," Rivers said about Curry's quiet start, via Tim Kawakami of Bay Area News Group. "But he also was trying to get his teammates involved."

The All-Star subsequently turned the third quarter into a personal highlight reel, but he found out what he already knew. It takes an army to topple a full-fledged contender like the Clippers:

The Warriors return to the Bay having stolen home-court advantage, but they bring more questions than answers to Oracle Arena.

Tight officiating has somewhat tied their hands, but an adjustment needs to be made to combat that issue. Already missing rim protector Andrew Bogut (out indefinitely with a rib fracture), the Warriors can ill afford another foul-shortened night by Iguodala or Thompson.

Someone needs to help ease Curry's scoring burden.

Lee needs to find confidence in his mid-range game to pull DeAndre Jordan (five blocks per game) away from the basket. Thompson has to make an impact inside the arc (26.7 percent shooting on two-point field goals). Iguodala and Barnes must aggressively attack the basket to keep the defense honest.

There are major defensive issues to addressBlake Griffin has scored 51 points (on 63.3 percent shooting) in 49 minutes—but this isn't a defensive series. Including the regular season, the winner of these teams' meetings has averaged 116.7 points (112.4 without L.A.'s Game 2 explosion).

That's good news for a team with a dynamic offensive weapon like Curry. As long as he's not the only piece of artillery, of course.

Golden State has an intriguing mix of shooters, distributors and slashers. Then again, it had those pieces (plus a healthy Bogut) all season and still produced rather underwhelming results (105.3 offensive rating, 12th overall).

Wasting those weapons didn't keep the Warriors from reaching this stage, but more of the same now could make this postseason appearance an abbreviated one.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.

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