With a win Friday in night in Cleveland, the defending champion Golden State Warriors will have swept their way through the Finals against LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
For the Warriors, this is an opportunity to prove their worth among the best teams ever. Not only would it lead to a third title in four years and back-to-back championships, domination over LeBron and Co. would make a major statement.
While a lot has been made about Kevin Durant’s otherworldly Game 3 performance Wednesday night and James himself doing everything possible to keep Cleveland close, there’s one thing people are missing.
Stephen Curry’s defense against one LeBron James.
It’s been evident by simply watching the games. Despite giving up seven inches and some 60 pounds, Curry has played elite-level defense against Mr. James. Given that the two-time MVP is considered Golden State’s worst defender, this has been an absolutely shocking turn of events.
In looking at what should be an epic mismatch against Curry, The Ringer’s Rodger Sherman provided us with a stunning stat.
In the 26 possessions that Curry has been the primary defender against James through the first three games, LeBron is 0-of-5 shooting with zero points and zero free throw attempts. James is shooting 56 percent on possessions in which Curry is not his primary defender.
There’s a lot to unwrap here. As Sherman notes, Cleveland has gone iso with James against Curry late in the game. In these cases, Golden State switches Curry on to James while providing help elsewhere. It’s not necessarily that the Cavaliers have been able to clear out one half of the court for James to drive on Curry. Help from Draymond Green and Kevin Durant has come at times.
This also doesn’t mean that the Warriors aren’t going to great lengths to avoid a Curry-James matchup. A total of 26 possessions in the grand scheme of things is a small sample size.
Though, we also have to realize that James shot 6-of-26 against Curry in last year’s Finals. Against all other Warriors defenders, he shot 66 percent in the five-game series loss.
It’s certainly going to be interesting to see what comes of this individual matchup Friday evening at Quickens Loans Arena. But if James is unable to break from Curry when the two are pitted against one another, it’s going to be a long night for the Cavaliers and will likely lead to a series sweep.