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What Worked For Mavs When Guarding Steph Curry During Regular Season?

The Dallas Mavericks held Stephen Curry to an inefficient 20.0 points per game in the regular season. What worked?

As the Dallas Mavericks gear up to take on the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, the top priority for their defensive game planning will be Stephen Curry. 

During the Mavericks' four regular season matchups against the Warriors, Curry was limited to an average of 20.0 points per game. He shot just 38.8 percent from the floor and 29.4 percent on 3s. He scored below the 20-point threshold twice and only reached the 25-point mark in one performance.

Steph Curry Luka Doncic
luka curry hug gs
curry dal gs

While Curry was inefficient in the small sample of games he played against the Mavericks, he still had moments where he made some spectacular 3s. Even just a slight window of daylight is enough for him to get shots up, and sometimes, all a defense can do is make it tough on him and hope that the result is a miss.

The Mavericks ensured they had a long wing defender guarding Curry for most of his possessions. Pressing up on him out in space helped to make it more challenging to get to his 3s. With Dwight Powell playing closer to the level, the idea was to make Curry drive and take away the gap for clean mid-range pull-ups. 

The play below stands out from Powell, in particular. He tracked Curry all the way to the rim to pry the ball loose when defending the ball screen. Powell begins close to the level to take away the gap from start to finish during the sequence.

When the Warriors played teams like the Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies in their previous playoff matchups, there were chances to capitalize on a drop coverage big being on the floor. While the Grizzlies did slide Jaren Jackson Jr. at the five, there was a clear focus to attack Steven Adams when he was on the floor. 

The Mavericks do not have a drop coverage big getting minutes. Powell is agile and can apply aggressive ball pressure when needed, as he showed when Dallas made it a point to neutralize Devin Booker in the Phoenix Suns series. 

Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns
Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns
Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns

Regardless, quick hitting dribble handoffs in the two-man game with Draymond Green and Curry are tough to handle for a team. With Green sidelined for much of the regular season, the Mavericks did not have to encounter these sequences much in their matchups.

With Draymond Green not being a consistent shooting threat, there is rarely a time when the Warriors are completely free of at least one inefficient shooter in a given lineup. The Mavericks took advantage of opportunities when help could be in position to impact a drive.

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With the Mavericks having no shortage of long wings that can pressure deep on a drive, Curry doesn't face a favorable matchup to repeatedly break down his man in a slower half-court possession to get to the rim. Whether it's Bullock, Finney-Smith, or Ntilikina, Dallas has options at their disposal.

There will almost always be a major focus from Curry's defender to stay tight on him when guarding off-ball screening actions. Bullock was quite effective in staying attached to Curry, and it did help when Curry played inside the 3-point line to shrink the floor when possible.

Bullock has shown some flashes as an on-ball defender in ball screen actions like ghost screens when guarding Curry. He does a sound job of deterring the 3-point shot creation and staying in a position to be able to contest the shot attempt inside the arc.

When Curry's defender is not entirely focused for the entirety of a play, there are situations when he can use his shooting gravity for a cutting opportunity. With how tightly the defender has to engage Curry, he can give the ball up one second, and be free on a cut on another.

A key reason the Warriors like to play at a fast tempo is due to the respect Curry commands quickly after crossing half-court. It's challenging to stay in front of a quick guard that you have to guard tightly from 35-feet and it's even harder to have help in position. 

Getting out in transition is often where Curry can break free and find some advantages. The extreme respect he commands can cause teams to bend and overreact in ways that open things up. Additionally, he can make some truly dynamic tough plays. 

The playoffs always feature different approaches than the regular season. Teams do not want to show their full hands in games that do not count toward a playoff series. Expect more creativity as the series progresses with screening actions, lineup choices, etc. 

The Warriors will surely look to do what they can to attack Doncic and tire him out by making him play defense. The Suns found success doing this early in the Western Conference semifinals, but the Mavericks managed to adjust.