The Cleveland Cavaliers will get a second look at the Golden State Warriors on Monday, hoping to replicate the success they had in their Christmas Day victory over the Warriors.
One of the key takeaways from Cleveland’s 109-108 win was how well the Cavs defended reigning two-time MVP Stephen Curry. The Warriors superstar guard struggled to find his rhythm in that loss, finishing with just 15 points on 4-of-11 shooting.
But Curry’s struggles against the Cavs aren’t limited to that one game. He scored 17 points on 6-of-19 shooting with four turnovers in the decisive Game 7 loss to Cleveland in the Finals, though Curry was nursing nagging injuries at that time.
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In fact, the Cavs and Warriors have met 18 times since the start of 2015 and Curry has averaged just 23.5 points on 43.2 percent shooting — well below his season averages. So what Cleveland’s secret to slowing down Curry?
“We just put a lot of pressure on him to physically take the punishment all game,” Cavs guard Iman Shumpert said, via the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “We put a strong, athletic guy on him. When we guard him, guarding him up the floor, trying to get into his legs.
“Throughout the game if you consistently guard somebody that way at the end of the game, if they’re last five minutes isn’t as up to par, you feel like you did your job because you wore on him the whole game.”
The Cavs have a number of perimeter players who have to ability to bother Curry – Shumpert among them – but it was fourth-year guard DeAndre Liggins who pestered Curry on Christmas Day.
Liggins, a 6-6 guard who is playing for his fourth team, filled in for an injured Shumpert in that first win over the Warriors. Though he didn’t score a point in the game, his ability to hound Curry took away one of the Warriors’ Big Four and left much of the scoring load to Kevin Durant, who finished with a game-high 36 points in the loss.
But it’s not just individual defense that is key to the Cavs’ success against the lethal shooter. Head coach Tyronn Lue also believes the Cavaliers’ ability to defend the pick-and-roll, which the Warriors heavily use, is also vital in keeping Curry contained.
“He’s in the pick-and-rolls (and) if you’re big’s not aware, not up, that’s a 3-point shot and he’s gonna make it 9 times out of 10,” Lue said. “So you always have to be aware of where he’s at, have to be aware of their bigs when they’re setting screens because they spread the screens. And we just gotta be aware.”