If I told you that Stephen Curry was going to get the final shot to stave off elimination in an NBA Finals game, nobody would bat an eye. But on Thursday night as the Golden State Warriors took on the Toronto Raptors in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals, many were left scratching their heads about the play called for Curry that would have saved their season.
With 9.6 seconds to go and the Warriors down by just one point, Golden State had a sideline out-of-bounds play drawn up. It began with a series of crosses between Draymond Green, Quinn Cook, and Curry.
Initially it appeared that Cook might be open on the near corner. Nobody would put it past Kerr to call a play with an option for a role player: remember it was the Warriors coach who famously said that only fans want star players to take the final shot because “people are idiots”.
But in classic Warriors fashion, the play was more devious than that. Andre Iguodala‘s inbound pass went to the far side of the floor — nearly out of play — to Green, who was being fronted by Pascal Siakam. As the pass came in, Curry rounded a screen at the top of the arc by DeMarcus Cousins.
The pass across the court, although it looked wild, was purposeful. Much like the Golden State offense itself, the travel of the ball was implemented as a way to draw the eyes of off-ball defenders away from what was really happening. As the pass went to Green, Serge Ibaka naturally started to float that direction and ball watch. As he did so, he turned his back on the most dangerous shooter in NBA history.
That’s exactly what the Warriors wanted.
With Fred VanVleet still fighting over Cousins’ screen, and Ibaka’s attention locked onto Green, the space Golden State wanted was created. Ibaka was a step too far into the lane to recover tightly on Curry. Miraculously, the Warriors guard was open on the far side, right next to Green and ready for a pass.
Of course, the result of the play was a clanked shot for Curry and a scuffle for the ball that wound up with Green calling a timeout the Warriors didn’t have. A cluster of officiating took the gas out of the initial Raptors celebration, but the result was the first-ever Finals win for Toronto.
Some may still argue that it was a poor shot for Golden State. Fine. The Warriors created the space they needed, and if there is a guy you want taking that shot, Curry has to be one of the top choices. This play is a Brad Stevens extravaganza that has been run with success before, so it’s not as wild as everyone has made it out to be.
There were a lot of factors that led to Golden State losing this game, and the final shot was not the most important one. Injuries, depth, and defensive prowess are probably higher up the list for Kerr.
Meanwhile, Curry is going to want to have that one back. No doubt this Golden State team will be jonesing for another chance at an NBA Finals appearance next year.