Welcome to “One Play!” Throughout the 2021-22 NBA season, our TSN Staff will break down certain possessions from certain games and peel back the curtains to reveal their bigger meaning.
Today, Warriors star Stephen Curry takes the spotlight.
Context: Curry came back down to earth in Game 5 of the 2022 NBA Finals.
After exploding for 43 points in Game 4, Curry had one of his lowest-scoring performances in the 2022 NBA Playoffs to the tune of 16 points. He missed 15 of his 22 shot attempts against the Celtics, including all nine of his 3-point attempts, bringing an end to one of his more impressive streaks.
As much as Curry struggled, his fingerprints were still all over the game. He made his greatest impact as a passer, dishing out a game-high eight assists while committing only one turnover.
There was one assist in particular that shed light on how Curry can break an elite defense even when he’s not scoring.
You know what that means — to the film room!
MORE: How Wiggins’ evolution has put Warriors within striking distance of title
Breakdown: Andrew Wiggins receives a pass from Curry with 13 seconds remaining on the shot clock and enters the ball to Kevon Looney in the post.
Despite his solid frame (6-9, 222 pounds), Looney hasn’t scored a single point in the post in the 2022 NBA Playoffs. Plus, he’s being defended by Robert Williams III, one of the best defenders at the center position. Looney trying to score on Williams probably wouldn’t end well for the Warriors.
Looney doesn’t even look at the basket. Instead, his eyes are glued to Curry, who receives a screen from Wiggins after he gives up the ball.
Curry is as good as it gets scoring in these situations. During the regular season, he scored a total of 269 points off screens. That was the most in the league — by a mile. (Jordan Poole had the second-highest total with 188.) Curry was rather efficient as well, ranking in the 68th percentile with an average of 1.05 points per possession.
Not wanting him to get a clean look, Jayson Tatum fights over Wiggins’ screen. The problem? Curry is able to create some separation, so Al Horford has to step up.
(Worth noting: Curry was 0-for-6 from 3-point range at this point of the game.)
Curry is swarmed by Horford and Tatum before he can think about taking a shot. Mission accomplished, right? Not so much.
Wiggins is now alone and has a runway to the basket.
Williams and Jaylen Brown slide over to contest his shot, but Wiggins slices his way to the basket and does his best Michael Jordan impression.
Why it matters: Yes, we’re talking about Curry’s gravity again.
Curry had a miserable game by his standards, and yet the Warriors still scored at a rate of 118.7 points per 100 possessions with him on the court. In the 11 minutes he was on the bench, Golden State’s offensive rating plummeted to 68.2.
You don’t want to take too much away from such a small sample size, but those numbers speak to how valuable Curry is even when he’s having an off night.
That dime to Wiggins wasn’t a one-off, either. Curry recorded six of his eight assists in the second half, each of which came in a similar fashion with him drawing the attention of multiple defenders and making the Celtics pay by finding the open man.
Gary Payton II doesn’t set a screen here, but Tatum still tries to trap Curry.
Payton does set a screen this time, and Curry is immediately met by three defenders.
Tatum and Brown jumping out at Curry leads to an open shot for Jordan Poole, who has connected on 39.2 percent of his 3-point attempts in the postseason.
This was another impressive finish from Wiggins, but four defenders end up with a foot in the paint on Curry’s drive.
Curry was asked after the game if going 0-for-9 from deep bothers him. “Of course,” he responded, before talking about how important it is for him to continue finding ways to make an impact when his shot isn’t falling.
“I remember the first game of the year, against the Lakers, I had a very similar shooting night, but impacted the game other ways,” Curry said. “And I remember I said I played horrible, but I had to redefine what that looked like in terms of make the right play, keep things simple.
“And the fact everybody stepped up — Wiggs, JP, Klay hit some big shots, Draymond found his life and his spirit and the way he impacts the game. We could withstand going 9-for-40 as a team and me 0-for-9 and still come away with a win.
“Obviously, track record says I shoot the ball better the next game. Looking forward to that bounce-back.”
Curry’s ability to bend defenses even when he’s not canning 30-footers is a big reason why he’s one of the more impactful players this league has ever seen.