Kurt Helin’s assessment of the disagreement was correct: The former Warriors teammates talked out their differences last year. They probably aren’t feuding over something this trivial. Kurt added: “If you’d rather re-litigate who should get the most credit for a championship four years ago, have at it.”
I would rather.
A few broad points to start:
- Curry is an all-time great.
- He hasn’t played quite as well in the NBA Finals as other all-time greats.
- His deep-playoff struggles have been overstated.
- LeBron James deserved 2015 NBA Finals MVP. If a Warrior deserved it, it was Curry – not Andre Iguodala, who actually won the award. If Curry had won it, some of the silly discussion about his legacy would have been avoided.
- Durant deserved Finals MVP for Golden State’s other two championships, 2017 and 2018.
To the specific point at hand: The Cavaliers double-teamed Curry far more frequently than Durant in those series.
Unfortunately, I don’t have the wherewithal to count double-teams in those Finals. I can’t rate the accuracy of Green’s exact number (seven times as often). But there’s enough anecdotal evidence, including my memories of the series, to say Green’s general point was right.
In 2017, Eric Apricot reviewed every basket Durant and Curry scored to determine how often each star created the look for the other. Apricot’s conclusion:
The simplest, most holistic answer is having two of them on the court creates space for both, relieving them of the pressure of creating offense every single play.
The first thing that probably jumps out at you is that Curry created a LOT more points for Durant than Durant did for Curry (almost four times as many!). This makes sense as Curry is meant to be more of a facilitator and Durant more of a finisher, but i was still surprised by the big difference
Curry directly created a lot of points for Durant in the 2017 Finals, through a combination of gravity, passing and screening, about 8 PPG on average. He continues to be an underrated player, and would have been a plausible Finals MVP.
Durant created a lot of points through individual excellence, about 21.6 points per game. So it is unfair to say that he was carried by Curry or the system. The video shows he made numerous difficult contested shots. He was a very deserving Finals MVP, especially considering his defensive contributions.
That’s not just about Curry getting double-teamed, but it’s a key part of the story.
Apricot made a video showing Durant’s buckets aided by Curry. Notice how frequently Curry had multiple defenders on him:
Then-Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue also later discussed his game plan on Curry:
He’s so dangerous, probably the most dangerous player in the league the way he can get hot.
In 2017 and 2018, we blitzed him still with Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant on the floor. So, that’s how dangerous I think he is.
The Cavs’ didn’t take that approach because they doubted Durant. A lot of it was based on where and how each player got the ball. It’s easier and more effective to double-team the shorter Curry in pick-and-rolls than the taller Durant in isolation.
But regardless of the exact reason, it happened: The Cavaliers double-teamed Curry much more often than Durant.
So, why does Durant say otherwise?
Well, he’s in a never-ending battle to convince everyone he didn’t take the easy route to a championship. He doesn’t want to be seen as having ridden the Warriors’ coattails. (He didn’t. He really drove Golden State to success in the Finals, especially in 2017.) There might be also be an envy of Curry, whom Golden State fans embraced far more deeply.
Again, Durant deserved both his Finals MVPs. Even understanding how much Curry’s gravity helped him, Durant still did a ton to tear up Cleveland. Green noted that, too.
But when it comes to the particular issue of double-teams in the 2017 and 2018 NBA Finals, Curry saw significantly more than Durant.