Breaking Down OKC’s Defense Against Steph Curry
The Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors will face off tonight in a much anticipated Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals. After Oklahoma City shocked the San Antonio Spurs last round, they have kept up the momentum and hold a 3-2 series lead over the Warriors. A big game for the Thunder was winning Game 4 when Golden State was looking to tie the series at 2-2. Winning this game has put a lot of pressure on Steve Kerr’s Warriors and now to dig themselves out of a monstrous hole Steph Curry will have to lead his team to 3 consecutive wins. The Warriors won game 5 in Oakland, but will face an even tougher matchup going back to Oklahoma City for game 6.
Game 4 was tough for Steph Curry and the Warriors. The final score ended at OKC 118 and Golden State 94. The Warriors had terrible second and fourth quarters scoring only 12 points in the fourth quarter. As a team, Golden State was held to 41.2% shooting and 30.0% from 3-point range. Billy Donovan has done a great job making defensive adjustments against Steve Kerr and forcing the Warriors to play out of their typical style. The Warriors had 21 turnovers to only 15 assists in Game 4 and only had three players score in double figures for the game (Klay Thompson – 26, Steph Curry – 19, and Harrison Barnes – 11). Compare this to six Oklahoma City players who scored more than 10 points (Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, Russell Westbrook, and Dion Waiters).
In the video below, you will see how the Thunder made adjustments to Golden State’s offense and specific strategies for guarding Steph Curry. OKC used hard hedges on ball-screens, kept contact with Steph off the ball, switched ball-screens and off-ball screens, and sped Curry up the entire game not allowing him to get in rhythm.
Hard Hedge on Ball-Screens
The Warriors like to run ball-screen for Curry, so Bill Donovan decided to hard hedge on a lot of the actions. In the diagram below, Steven Adams hard hedges and chases Curry to the corner almost trapping with Westbrook. The hard hedge by OKC’s bigs makes it tough when Curry is dribbling to the corner as it doesn’t leave much room to make a play. In this particular play, Draymond Green stays put at the top of the key letting Durant help off on Bogut after he sets the ball-screen. In Game 5, the Warriors did a much better job creating actions on the weak side so that the other 3 players aren’t just standing and watching Steph get trapped.
Contact Off the Ball
Maybe the most effective tactic for Oklahoma City is the constant contact that the Thunder kept on Steph Curry in Game 4. Whether hedging or switching, whoever was guarding Curry had an arm (or two) on him. This made it difficult for Curry to cut freely and didn’t allow him to get any space on screens (especially when OKC switched on the actions). In the diagrams below, you can see the close proximity that Roberson and Ibaka keep with Curry when he is off the ball (even if the ball is on the other side of the floor). In the video, you can see many actions where Steph was arguably fouled, but OKC knows that the officials cannot call fouls on this contact on every play so they have been taking their chances and it proved to work in Game 4.
Switching (Ball-Screens and Off-Ball Screens)
The Thunder switched almost everything with Steph (ball-screens and off-ball screens). Switching so often and with all five players requires a tremendous amount of communication, and Coach Donovan did a great job coaching the bigs through the switches. Even when Adams or Ibaka got singled up on Steph, they stayed put and contested the shot making it hard for Steph to get anything easy. Steven Adams is very effective at guarding one on one, and may prove to be the key factor in shutting down Curry.
In the diagram below, it shows Steph Curry coming off of a staggered screen and the Thunder switching on the action (x2 takes 3, x3 takes 4, and x4 takes Curry cutting to the wing). When ran effectively, it closes up any openings for Curry to catch the ball.
Contesting With Multiple Players
It seems that when in doubt, the Thunder jump at Steph’s shots (even on a shot fake). This has been working well, especially with Adams and Ibaka using their length to give Curry fits. In Game 4, Steph was not shooting well after the first contested shot and didn’t take the mid range jump shots after getting the Thunder to bite on the shot fake. It’s a good strategy, as Bill Donovan would rather live with Steph shooting 2’s rather than 3’s.
Making it Tough at the Rim
Even more frustrating for Steph in Game 4 was that when he got to the rim there were Thunder players there making it tough to finish around the basket. Steph was obviously out of his normal game, but the pressure put on by OKC can’t be denied. In Game 5, Curry was much more confident around the rim. In Game 6, OKC will need to get to Curry’s confidence early to make him second guess on his close proximity shots.
Speeding Steph Up
The defensive strategies used by Oklahoma City sped Steph up to an uncomfortable level. In the video, you can see rushed and hurried shots that Curry is usually comfortable in taking. However, it also seemed that there were times when Steph could have slowed down and made the shots easier, but the Thunder were effective in speeding up his actions.
Actions that Should Work for the Warriors
Even with the relatively bad game, Curry scored 19 points and had opportunities to score even more. For the Warriors to win, they need consistent contributions from the other players on the team (especially Barnes, Bogut, Green, and Igoudala). Without this help, too much pressure if put on Klay and Steph to take over. The team with more balance will be able to win Game 6 tonight.
A play that worked well against OKC’s switching is shown in the diagram below. Curry sets a ball-screen and Bogut sets a screen on the roll for Steph. The quick-paced combination screening make it tough to keep up with Steph (especially when it is a big trying to get to the corner to guard the shot). I expect to see more combination actions from the Warriors in Game 6.