The Western Conference finals generated a lot of conversation about tactics and matchups. Lineups were scrutinized, the length and athleticism of the Thunder were deemed A Problem for the Warriors, and everyone wondered how Steph Curry was supposed to regain his balance amid all those long arms and all that switching. The answer to that question turned out to be, “Go be Steph Curry.”
During long stretches of the series, Curry looked lost. Every time he came off of a screen there was a seven-footer waiting there to hound him out of his shooting rhythm. Curry only ever needs the slightest bit of space to get a shot off, but the Thunder succeeded in tightening those spaces just enough to make Curry think twice. If the Thunder had pulled this out, the enduring image of this series might have been Curry hitching and stuttering on the perimeter, or nervously passing his way out of open shots in the paint.
In Game 7, Curry finally stopped looking for the space he’s grown accustomed to and just shot through what the Thunder were giving him. His first three of the game was a signal of what was to come. Curry found himself on the wing with Steven Adams checking him, and instead of calling for a screen or trying to cross Adams up, Curry set his feet and bombed one right in the big man’s mustache:
And that’s pretty much how the game went. Curry got loose with a few crossovers and step-backs—he put poor Steven Adams on the dance floor on two particularly cruel occasions—but he also went along just shooting the ball over the long arms that had previously caused him so much trouble. His most absurd shot wasn’t even a three, but a layup that ended the first half. Curry drove straight into Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant, a decision that seemed destined to end with Curry getting his layup attempt swallowed in embarrassing fashion. But Curry, with his left hand, somehow managed to dot the top of the backboard and secure the bucket that would start a 32-12 run and wrap up the series for the Warriors.
This is how tactics stop mattering. It doesn’t feel like an exaggeration to say that there was literally nothing the Thunder could have done to stop Curry last night. What sorts of adjustments are supposed to be made in order to slow down a guy who hits shots that appear to be rendered via CGI? The Thunder had the length and the effort necessary to make life as hard as possible for Curry, and they were largely successful in doing so through the first six games of the series. That all stopped mattering in Game 7, because the best shooter in NBA history remembered that he’s the best shooter in NBA history precisely because there is no countermeasure he can’t shoot over. Once that belief took hold, there was no scenario that didn’t end with the Thunder going home.