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How Mavs' Defense Should Approach Containing Steph Curry in Game 5

Stephen Curry was contained to 20 points in the Dallas Mavericks' Game 4 win over the Golden State Warriors. What worked defensively to get it done?

The Dallas Mavericks managed to win Game 4 of their series against the Golden State Warriors with 119-109 being the final score. Stephen Curry was limited to 20 points without allowing other players to pop off for a big game. What worked that can be replicated in Game 5?

Earlier in the series, the Mavericks' defense was applying significant pressure to Curry deep off the line. It put their whole defense out of rotation, leading to easy finishes at the rim or putbacks if interior help rotated to contest. 

Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors
Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors
Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors

Instead of sending two defenders at Curry, the Mavericks have experienced some success by trusting their defender making the switch — often being Maxi Kleber. Curry didn't want to break down the defender for a tough jumper from deep. Instead, he drove the lane and help was ready.

Naturally, there are going to be plays where Curry makes a tough shot. He's considered the greatest shooter in NBA history for good reason. He even got a tough one against Kleber on a switch to drop in Game 4. Regardless, the Mavericks made him work on the play. 

The approach to handling Curry almost becomes almost a philosophical discussion for defense. Will role players finish easy players against an out-of-rotation defense with greater efficiency than Curry will convert tough, contested deep takes? 

Let's take the possession in the clip below as an example of what can occur when trusting a defender like Kebler on a switch against Curry. The Mavericks are able to show deep help and Kleber recovers — resulting in Curry passing out to Andrew Wiggins, who ends up taking a contested mid-range jumper. 

One area where the Mavericks have been getting blasted by Curry's shooting has been in transition. With there often being poor jump shooting execution from Dallas' offense coupled with a few outings with higher turnover volumes, there have been chances for him to break free in the open floor. 


The phrase "the best defense is a good offense" truly has applied to the Mavericks in this series. When shots fall at a high clip and turnovers are limited, there are fewer chances for the Warriors to get out in transition. 

Contesting from behind to disrupt rhythm is something Reggie Bullock did on one transition possession that proved successful. Of course, Curry can convert these looks often, but at least not allowing a clean, rhythm look goes a long way. 

The Warriors' offense uses off-ball screening actions to take advantage of Curry's shooting execution and the gravity he brings. If both defenders commit to Curry, he's going to pass the ball where it needs to go. Instead of using that approach, being tactical about crowding his space and switching when needed has helped.

Taking advantage of non-shooting threats playing out in space is something the Mavericks' have done at times with Draymond Green. However, doing so too much can pose challenges since he has such strong synergy in dribble handoffs with Curry. 

An example of sagging off Green being an advantage occurred with Kleber playing around the nail to be in a position to cover up for Doncic guarding a screening action. Curry did not have a clean lane to attack and settled for a long floater instead. 

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It's not as easy as saying "sag off Draymond and you'll be okay" when crafting a defensive game plan. Especially earlier in the series, the Warriors utilized secondary actions in their half-court offense. Helping off Green can lead to a pindown for Klay Thompson. 

Another example of what makes the Warriors so challenging to defend is that Green's involvement in impromptu handoffs makes it challenging for a defense to complete possessions. If a defender like Doncic is guarding Green to be hidden, it becomes a disadvantage in these situations. 

There has to be an element of timing and understanding of situations that goes into helping off a non-shooting threat. If a drive is developing by a player like Wiggins, who isn't typically going to make high-level passing reads, it's a good opportunity to commit to helping on the drive. 

If Curry turns the corner using a ball screen before he can be contained, there is a greater margin for error by deploying a unit filled with longer wing defenders. Dorian Finney-Smith was able to trail Curry and contest at the rim and force a miss on the finish, which shows trusting personnel goes a long way. 

One vulnerability they displayed was their handling of a ghost screen where Curry ended up splitting the two defenders, instead of Dinwiddie just making a switch. Almost every second Curry is on the court, the defense has to be intentional with what they're doing. If a non-elite shooter or isolation threat is setting the ghost screen, just make the switch. 

Not being too quick to show against a ball screen is another way the Mavericks can adjust in Game 5. There was a possession that Green flipped the screen because Kleber anticipated Curry using a traditional ball screen. The end result was Curry being able to drive into an off-balance defender for a finish. 

It can be a challenge for any defense to stay sufficiently focused when Curry is playing off the ball. All it takes is a split second for him to take off and have an advantage. Finney-Smith gave up a floater on one possession that potentially could have been avoided. 

A high-quality game plan is required to contain Curry and the Mavericks had one in Game 4 that displayed key characteristics of how they can approach Game 5. However, again, limiting transition opportunities and staying focused when Curry is playing off the ball goes a long way, too. 

The Warriors will have a lot of momentum at their disposal provided by the Chase Center crowd in Game 5, so containing Curry will become all the more challenging of a task to accomplish. If the Mavericks can get it done, there's a strong chance they'll get to extend their season for at least one more game.