Why Steph Curry Torched Celtics Early And How Boston Was Able To Adjust

Curry scored just 13 points after the first quarter


June 3

It was an inauspicious start to Game 1 of the NBA Finals for the Celtics, thanks solely to Stephen Curry.

The Warriors sharpshooter opened the championship round with a bang, making an NBA-record six 3-pointers as part of a 21-point performance in the opening frame. Boston ultimately withstood the early haymaker from Curry and Golden State before roaring back and stealing Game 1 behind a historic fourth-quarter performance of their own.

And despite the 21 first-quarter points, Curry ended the night with “only” 34, as Boston got its act together on the defensive end.

So, how did Curry get so many good looks, and how did Boston adjust? The Celtics’ early issues were in part due to a decision to deploy drop coverage on high screens. Far too often in the first quarter, Boston’s defense was passive on those screens, as they seemingly failed to execute on each. Even when they tried to fight through screens, the screener’s defender often dropped down underneath the 3-point line, which allowed Curry way too many open looks from deep.

And then sometimes, they just flat-out lost Curry, which is inexcusable given, well, everything.

Even in that video, Curry’s first 3-point attempt — a miss — you can see the Celtics’ apparent early strategy. Marcus Smart picked up his defense on Curry 8 feet beyond the 3-point line, which is where Andrew Wiggins set the screen. Wiggins’ defender, Robert Williams, dropped down below the 3-point line which left Curry a wide-open 3-pointer from the top of the arc. He missed the shot before ultimately getting another look that he buried after Golden State secured the offensive rebound.

In hindsight, this tidbit from HoopStudent.com’s explanation of drop coverage is rather humorous: “The best time to consider using the drop coverage against pick and roll offensive action is when the screener and/or the player with the ball (i.e. the ball handler) are not good perimeter shooters.”

Curry is the best perimeter shooter of all time.

Naturally, it was Marcus Smart who gave his Celtics teammates a reality check and a reminder of what they needed to do.

“This isn’t the Heat series,” a mic’d-up Smart told his teammates during a timeout, as seen and heard on the ABC telecast. “We can’t start back, you have to start up, especially if they’re setting it so high. You start up and drop because we’re chasing, now he goes down into the paint.”

Eventually, the Celtics made that adjustment, and Curry was held scoreless in the second quarter and had just four fourth-quarter points on 2-of-6 shooting, missing the only 3-point attempt he took. In addition to the strategic adjustment, Boston also changed things up from a personnel perspective. The Celtics had success with a smaller lineup that saw guards Derrick White and Payton Pritchard get some extended run late in the game.

“I think our reads, our switches were aggressive,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka explained after the game. “At times, some of our bigger guys were getting caught too low, especially when Curry was getting going early. We wanted to go to a smaller unit, kind of get more aggressive on the ball. A lot of small-small. We did some pre-switching to keep the bigs out of the actions and took some time off the clock.”

It also helps that the Celtics have multiple defenders who can handle a variety of roles.

“This is what we rely on all year, our one-on-one defense,” Udoka said. “Guys really clamped in a little bit better, more physicality, more awareness on their shooters taking up some space. Seemed like that seemed to wear them down a little bit. But we pride ourselves on guys having to beat us one-on-one all night. Although (Curry) had 34, only 13 after the first quarter, so did a decent job after that.”

There’s certainly room for improvement, though, and the Celtics also know Steve Kerr and the Warriors will try something new in Game 2 when the chess match resumes.

Boston Celtics center Al Horford
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