For the first three games of the NBA Finals, League MVP Stephen Curry was, dare we say, pedestrian. In Game 2, he shot just 5-of-23 from the field, hounded by Matthew Dellavedova and a Cleveland Cavaliers defense whose first priority was to deny Curry the ball. Visible frustration set in, leading Curry to force shots because he wasn’t getting the number of touches he wanted.
Taking away the star player’s greatest strength is an oft-used strategy, especially in the NBA Playoffs when each game and possession is magnified. You saw it again in Game 4, when the Golden State Warriors began to double-team LeBron James in the post, something they had not previously done in the series. It led to turnovers by James and threw the Cavaliers’ offensive plan out of whack.
So what can you do as a basketball player when the defense’s primary goal is to take away what you do best? Alan Stein, founder of Stronger Team and a basketball trainer who has worked with countless NBA players, says it’s important to stay in the moment.
“You know when you have a pesky defender on you who does all of the little things you hate? Those are the toughest guys to play against,” Stein says.”You just have to stay present. You can’t worry about the last play. If you missed a shot or took a bad shot, or you think your defender took a cheap shot but nobody called it, you’ve got to wipe that from your memory bank and focus on the next play. Any time you have something new thrown at you, don’t force the action.”
Curry stayed the course, and it worked out wonderfully. He dropped 37 points in a crucial Game 5 win that has the Warriors poised to hoist their first Larry O’Brien trophy in 40 years. Curry’s been able to work his way back to the spots where he likes to shoot the ball and get himself back into a rhythm. The Warriors’ offensive game plan has helped him too, working Curry around more screens to ensure the ball gets into his hands as much as possible.
“Curry is usually one of the best guys in the league in letting [the game] come to him,” Stein says. “[But early on in the series], he tried to force the action. He will have a quiet night when he doesn’t need to be a star, but when there’s a night when they need him or he’s got to go in and he’s in rhythm, he can score 40 points at will.”
After playing outside himself early in the NBA Finals, Curry returned to what he does best: shooting in rhythm, using his amazing handles to open up space on the floor to take his shots, and using screens to free himself up.