OAKLAND — It lasted for only about five minutes of Game 2, but it was THE talk of NBA Finals practice on Tuesday.
Toronto’s box-and-one defense against Stephen Curry.
Jokes were flying, smirks were everywhere.
“In ninth grade a team played one against me. Very proud to announce that,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said with a laugh. “I had a box-and-one, just like Steph. So janky defenses have been going on for a long time.”
“Probably last time I saw it was when I had a [Davidson] Wildcat jersey on,” Curry said.
“The first time a team has probably ever played box-and-one in the NBA ever…” Kyle Lowry said. “I don’t think I’ve ever run a box-and-one in my life, I’m going to be honest with you.”
“Yeah, I know, everybody’s making fun of me for it, right?” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said.
After Klay Thompson left Game 2 with his hamstring issue, and with Kevin Durant still in street clothes, it left Curry as the lone shot creator, the everything for Golden State’s offense. So Nurse pulled out the box-and-one — a defense where one player (in this case Fred VanVleet) plays aggressive man-to-man defense on their best player and everyone else plays a zone in a box (or diamond) shape. It’s a defense seen in middle school or some high school, where teams might have one good player and others who don’t have some fundamental skills, but by the time players are in the NBA guys are supposed to be too skilled for it to work.
Nurse thought it could be the kind of change of pace his team needed to make a late run.
“We were having trouble getting our defense set up. We were having trouble at the basket a little bit. We were having trouble with the rhythm of the game there,” Nurse said of going to the defense. “And usually you use any zone. So it’s a type of zone…
“It seemed to protect the rim better for us and stop some of their cutting. And it was good. I don’t know, I was just trying to come up with something to stop them.”
Laugh all you want, it worked.
The Warriors didn’t score for seven consecutive possessions.
“It was obviously innovative and unexpected in terms of defense you haven’t seen in a while,” Curry said.
So will we see it again in Game 3?
“Probably not,” Kawhi Leonard said. “Klay definitely wasn’t on the floor at that time. There’s no telling when KD’s going to come back either. So I don’t think it will work.”
He’s right, it wouldn’t. The surprise element is gone. Even without Thompon and Durant there are a lot of counters and sets the Warriors could have run and didn’t.
“There are things that we could have done differently to try to create better shots on every possession they threw at us, whether it’s me off the ball or with the ball in my hands or working around other guys,” Curry said.
The defense is done. The jokes will be with us much longer.