Before The Finals started, we mused about the idea that Celics vs. Warriors could look a lot like NBA Jam with Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum facing Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Game 3 offered a glimpse of what that might look like. The Splash Brothers combined for 56 points in a loss with Brown and Tatum scoring 53 to maintain home court advantage and earning a 2-1 series lead.
However, the game isn’t played on just one side of the floor. Brown and Tatum are arguably the best young two-way wing duo on the league. Thompson was once a defensive stalwart pre-injuries. And then there’s Curry. The greatest shooter of all time isn’t exactly known to be great on D, but he has been part of some great Golden State defenses over the years and his added size and strength has made him less of a liability.
“I’ve been talking about it for years, how he’s improved on that side of the ball. Teams used to try and call him into every action and just try and pick on him, but that doesn’t work anymore,” Draymond Green said after Game 2. “He sits down, he guards, and we’re all there behind him if he does need help, but he hasn’t needed that often and it’s great.”
In the Warriors sole win of The Finals so far, Curry held his own. With him as the primary cover, the Celtics were 3-for-11 per NBA Advanced Stats player tracking; Brown and Tatum combined for 3-for-5 on the smaller defender.
However, in Game 3, the Celtics mercilessly attacked him at TD Garden. Early and often, when they could get Curry in a switch or target him in transition, they went right at him. He picked up his second personal with just six minutes remaining in the first quarter and a third before halftime. Steve Kerr played him his normal minutes. but the foul trouble made an already suspect defender a more hesitant one.
“We find matchups that we think are favorable. We’ll attack those. He got some fouls early so we knew he wouldn’t be as aggressive. You don’t want to let those guys rest on that end of the court,” Ime Udoka said.
On the first possession of the game, Boston is already hunting, using a small-to-small screen to get Curry off of Smart and onto Tatum. To the Warriors credit, they sniffing out those switches and hedging hard on Tatum, but he’s become a much more able orchestrator of the offense with Golden State in rotation. Crisp ball movement finds Brown for the open 3.
In Game 3, the Celtics flipped the Curry numbers from Game 2. While a mix of drop coverage and matchup switching are part of Boston’s Curry Rules with him on offense, there are also many chapters dedicated to hammering him on defense. Boston hit 10-of-16 and dished four assists with Curry as the primary defender.
“I feel like I can get by any defender that’s in front of me,” Brown said after scoring a team-high 27 points on Wednesday night. “Just having the right spacing behind made it a little easier to make those reads. For our team, spacing is important, but I’ll get by my defender everyday.”
And while Brown and Tatum took turns overpowering Curry, the biggest bully was his direct counterpart, Marcus Smart. Smart muscled Curry for twelve points on 4-of-5 shooting on sheer size and will alone, including this closing layup.
Curry re-aggravated a foot sprain at the end of Game 3, but all signs point to him playing without restrictions tonight. Hurt or not, expect Boston to continue searching for him on the offensive end, hoping to drive through and shoot over him without restrictions, too.