Golden State Warriors

Stephen Curry has put his own flare on one of the oldest tricks in the book

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Stephen Curry (Getty Images)

The Pelicans did what they were supposed to: Jrue Holiday ran Stephen Curry off the 3-point line off of a scrambled play in transition and funnelled him towards Anthony Davis standing underneath the basket. If Curry was going to score, he'd have to settle for a midrange pull-up with Holiday hot in pursuit or a contested layup over one of the best shot blockers in the NBA, neither being particularly good options, not even for someone as versatile and skilled as Curry.

So instead of forcing a tough shot over a pair of All-NBA defenders, Curry kept the possession alive by kicking the ball out to Andre Iguodala, Golden State's de facto power forward in the "Hamptons Five" lineup who made 28.2 percent of his 3-point attempts this season, standing on the perimeter. With it being too good of a look to pass up on, Holiday and Davis turned their attention to Iguodala as he squared up to the basket for what would've been his first 3-point attempt of the night.

It was then, however, that Curry made the Pelicans pay for assuming what was coming next.

With Holiday and Davis staring directly at Iguodala, the two-time MVP sprinted to the corner and made himself available for a pass. Curry received the ball from Iguodala, looked at the basket for nearly two seconds while the Pelicans wondered how they lost scariest 3-point shooter in NBA history and knocked down a shot he makes almost half of the time. It was a defensive breakdown you'd expect to see from the Suns, not one of the more capable defensive teams in the league.

Only the Pelicans aren't the first team to completely lose track of Curry. The Warriors star scored in the same way multiple times in the Western Conference Finals against an even better defensive unit. As soon as the Rockets thought they had done their job in keeping Curry out of the paint, he would give up the ball and sprint towards an opening on the perimeter for a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer.

There were times when Curry's teammates would help him get open by setting a screen on his defender as he made his way to the corner...

...but it wasn't always necessary.

Those plays are a perfect example of what makes Curry one of scariest scorers the NBA has ever seen. While he's known more for his ability to create his own shot off the dribble - Curry made 57.0 percent of his 2-point pull-ups and 41.0 percent of his 3-point pull-ups this season, marks few players could match - he's equally as devastating without the ball in his hands. According to NBA.com, Curry converted 43.9 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-pointers during the regular season, which helped him rank near the top of the league in scoring efficiency off of screens, spot-ups and handoffs.

The combination means teams have to stay attached to his hip at all times, both when he has the ball in his hands and when he's running around the court without it like a smaller Klay Thompson. If they don't stay glued to him, Curry will keep moving until something becomes available. If they do, it'll create a scoring opportunity for someone else.

The latter became a factor in the Western Conference Finals, with the Rockets relying on their switch-heavy scheme to limit Curry's open looks off-ball. It worked to some degree - Houston successfully lured Golden State into playing more 1-on-1 basketball than they did during the regular season - and yet Curry's gravity was still at the root of a number of backbreaking plays.

One of those plays came in the closing minutes of Game 7. Looking to extend the Warriors' lead to double-figures, Curry found himself in a familiar situation, only this time the Rockets did everything they could to prevent him from breaking free by having Eric Gordon go underneath Draymond Green's screen and James Harden switch off of Green and onto Curry. In doing so, Green was left alone for a split-second, setting up a chain reaction that ended with Klay Thompson draining an uncontested 3-pointer from the corner opposite to Curry.

Curry didn't get any credit for Thompson's basket, but he was the reason the Rockets forgot about the second-best shooter in the league on one of the most important possessions of the game.

There's no doubt the Rockets could've defended the possession better. Had Gordon and Harden been on the same page, they would've switched assignments sooner and lived with Gordon guarding Green in the post and Harden guarding Curry on the perimeter. It might not have been enough for the Rockets to stop the Warriors from scoring entirely, but it would've eaten into the shot clock and forced someone other than Curry, Thompson or Kevin Durant - each of whom were being face-guarded - to make a play.

Even so, having a knockdown shooter who is as comfortable as Curry is running around off-ball makes defenses rotate in ways they usually wouldn't. It happened several times against the Pelicans in the second round and the Rockets in the third round, and it will likely happen more than once against the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.

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