Don’t always believe it when NBA players and their head coaches speak of injuries. It’s all about perception, and when Tony Parker leads the San Antonio Spurs to a huge win in Game 5 while making Stephen Curry (with the help of others) look like someone who doesn’t really know what he’s doing for once, the injury card for Curry suddenly becomes a lot more significant, trying to make us forget the point guard in front of him is older and just as injured.
It’s hard to say the Spurs did something different, but they did start off with Tony Parker on Curry for a long stretch, and the Warriors’ star couldn’t get it going. Danny Green was there on switches, and the Spurs kept on being physical and bumping Curry, who never got in any kind of rhythm, unable to hit multiple shots throughout the game. He finished with 4-14 from the field, scoring only 9 points, as most of the shots he took were bad ones, having someone towering over him or putting a hand in his face, most of the time it being Kawhi Leonard or Danny Green with the help.
On the other side, Tony Parker stopped trying to hit jumpers, and went to what he does better than anyone in the league – score of the pick & roll. Parker finished the game with 25 points and 10 assists, as 10 of those points came off the pick & roll as a ball handler, and four more assists came that way, leading to another 11 points by his teammates.
Attacking Curry was also what they did so well all throughout the game, and not just Parker. Similar to what the Spurs love to do against Russell Westbrook when they play the Thunder, they were very aggressive with their screens on Curry, making it a vexing and physically demanding night for him on both ends of the floor, taking him out of the game through frustration when the plan works well. They scored a total of 30 points with Curry as the on-ball defender, doubling (1.58 points per possession) their efficiency on such plays compared to the rest of the series, as the Spurs kept putting bigger men (Leonard and Green) in the situation in which Curry was helpless in defending on them.
It also comes down to making shots. The Spurs have been quite bad with it during the series, but they finally got going in game 5, leading to the huge 109-91 win. The Warriors have been winning with tough shots and great defense, but the Spurs had wins within their in both of their losses. Suddenly, shooting 51.9% from the field, including 7 of 8 for Leonard, scoring 17 points, and there seems to be quite a huge difference between the teams. The Warriors looked exhausted and hurt, and couldn’t find that energy boost they have at home to pick them up defensively.
The Spurs moved the ball better than before, and maybe that’s where the secret to success resides. Hardly any post up plays or isolation (combining for 15% of their offense), but mostly excellent passing, leading to 30 assists on their 40 made field goals, leading to plenty of open shots, scoring 1.43 points per possession on spot up shooting.
In a series that seems to be about making the most of energy spurts, the Warriors turned up empty in Game 5. Relying on their home crowd to pick them up instead of devising the right kind of defense and effort on it isn’t the smartest thing in the world, and finding ways to help Stephen Curry on both ends of the floor might be the most useful of them all.