Countless times this season, Steph Curry ascended from All-Star-level basketball to a realm of excellence that was almost spiritual. When he was in one of his zones, bombing 3-pointers from anywhere on the court and turning around before the ball goes in (as if he had preordained its flight path), it was close to a religious experience. For two straight seasons, Curry has done things on the basketball court that no one has ever done before.
We’ve grown accustom to his greatness, so when it suddenly dries up, it’s jarring.
That’s exactly what happened in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals on Tuesday night. Curry shot 6-of-20, including 2-of-10 from beyond the arc. That second stat is the most confounding. The space beyond the 3-point line is Curry’s home. It’s been his comfort zone for hundreds of games. But last night, it was as if someone changed the locks and refused to give Curry the new key.
The Thunder’s defense was the culprit, the lock-changers if you will, though not in the way you might expect. For 65 percent of his shots, Curry was “open” or “wide open,” per nba.com. He shot 0-for-3 on wide-open shots, when the closest defender was 6 feet away or farther, and just 4-for-10 on open shots, when a defender was within 4-6 feet.
So what happened?
The Thunder worked their voodoo magic on Curry between his shots, especially when he was trying to run around screens to free himself up. OKC was as physical with the MVP as any team has been all year, and it frustrated him. The play above is the perfect example of how the Thunder treated Curry when he didn’t have the ball. As Curry tries to run around a screen set by Festus Ezili, Randy Foye is in hot pursuit. As soon as Thunder big man Steven Adams recognizes where Curry is trying to go, he steps in and halts Curry’s movement, giving him an arm bar and forcing him back up to the 3-point line. Curry and Ezili try their two-man game again, but this time Foye passes Curry off to Andre Roberson, and when Curry scampers around the screen, Adams joins a second later to double-team him.
The frustration on Curry’s face is manifest, and his body language, throwing his hands up in the air in disgust, tells you all you need to know about his mindset. The Thunder suffocated Curry off the ball all night, and when he did find airspace, his shot was completely off. This wasn’t the only reason Curry had one of this worst games in two seasons. A nagging knee injury may have played a role. But the Thunder’s physical play and refusal to let Curry traverse the court without impediment clearly affected him, and now the Warriors are on the brink of elimination.