OAKLAND, Calif. –– The fact that Stephen and Seth Curry are the first brothers to ever play against one another in an NBA conference final might seem, at best, like a bit of trivia. It was until the circumstances of Game 2 pitted the Curry brothers against each other more directly than ever before. Relevance has sprung from coincidence; the matchups involved in the developing series between the Warriors and Blazers turned in a way that brought the CurryBowl to the fore. Seth jumped his older brother on the perimeter to poke the ball away. Steph chased Seth—who outshot him in the regular season from beyond the arc by a single percentage point—around screens as if he were chasing himself. Both made gutsy plays down to the final minutes, though the elder Curry and the Warriors made slightly more—enough to eke out a 114-111 win to take a 2-0 series lead.
For all the moving parts involved in a series of this magnitude, it was the ongoing battle between the Currys that gave Game 2 its chief curiosity. Steph (37 points) and Seth (16) have never scored this many combined points in any of their previous meetings, nor have they ever come particularly close. It’s highly likely that this was also the most time the two have ever spent defending one another in aggregate. Not only was Portland content with letting Seth pester Steph, but the Blazers played enough two- and three-guard matchups that Steph could check Seth on a fairly regular basis. How the two brothers interacted wasn’t just a running subplot to fill television airtime, but a deciding factor in a crucial playoff game.
“This was the coolest experience I think I've ever had playing against him,” Stephen said. “We talked about the stage, and [Seth] was amazing tonight. You know, every minute he was out there defensively, he was a pest. Made three big shots the fourth quarter that were very timely.” One of those shots—a go-ahead three-pointer with 1:03 remaining—very nearly decided the game. Steph responded with a pair of perfectly executed pick-and-rolls: initiated by Curry, facilitated by Draymond Green, and ending in textbook scores.
“The way people play Steph allows Draymond to be the playmaker frequently in our games, because he just catches the ball out of the traps and then he’s just a great passer, great decision maker,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Throwing the lob, throwing the cross-court passes.” And, when called for, driving straight to the rim. The problem for a defense in trapping Steph is that it often puts the ball in Green’s hands in a position of advantage. At worst, the Warriors are playing four-on-three. As Green noted after the game, the way the Blazers are hugging Klay Thompson on the perimeter means that it’s more often a three-on-two. It all comes back to Steph, who is such a danger as to make a trap-reluctant defense commit to the tactic as a matter of survival.
In terms of individual coverage, no defender was more successful in hounding Steph than his brother. Seth registered four steals in the game—three of them directly at Steph’s expense. “I feel like he was thinking about where I was at times,” Seth said. “You're trying to make it tough on him. He's gonna do what he does, but if you make him work a little bit more, it gives you a chance to win.” Portland earned that chance. The coverage against Steph wasn’t perfect, though it was better; there weren’t quite so many open threes to be had, primarily because the Blazers shifted their overall style of defense. The rotation was restructured to prioritize shooting and flexibility. Enes Kanter’s limitations were mitigated by the timing of his minutes and who he shared the floor with.
A smart game plan and first-rate shooting allowed Portland to build a 15-point halftime lead. Unfortunately, even its sound logic and best efforts gave out when Golden State dialed up its collective intensity in the third quarter. It took all of two minutes and 23 seconds for the Warriors to shave that margin down to just two. The stage was set for a climactic finish, and the brothers delivered in the fourth quarter: Seth with a trio of three-pointers to keep Portland alive, and Steph with spotless orchestration in the pick-and-roll. Both Currys led their respective teams in fourth-quarter scoring and posted the game’s highest overall marks in raw plus-minus.
“I thought of their parents at one point,” Kerr said. “Can you imagine watching your two boys go head-to-head in a playoff game and both of them hitting huge shots?” Dell and Sonya Curry have become characters in this series in their own right, with their split jerseys to match their allegiances. This is the first year Seth has ever been on a team that has made it to the playoffs. For the Blazers to get this far is an achievement in itself, and a matchup with his brother a reward worth relishing. “What a special time to be in the Curry family,” Thompson said, “because you never know when this will ever happen again.”
In the most literal sense, it will happen again on Saturday when the Warriors visit the Moda Center. The 29 minutes that Seth played in Game 2 were his most in any game in these playoffs, and a suggestion that he could stand to play even more. Portland’s offense is at its healthiest when Curry shares the floor with Lillard and CJ McCollum. What better way to declutter the paint than to put as much shooting on the floor as possible? Especially if Seth can continue to disrupt his brother’s moves off the dribble. From a matchup standpoint, the family ties are beside the point. Pitting the Currys against one another is just good basketball.
For now, however, only one brother could be pleased with the result. “It worked out perfectly,” Steph said. “He played well and we won.”