The Celtics threw everything at Stephen Curry in the NBA Finals, and the Warriors star still destroyed them
Stephen Curry is the greatest shooter that the NBA has ever seen. The Warriors extended their dynasty, winning their fourth title in eight years behind his transcendent talent. Some of the best coaches in the world have been trying to game plan a way around his offense ever since the Warriors started their run in 2015. No one has found a solution.
And yet, rather than soaking in Curry’s greatness after another phenomenal Finals performance, there were still criticisms before, during and after the games expressing frustration with how the Celtics didn’t guard him correctly or make enough adjustments.
Here is the God’s honest truth: There is no way to guard Curry. He is simply unstoppable. If a magical, game-changing adjustment could neutralize him, it would have already been discovered by now.
Those constant calls for adjustments deny the brilliance staring us all right in the face. Curry is going to figure out a way to beat every single defense that teams try against him. The Celtics threw the kitchen sink at him in Game 6. They executed their game plan well — and it didn’t matter.
Former NBA video coordinator and assistant coach Steve Jones said it best on his most recent episode of “The Dunker Spot” podcast with Basketball News’ Nekias Duncan.
“Think about the matchup of Marcus Smart and Derrick White trying to hound you, as well as having length and size to try and bother you, and Boston trying all of the defensive coverages,” Jones said. “And after every clip, it was like, ‘Why would you do that? You left too much space for Steph Curry. You gotta get up higher. You can’t switch without giving more support.’
“Think about how good you have to be to make a team like that that cycle through so many defensive coverages over the course of six games, knowing they don’t want to. And you made them.”
Of all the teams that the Warriors have faced in the past eight years, the Celtics possessed the defensive unit perhaps best designed to stop Curry. Their top-tier athleticism and switchablity were (on paper) great ways to deal with the Warriors’ movement-heavy offensive system. They had the 2021-22 Defensive Player of the Year in Smart to guard Curry, and five other Celtics players earned All-Defensive Team votes.
The Warriors adjusted by tinkering with their offense and having Curry run more high pick-and-rolls in the Finals. Giving Curry the ball more worked beautifully. He shredded one of the best defenses in recent NBA history, averaging 31.2 points on 48.2 percent shooting from the field, 43.7 percent from deep and 85.7 percent from the line.
There was no coverage that the Celtics could have employed to stop this from happening. They know because they tried. They began the series by dropping their big men against Curry. That approach was heavily criticized, so they tried that and everything else in Game 6.
They started by hedging Al Horford on Curry ball screens. That didn’t work. How about dropping and peel switching? Nope. There were many calls to trap Curry, sending two defenders at him and forcing him to give up the ball. That was a total failure. How about ignoring Draymond Green and sending help off him? Nope. Pulling in help early to stop his drives? Curry punished that by setting up open 3-pointers.
Eventually, the Celtics cycled through all of these options again. Blitzing. Ignoring Green. Going back to a shallow drop. Hoping that Smart could stop Curry one-on-one. Switching Horford onto Curry. Switching with Horford, then double-teaming Curry. Face-guarding him.
Curry beat all of them.
The Celtics had the best perimeter defender in the league, according to media voters. Curry drove right past Smart like he wasn’t even there.
And at the end of the day, you can’t stop these types of plays.
Curry cemented his legacy by finally winning his first Finals MVP, not that he needed it to prove his greatness. He showed once again that he is one of the most gifted players of all time.
The Celtics’ defense didn’t fail. Curry just beat them.