In Curry vs. James, defense cannot rest
Preeminent players are huge challenge to contain
Both teams in the NBA Finals face a monumental challenge: How do they prevent Golden State’s Stephen Curry or Cleveland’s LeBron James from taking control of the series?
The early plans are for the Warriors and the Cavaliers to rotate several defenders to try to limit the damage of the two immense talents.
A few day ago, James was asked for his assessment on how to slow down Curry. “The same way you slow me down,” James told reporters in Cleveland. “You can’t.”
Curry was also asked about James. “We have to be locked in and focused,” Curry told reporters in Oakland. “All five guys on the f loor.”
Game 1 of the Finals is Thursday night in
During the regular season, Curry was the obvious target of opposing defenses most nights, but the MVP award winner has been even better in the playoffs, averaging 29.2 points per game.
As for James, now in his 12th season, no defensive scheme seems to limit him for long. This postseason, James is averaging 27.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and 8.3 assists.
“I say this for both players: It’s easier said than done,” TNT analyst Reggie Miller said. “If that was the case, one wouldn’t be a fourtime MVP and the other one just wouldn’t have gotten the MVP award.”
Miller and fellow Hall of Fame player Charles Barkley offered completely different ideas on how to defend the 6-foot-8, 250-pound James.
“I would force LeBron left and force him to shoot jumpers,” said Barkley, a TNT studio analyst.
“He loves to go left and step back,” Miller said. “So I would force him right.”
Miller described Curry as a “magician” with the basketball who “outside of Kobe Bryant is probably the best bad shot-maker” in the game.
Curry’s quick release drives defenders crazy. He can get his shot off the dribble, running off screens, with hands in his face and he can strike from anywhere on the court.
“As much as it pains me, I think you have to make Steph a driver,” Miller said. “And, yes, he can make those crazy one-handed, Steve Nash-type shots. But what would you rather have? Would you rather him coming off screens and knocking down threes? Or taking short twos in the paint?”
Miller may be on to something.
In 15 playoff games, Curry leads the league in threepointers attempted with 167, while making 73 of them (or 43.7%). That means exactly half of Curry’s points this postseason have come from beyond the arc.
The Cavaliers will use multiple defenders on Curry, from James to guards Iman Shumpert, Kyrie Irving and Matthew Dellavedova.
“The thing with Steph is that you can never relax and you have to always be aware,” Cleveland associate head coach Tyronn Lue said. “You can’t never turn your head. You’ve got to be locked into Steph Curry, because one mistake and he’s going to make you pay. He’s a great player and he’s going to score points, but you can’t gift him points.”
Most teams try to make James into a jump-shooter and limit his drives.
His 280 two-point attempts in the playoffs this spring are the most of any player, and he made 48.9% of them. But James has taken only 68 three-pointers, making just 12 for a playoff career-low 17.6%.
The Warriors will rely on forwards Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green, plus guards Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson to defend James.
“You’ve got a better chance of beating them with [James] getting 40 points than him getting 28 [points], 13 [rebounds] and 12 [assists],” Warriors associate head coach Alvin Gentry said. “But he is a player who is going to do the right thing and he’s going to make the right play.”