NBA playoffs: Stephen Curry’s impact as facilitator just as important as scorer in Warriors’ postseason run

May 05, 2023 in Sports

The last time Stephen Curry faced a gotta-have-it game, he blitzed his opponent into oblivion, attacking until submission.

It’s understandable the Los Angeles Lakers would be expecting that from him in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals, an unrelenting show in an act of early desperation.

What the Lakers experienced was something eerily similar to their great lineage, although they probably weren’t at all pleased to be on the other end of such a night.

You might as well call him Magic Curry, at least for a night, and even he had to chuckle at the reference. He played conductor as his Golden State Warriors tied the series at one game each with a resounding 127-100 win at the Chase Center on Thursday night.

Somewhere along the way, they bottled up Anthony Davis and survived an early LeBron James barrage without looking worse for wear.

Curry didn’t resort to playing a prototypical point guard style because his shot wasn’t working; he seemed intent on being brilliant in ways beyond the usual, dishing out 12 assists and downright controlling the game in the ways the great floor generals have done this time of year.

It isn’t necessarily a criticism of Curry that he doesn’t fit the mold of Magic Johnson or Isiah Thomas, but his shooting has always obscured his other skills and is what this team has consistently been built around.

“I mean the labels and all that stuff, I don’t ever get into just because labels usually demean or kind of trying to bottle up greatness,” said Curry, who scored 20 on 7-of-12 shooting. “So like I said, we do it a lot of different ways. I tried to do it a lot of different ways, however you want to describe it or label it doesn’t matter to me.”

Curry’s in the “whatever it takes” spot of his career now. If it requires 50 on the road, he’ll do it. If it means his mild-mannered approach has to go to the side to call out his teammates before a deciding game, so be it.

“I thought Steph was brilliant. In the first half, he wasn’t really going like offensively but he was just running our team, and Klay [Thompson] got it going,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Our defense was kind of fueling our offense, and we connected the game really well.”

So playing facilitator (just three turnovers) goes right in line with that mantra, and he hasn’t yet had an explosive game — one assumes one such instance will occur in Los Angeles over the weekend.

Curry didn’t hit the double-figure mark until midway through the third, and by that point it was turning into a runaway. The Warriors took a 7-point deficit and overwhelmed the Lakers in the second and third, outscoring them by 37.

If there is a difference in this series, one where the margins are thin, the Warriors can run away and hide in ways the Lakers can’t. And given the plethora of wide-open shots the Lakers gave the Warriors, it’s more than cause for concern headed into Games 3 and 4.

Shooting 21-of-42 from 3 isn’t easy to duplicate, but it’s not impossible if the opponent has been run ragged.

“Obviously a great percentage, but I think the percentage was a reflection of the clean looks we were getting,” Kerr said. “The fact that the guys weren’t forcing anything. The ball was moving. They were just moving it to the open guy.”

Thompson emerged from what he believed was a bad series opener and put on a show that’s usually reserved for a Game 6, hitting eight triples on his way to a 30-point night

The Warriors pushed the pace, running after misses and makes, using their overall team speed to wear down the Lakers. JaMychal Green was a surprise starter after Kevon Looney came down with illness some two hours before the game.

The floor was spread even more; he hit three triples in 12 impactful minutes and scored 15. Whether by accident or intention, it was a wrinkle Kerr had in his back pocket, and the Lakers didn’t treat this Green like a near-40% 3-point shooter; they treated him like the other Green, Draymond.

That Green took his assignment on Davis to heart, and Davis looked out of sorts early after his historic 30-20 performance in Game 1.

Davis has usually followed up great scoring performances with average ones, but he’s always been a strong, sneering presence on the defensive end. That wasn’t nearly the case here, but the dam opening started when he took a seat in the first half.

James broke from his playoff showings to hit everything on the perimeter early, including a buzzer-beating triple where he barely took a glimpse at the rim before the heave. He finished with 23, but only 2 came after halftime when the game got away very quickly.

It’s fairly obvious Laker fortunes rise and fall with Davis’ consistency, and all things considered, he hasn’t put up many real stinkers.

But the Lakers are so dependent on him, they completely fall apart if he’s not having a game or simply is taking a break. Putting up 11 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists just won’t cut it.

“You can play that same defense and he can have a great game and that’s why he’s great and that’s why he’s been great for this long,” Green said. “When you try to make him do things on our terms, make it a little bit tougher.”

The game was played on Green’s terms all night. As expected, he showed up motivated after the stinker in Game 1 and a film session with assistant coach Chris DeMarco — who showed him defensive clips that didn’t look like the Draymond Green who plays championship defense.

He was disruptive, but it didn’t lead to out-of-character play or wild turnovers. It was played tight — not nervous, but with an appropriate focus that’s required for every postseason game.

Green was an assist away from a triple-double with 11 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists and paired well with the resurgent Moses Moody, who took full advantage of his minutes.

Curry mentioned his aunt sends him “amazing stuff” between games and said she brings up the Rubik’s Cube.

“It starts at a different place and you’re always trying to figure it out,” Curry said. “And that’s the beauty of basketball and the way that you see it. I love that part of the game.”

And he made sure to let everyone know he has plenty of tools in the bag left to use this series, including the one most expect from him.

“I look to shoot, too.”