On paper, the Toronto Raptors did their job in limiting Stephen Curry in Game 2 of the Finals. In 40 minutes of play, he scored 23 points - his lowest output in almost a month - on an uncharacteristic 6-for-17 shooting from the field.
Curry didn't even set his teammates up for many scoring opportunities, finishing the game with four assists, the least among Golden State's starters.
And yet, the Warriors were at their best offensively with him on the court, largely because Curry was able to find ways to punish the Raptors for the aggressive way in which they were defending him for most of the game. Not as a scorer or passer, but as a screener.
GAME 2: Takeaways | Player Grades
Similar to Game 1, Toronto made sure there was a defender glued to Curry's hip at all times in Game 2. You can see it clearly on this possession from Golden State's historic third-quarter run, as Danny Green was focused entirely on him, following Curry step-for-step as he made his way from the baseline to the opposite elbow:
Once Curry got to the elbow, he set a back screen on Kawhi Leonard for Draymond Green, who cut to the basket and received a pass from Klay Thompson for a wide open layup.
Curry has long been one of the NBA's best screeners because his defender is often reluctant to leave him for obvious reasons - being the most versatile shooter in the league, he's always a threat to score and needs very little space to get his shot off. Warriors head coach Steve Kerr put it well in the 2015 Western Conference Finals, when Curry's screening was once again a topic of conversation.
"The thing with great shooters is often times they make the best screeners," Kerr said. "So it's just something we've done - we have a lot of plays where both Steph and Klay set back screens and then come off down screens.
"It's nothing complicated ... Defenders are afraid to leave Steph, as they should be because he's coming off screens constantly. If we can get an angle then every once in awhile we can pop somebody loose when Steph sets a screen."
It doesn't even matter that Curry isn't particularly big or strong, especially when compared to the players he usually screens. With the amount of attention he draws, him simply functioning as a roadblock tends to be enough for someone like Leonard, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, to lose track of their assignment.
Green's layup wasn't the only time a screen from Curry led to a high percentage look for the Warriors in Game 2. According to NBA.com, he had a game-high four screen assists - something you'd expect to see from a 7-footer, not a player Curry's size - leading to eight points for the Warriors. It might not sound like much in the big scheme of things, but considering Golden State won by only five points and three of those screen assists led directly to a layup or dunk, they were costly breakdowns for the Raptors.
That doesn't take these sequences into account, either, in which Curry's gravity opened up opportunities for others:
Not only did Curry's screen help Green get downhill, Fred VanVleet didn't want to leave him to close out on Quinn Cook, a career 41.8 percent shooter from 3-point range, as the play unfolded.
The obvious solution is to switch anything involving Curry, but what makes his screens so difficult to game plan for is how opportunistic they are. He disguises them well, waiting until the last second to throw his body into an unsuspecting defender. Before the opposing team knows what's going on, it's often too late to do anything.
It helps, of course, having DeMarcus Cousins on the court as opposed to Kevon Looney or Jordan Bell. Not only does Cousins give the Warriors another player who can score from inside and out, he's one of the better passers at the centre position.
The combination opens up the paint for the likes of Green, Thompson and Shaun Livingston to make those back-breaking backdoor cuts off of Curry's screens.
With how important Curry's screens were to Golden State's success in Game 2, the Raptors will likely be better prepared for them in Game 3, when they look to regain homecourt advantage in the series.
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