Warriors vs. Trail Blazers: How Portland’s poor defensive game plan led to Steph Curry’s 3-point explosion in Game 1

The Golden State Warriors had little trouble dispatching the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals on Tuesday night, pulling away in the fourth quarter for a 116-94 victory. Though the game wasn’t quite as lopsided as the final score may make it seem, the truth is that the Warriors were in cruise control for most of the second half.

Playing without Kevin Durant, who is still recovering from the strained calf he suffered during Game 5 of their second-round series against the Houston Rockets, the Warriors went back to the style that made everyone fall in love with this team in the first place: Steve Kerr put the ball in Steph Curry’s hands and let him run the show.

And man did Curry ever deliver. There’s been plenty of talk about Curry’s struggles this postseason, but he put together a brilliant performance in Game 1, finishing with 36 points, seven assists and six rebounds. He drained nine 3-pointers in the win — the most he’s made in a game this postseason — including two in the final minute of the second half that really swung the game in the Warriors’ favor.

For as well as Curry played though, he got plenty of help from the Blazers’ defensive game plan on the pick-and-roll. With no Durant, the Warriors ran countless PNRs with Curry, which is one of the most dangerous actions in the league. His shooting and passing ability in that much space puts immense pressure on opposing defenses.

Even though it puts you in rotation and may allow an open shot for someone else, you’re almost forced to trap him off the PNR just to get the ball out of his hands. Because if you decide to have the screener’s man drop, Curry is going to walk into open 3s all night long, as the Blazers found out firsthand in Game 1.

Watch the clip above and you’ll notice a pattern. As Curry comes off the screen, the Blazers’ big — often Enes Kanter — is nowhere to be seen. In the third clip, Kanter is closer to the charge circle than he is to Curry. 

Kanter dropped way into the paint as Curry launches another 3

And those are just the shots Curry made, there were a number of similar possessions where he had similar looks but couldn’t get them to go down.

Now, to be fair to the Blazers, they’re in a tough spot here. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum aren’t Eric Bledsoe-type guards who can power through screens, and Kanter is not a good defender. If they tried to have him switch or hard hedge it would be bad news, and the Warriors would have a good chance of getting an open shot. But that doesn’t mean the answer is to just plant him in the paint and let the Warriors play 2-on-1 off of these screens. Curry is the best shooter the game has ever seen, and you aren’t going to win giving him this many open looks.

The Warriors even took advantage of it with Curry moving off-ball as well, as Kanter was once again nowhere to be found after Curry ran off this screen.

After the game, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was a bit curt in his response when asked about his game plan, asking the reporter whether the Rockets were trapping Curry when he scored 33 in the second half against them in Game 6 last week. They were, and Curry is so good that he can go off like that even against good defense. But again, that doesn’t mean you need to go all-in on the opposite strategy and let him have wide open 3s all night long.

Stotts did close by saying, “we’ll look at that” in regards to having their bigs drop, so perhaps they’ll come out with a different look in Game 2. They better, otherwise they’re going to face another barrage of 3s from Curry. 

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