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Every Steph Curry 40 Point Playoff Game

Steph Curry is the greatest shooter in NBA history. No one has put the ball in the basket from beyond the arc more than him, or done it as efficiently. In game four of this year’s NBA finals, Steph Curry hit the 40 point mark for the seventh time in his career. That performance ties him for fifth with Russell Westbrook among active players to reach 40 points in a playoff game. Here is every Steph Curry 40 point playoff game.

2013 Western Conference Semifinals vs. San Antonio Spurs
Game 1: 44 points, 11 assists, 6/14 from three
(Photo by MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images)

The 2013 postseason would be the first time Steph Curry ever saw the floor in an NBA playoff game. After taking out the Denver Nuggets in the first round, Steph and the Warriors would square off against defending Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs. Game one of this series would be an all-time playoff game. After a back-and-forth first four quarters, the game would be pushed into double overtime. The Warriors held a one-point lead with just under four seconds left when Manu Ginobili hit a catch-and-shoot three to take a 129-127 lead. The Spurs would go on to win the series 4-2 and eventually capture another championship.

2015 Western Conference First Round vs. New Orleans Pelicans
Game 3: 40 points, 9 assists, 7/18 from three

During the 2015 regular season, Steph Curry became a household name breaking the three point single-season record and winning his first MVP. The first place Warriors were primed for a title run. In their first game playing in New Orleans with a 2-0 series lead, Steph Curry dropped his second career 40 point playoff game. The Pelicans would fight relentlessly all game but Curry would push the game into overtime with a contested corner three to tie the game. They had no answer for Curry who scored 7 of the Warriors 15 overtime points. The Warriors would go on to sweep the Pelicans.

2015 Western Conference Finals vs. Houston Rockets
Game 3: 40 points, 7 assists, 7/9 from three

Steph was so dominant in 2015 that it is his only playoff run to have multiple 40 point games. The second 40 point performance would happen during game 3 of the conference finals. The Warriors headed to Houston with a 2-0 lead and looked unstoppable up to this point. Game 3 would be no difference as Steph Curry would shoot 77% from three in a blowout 115-80 win. Steph was so dominant that 37 of his 40 points came in the first three quarters alone. The Warriors would go on to win the series 4-1 and Curry would eventually capture his first NBA championship.

2016 Western Conference Semifinals vs. Portland Trailblazers
Game 4: 40 points, 8 assists, 9 rebounds

Although the 2016 playoffs may be tough for Steph Curry to look back on, as they would blow a 3-1 lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA finals, he still had some all-time performances along the way. In the first round of these playoffs Curry would sprain his knee and be sidelined for a few weeks, missing the first three games of the second round against the Blazers. In game three Damian Lillard took advantage of the injured Warriors team and dropped his own 40 point game to bring the series 2-1 in favor of the Warriors. Game 4 would see Steph Curry’s return and it was one of epic proportions. Coming off the bench, Steph Curry would nearly drop a 40 point triple-double with 17 of those points coming in the five minute overtime period. The Warriors would win 132-125 and eventually win the series 4-1.

2017 Western Conference Finals vs. San Antonio Spurs
Game 1: 40 points, 7 rebounds, 7/16 from three

Curry and the Warriors would finally get their rematch against the Spurs in 2017. Kawhi Leonard was coming off a terrific season finishing top three in MVP voting. The Warriors were looking like an immovable train on their way to another championship with newly added superstar Kevin Durant. The Warriors would go down by 20 in the first half of game 1 before Leonard would go down with an injury. Curry and the Warriors would take advantage and win the game 113-111 behind Steph Curry’s 40 point 7 rebound performance.

2019 NBA Finals vs. Toronto Raptors
Game 3: 47 points, 7 assists, 8 rebounds

Steph Curry’s career high in the playoffs would come amidst the worst injury bug the Warriors have dealt with maybe ever. Kevin Durant was suffering from a nagging leg injury and Klay Thompson was also battling through injuries. Both were forced to sit out game 3 of the finals and Curry was left with the task of taking down Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors himself. He would have a generational performance dropping 47 points and a near triple-double. The Warriors would lose the game 123-109. Thompson and Durant would attempt to come back and play but would both suffer much worse injuries and the Warriors lost the series 4-2.

2022 NBA Finals vs. Boston Celtics
Game 4: 43 points, 10 rebounds, 7-14 from three

No single player has more riding on this year’s NBA finals than Steph Curry. He knows to truly be mentioned with the greats he needs a final’s MVP trophy, and he’s done just about everything he can to earn it. Heading to Boston down 2-1, the Warriors title hopes were looking dim. Curry took his game to the next level scoring 43 points among a flurry of deep threes. The Warriors head to Boston for game six with a 3-2 series lead behind Curry’s 30.6 scoring average in the finals. If the Warriors can close out the series, Steph Curry will undoubtedly win his first finals MVP.

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The Golden State Warriors Prove Their Toughness, Win Game 5

In Game 5 of the NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors played badly—they went 9-40 from behind the arc and got doubled up on the offensive glass; Stephen Curry ended the game without making a single three-pointer, snapping a streak of 132 consecutive playoff games (and 233 consecutive combined playoff and regular season games) with at least one triple. For the most part, the Celtics’ defense has befuddled the Warriors, taking away the automatic advantages that jumpstart Golden State’s whirligig attack. And yet, the Warriors are now one win away from their fourth title in eight years, stealing a 104-94 win from the Boston Celtics to take a 3-2 series lead. 

More than anything, this toughness has been the foundation of the Warriors’ dynasty, even if it’s been obscured by their flashy offense and near-untouchable runs with Kevin Durant. In 2015, Golden State steeled themselves against Memphis Grizzlies and Cleveland Cavaliers teams that tried to arm-bar them into submission; in 2018 and 2019, they beat the Houston Rockets, who designed their team with the express purpose of gunking up the Warriors’ offense. And now, against the Celtics, the Warriors are once again refusing to be punked by a bigger, more physical team. Just as Robert Pattinson is a pretty-boy actor with surprising artistic depth, the Warriors are a finesse team with a hidden store of grit. 

With their offense largely throttled by Boston’s defense, Golden State ratcheted up their defense, simply deciding to no longer let Boston score. Although Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have been able to sustain the Celtics’ attack with their shot-making chutzpah, the Warriors preyed on the duo’s sloppy ball-handling. Golden State tried to confuse Boston in the first four games of the series by sending late help to try to disguise their rotations, but made a conscious effort to clog gaps on the perimeter in Game 5. Every Boston drive thwarted before it could really begin, repelled by waves of prying hands. Visibly frazzled by the Warriors’ new-found aggression, Tatum and Brown combined for nine turnovers and just eight assists. Collectively, the Celtics coughed up the ball 18 times, dropping to 0-7 in the postseason when they turned the ball over more than 16 times. 

Beyond forcing Boston into crushing, momentum-swinging gaffes, Golden State turned nearly every Boston possession into a series of minor indignities. After granting Boston switches without too much protest to start the series, Golden State labored to protect Steph Curry and Jordan Poole more from Tatum and Brown in Game 5. Save for Boston’s scintillating third quarter, the Celtics struggled to target Curry and Poole, wasting precious time in the process; the Celtics only took 12 shots with more than 15 seconds left on the shot clock—for reference,  Golden State generated 28 early looks. 

If being able to consistently create an advantage is the most elemental aspect of being a good offense, the Warriors clamped the Celtics by stemming any potential problem before it could arise. A comprehensive list of things Boston couldn’t do: score in the paint, score in the midrange, score in isolation, score in transition, create shots for each other. A comprehensive list of the things they could do: bomb semi-contested threes and suffer. 

As such, Golden State’s defensive effort was as necessary as it was impressive. While the Warriors offense wasn’t quite as toothless as Boston’s, Curry’s uncharacteristic stinker still required them to recalibrate on the fly. Gone were the heliocentric, Steph Curry spread pick-and-rolls that proved to be such fertile offensive ground in Game 4; in its place, was a more egalitarian approach featuring contributions from the slightly lesser lights like Klay Thompson (21 points, five three-pointers), Draymond Green (11 points, seven rebounds, six assists), Gary Payton II (15 points on 6-8 shooting) and Andrew Wiggins (26 points and 13 rebounds???). 

Accordingly, Game 5 marked the latest chapter in the ongoing Wiggins renaissance. Tasked with slowing Tatum and Brown, he provided pressurized on-ball at the point of attack—on the 47.8 possessions that Wiggins matched-up with Tatum, Boston managed just 29 points as a team. Offensively, he overwhelmed Boston with his athleticism, nailing 12 of his 17 two-point field goal attempts and racking up a team-high 26 points. Wiggins’s Maple Jordan nickname has always been a misnomer—he’s Maple Pippen, an athletic stopper who offers as much offense as he needs to. Despite sharing the court with Brown, Tatum, Curry, Green and Thompson, the former 2014 #1 pick was clearly the best player on the court. Here was a game as surreal and odd as a Sopranos dream sequence—a fish talks, a horse is in the living room, Andrew Wiggins can’t be stopped. 

If the Warriors can close out Boston, they won’t be a particularly convincing champion, but that’s irrelevant. What they lack in raw talent, the Warriors make up for with their resolve. Stick-to-it-ness, spunk, feist, guts, whatever you want to call it: they have it. The Golden State Warriors are one win from a championship because they’re totally unphased by being one win from a championship.

Whereas Boston melted into a puddle of nerves and neuroses in the fourth quarter of Game 5, the Warriors were unmoved. Draymond Green rebounded from his Game 4 benching and returned to his destructive ways; Andrew Wiggins shed the sluggishness that harpooned his Minnesota tenure and dominated the biggest game of his career. Steph Curry had the worst postseason game of his career and the Warriors still withstood a second-half comeback from a more athletic and more talented team because, of course, they did; this is just what they do. For the Warriors, success is a (Golden) state of mind. 

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Draymond Green Can’t Be Stopped

When Draymond Green gets a tech, he’s not going to get a second. No ref—not Tony Brothers or Zach Zarba or even Scott Foster—is going to do shit about it; the juice of tossing Green isn’t worth getting squeezed by a Chase Center full of wannabe LinkedIn influencers.  Whereas other players would tread lightly, Green is going to howl and inveigh and be a jerk with impunity, safe in the knowledge that he’s absolutely above the law. He’s Logan Roy, commandeering a shareholders’ meeting; Tony Soprano, seeing his goomah. So, yeah, he’ll try to pants Jaylen Brown and get in Ime Udoka’s face and flex and preen around because who’s going to stop him? 

“For me, you know, you have to send a message,” Green said after Game 2. “Guys follow me on [the defensive] side of the ball. If I’m not sending a message, who is sending that message?”

In Game 1, Green more or less followed convention, guarding Al Horford and Robert Williams for about 60 percent of the defensive possessions he played. This makes sense—as Green inches towards becoming a full-time podcaster, he’s no longer quick enough to pursue quicker players on the perimeter, but his massive super brain still makes him a devastating help defender. The problem: every Warrior defender got dog-walked by Brown and Jayson Tatum, who repeatedly breached the first line of defense and then swung the ball around the compromised defense for an open 3. 

Despite his characteristically modest stats (nine points on three shots, five rebounds and seven assists), Green dominated Game 2 from a vibes-based perspective. After Boston punked Golden State in the fourth quarter of Game 1 to steal home court advantage, Green took it upon himself to reanimate Golden State’s lagging defense.

Accordingly, Green assumed a larger share of Brown-duty in Game 2 and acquitted himself well; Boston scored just 17 points during Green’s 23 possessions on Brown, compared to 53 points during the 41 possessions Klay Thompson matched-up with Brown in Game 1. While Klay Thompson is firmly in the grim late-stage Obi-Wan Kenobi portion of his career, Green bothered Brown with his savviness and handsiness, rebuffing Brown’s drives and contesting his jumpers. 

Brown may be a superlative athlete and shot-maker, but he dribbles like a kid playing outside at recess after it just rained and the ball is gross and he doesn’t want to get his hands all dirty. As such, Green’s grinding defense prevented Brown from feeling comfortable with the ball. Struggling to rev up to full-speed, Brown couldn’t manifest his physical , ensuring that the matchup would be played on Green’s terms. Although Brown found early success and scored 13 first quarter points, Green hectored the All-Star guard into 1-11 shooting for the rest of the game. 

With Brown taken out of commission by Green, Boston’s offense became uncomfortably unimodal. Even at its best, Boston’s offensive approach can be boiled down to give the ball to one of the two really good guys and hope they score. In this sense, when one of their two really good guys has no hope to score—yikes. Beyond just Brown riding the struggle bus, Boston couldn’t conjure up catch-and-shoot opportunities—Game 1 hero Al Horford scored two points on 1-4 shooting. During the Warriors’ apocalyptic third quarter run, the Boston offense shriveled up entirely and mustered just 14 points. 

In this sense, Game 2 was proof that the Warriors are as much Green’s team as they are Steph Curry’s. He gives them an imperial dickishness that can only be formed by years of continued dominance—over the last eight seasons, Golden State has won 21 of the last 22 playoff series when Curry, Green and Thompson are all healthy. It’s Draymond Green’s Draymond Green-ness that creates the space for Curry to shake free, that engenders the confidence for Jordan Poole to pull-up from 30 feet, that produces the energy for Kevon Looney and Gary Payton II to tussle with more-heralded Celtics.

Playing against a younger, bigger, and, frankly, better team, Green fueled the Warriors to a blow-out win through sheer force of will. When he loses Game One, everyone knows Draymond Green isn’t going down 0-2—he’ll orchestrate the Warriors’ attack and put the Celtics’ offense in a headlock and make himself unmissable. Who’s going to stop him? 

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The Golden State Warriors Are the Same, But Different

For the sixth time in eight years, the Golden State Warriors are in the NBA Finals. Despite the best efforts of Lebron James’s itinerant media circus, this is the defining dynasty of the last decade, a charming revolutionary that’s grown into the league’s loathsome establishment. The principle characters are largely the same as they’ve always been: Steph Curry is still shimmying; Klay Thompson is still drilling threes with a stoned zen while Draymond Green does the opposite of that; Steve Kerr is still the NBA’s cool uncle. Even with a largely new supporting cast—Andrew Wiggins! Jordan Poole! Jonathan Kuminga?—the Warriors’ stars have created such a resilient culture and vibe that it’s persisted through the franchise’s lean times.

Whereas they were a pitiable, sympathetic team last year, they’re back at their hate-able near-best. Rather than anything they do on the court, the Warriors are unpopular because of the way that their own mythology seemingly contradicts reality. Like a basketballing answer to Elon Musk, the Warriors are bullies who are incredulous that anybody would dare to consider them bullies; the team with three sons of NBA players wants you to think they’re the scrappy underdog that nobody believed in. When Steph Curry showboats in ways that would make Trae Young blush, he’s presented as a humble god-fearing father who’s overcome with joy. 

Listen to them enough and you’d believe the Warriors were little engine that could, as long as you forget that their starting line-up houses three All-Star starters and the best defensive player of this generation. Beyond merely winning games and demoralizing opponents, there are scores of petty squabbles to settle and weird grievances to air out. It’s not enough to be dominant; the Warriors need to be loved, too. In other words, after two seasons in the wilderness, the Warriors are once again the Warriors.

While the Warriors are pretty loathsome in the composite, their component parts are surprisingly likable. Everybody likes Jordan Poole and Klay Thompson is a cult hero because he seems like a chill guy. Instead, theirs is an institutional villainy, one that absorbs and assimilates anything in its orbit. 

In fact, it’s this quality that’s propelled them to their first Finals appearance since 2019. For the eighth straight year, the Warriors have played basketball that’s so flawless and entertaining that it is, frankly, super annoying. Off-ball movement and egalitarian, tiki-taka ball movement is objectively more aesthetically pleasing than the halting rock-fights that have dotted the Celtics’ playoff run, but the Warriors have somehow managed to play fun basketball without actually being fun. When the Warriors blaze through a 15-0 run to start the third quarter, it’s hard to tell if it’s more impressive or irksome.

As such, the Warriors’ success this year has turned their stubbornness into something close to prescience. At  any point over the last two years, the Warriors could have ditched their patented motion offense in favor of something simpler and—probably—more effective. By sticking to their guns, they insisted on playing the long-game even when their stars’ dwindling prime seemingly demanded more urgency; they probably cost themselves a playoff appearance by indulging James Wiseman rather than spamming Curry-Green pick-and-rolls. 

But now, that self-belief has been rewarded—Jordan Poole spent two years internalizing the Warriors’ basketball sensibilities and has morphed into Curry’s mini-me; Wiggins has dropped his Maple Mamba delusions to become a game-changing role player. Accordingly, the Warriors’ offense has leveled up, scoring 117.8 points per 100 possessions. 

The team may never reprise the highs of the Kevin Durant years, but their attack is still as variegated as any in the league. In the playoffs, Golden State has four players averaging more than 15 points per game while Draymond Green contributes over six assists. In particular, Poole’s emergence this year has juiced their offense in unpredictable ways. Attacking the gaps that Curry and Thompson create, Poole offers some off-the-dribble peppiness that the team has never had while Wiggins is the most athletic wing they’ve had during their dynasty. Curry still provides the overall architecture of this singular offense, but the team has spent the last two years reupholstering the furniture. 

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Can Jayson Tatum Live Up to the Hype in the NBA Finals?

Jayson Tatum is the next, great NBA superstar—or so we’re told. At just 24 years old, he’s been the breakout player of these playoffs, leading the Boston Celtics to the Finals and grabbing the inaugural Eastern Conference Finals MVP along the way. His stats are sparkling (26.9 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game) and his tough shot-making gives him a sense of unguardable inevitability. A studied follower of the Mamba Mentality, Tatum has recreated his mentor’s graceful midrange game—and also his knack for a certain kind of cringey, performative grindset. Whereas new-age stars like Nikola Jokic or Giannis Antetokounmpo are both future Hall of Famers in unprecedented ways, Tatum is an All-Star straight out of central casting. He went to Duke and plays for the Celtics and scores lots of points. He can sling cold cults like a champ. There’s a certain tautology to it all: Tatum is a star because everyone keeps saying he’s a star.

Even if Tatum is certainly a great player, he also hasn’t been the undisputed top dog in any of Boston’s playoff series this year. Against the Nets, Tatum swept Kevin Durant, but Durant had to contend with Boston’s league-leading defense and Tatum got to feast on Bruce Brown. In the second round, Tatum was soundly outdueled by Giannis Antetokounmpo, a sobering reminder of the gap between Tatum and the NBA’s absolute elite. Only the staunchest Tatum-heads would argue that Tatum played better than Jimmy Butler after Butler and an undermanned Heat team nearly pipped the Celtics for a Finals berth. 

A cynic could say that the Boston Media Mafia has manufactured consent around their favorite son. Ever since Tatum boomed Lebron James in the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals, the media apparatchik has thrown its full weight behind Tatum; Bill Simmons and his cartel of influential, trend-setting media members with New England ties have taken up Tatum as their cause celebre and elevated his standing in the general basketball discourse. To his credit, Tatum has validated a lot of the media’s shamrock-tinted gaslighting—he truly is among the best two dozen basketball players alive. And yet, when a Celtic who was patently not the most valuable player in the Eastern Conference Finals saunters across the stage to collect the freshly minted Larry Bird and Bob Cousy trophies, it’s hard to not grow suspicious of how and why it happened. 

In this sense, there’s a growing rupture between the perception that Tatum is in the midst of an all-time great postseason run and the reality that he’s merely having a very good one. Notably, Tatum is a lackluster playmaker for a player this lauded and prolific—amongst the 64 players who Basketball Index classifies as either a “shot creator” or “primary ball-handler,” Tatum ranks 50th in passing creation volume (their proprietary metric for evaluating the true impact of a player’s passing). 

While Tatum has pumped up his assist totals in the playoffs to nearly six per game, his playmaking ceiling is capped by his inability to stress multiple layers of a defense. Despite his size and athleticism, the 6’8 Tatum is a begrudging interior presence, scoring only 6.9 points on his 13.9 drives per game in the ‘yoffs, figures that lag behind gimmicky guards like Jordan Clarkson and centers like Karl-Anthony Towns. Despite his marionette-ish slipperiness with the ball, Tatum’s handle is more flashy than functional at this point; hounded by Miami’s handsy defenders, he barfed up nearly five turnovers a game.

As such, his reliance on his jumper allows Tatum to thrive against nearly every imaginable defensive coverage, but it leaves the Celtics vulnerable to spells of point-less grossness if Tatum is running cold; he has an icy 51.4 percent True Shooting in Boston’s 31 losses, compared to a rosier 61.3 percent True Shooting mark in their 51 wins. Tatum’s greatest asset as a scorer (his gobsmacking shot-making) feeds into his main offensive deficiency—when you can routinely drain impossible shots yourself, there’s no incentive to fuss for easier ones for your teammates. At a certain point for Tatum and the Celtics, being a bucket becomes a problem.

Although these Finals don’t represent some legacy-defining moment for the 24 year-old Tatum, they will provide some much-needed present clarity—it’s not that Boston’s boy-emperor has no clothes, but it’s unknown if he’s dressed in stylish gorpcore.

If Tatum is truly the generational scorer that a city full of lesser Wahlberg siblings believes him to be, he should have no problem vivisecting Golden State’s switching defense. His fellow All-NBA First-Teamer Luka Doncic just hung 32 points, nine rebounds and 6 assists per game on the Warriors, so surely Tatum can do the same, right? By taking home the Bill Russell Finals MVP trophy to pair with his Larry Bird and Bob Cousy ones, Tatum could once and for all prove he’s not a creation of Boston-obsessed basket-bloggers. For Boston to capture the title, Tatum needs to prove his lovers correct.

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Can the Mavericks Help Luka Doncic?

On any given day, Luka Doncic might just be the best basketball player in the world. This is hardly a novel sentiment—Doncic is averaging 31.3 points, 9.9 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game while nursing a gimpy calf—but it feels worth verbalizing. For whatever reason, Doncic was shunted to the outer rim of the MVP conversation, his all-world last 60 games of the season canceled out by his pudgy, lethargic start to the year. Unfairly, his gaudy box scores bear the stigmata of unvirtuous stat-padding, numbers derived in part from gluttonous usage rate and grift rather than purely from ethical skill. Still, this unlikely Dallas Mavericks run to the Western Conference Finals has revealed a surprising truth about the heliocentric Doncic: none of this is really about him.

To a degree, Doncic is so good and so prolific that his own greatness is almost immaterial to the outcome of a game. In Dallas’ nine playoff wins, Doncic has averaged 29.3 points and 7.7 assists (out of 14.3 potential assists) per game;  in their eight losses, Doncic has put up 34.3 points and 5.1 assists (out of 13.1 potential assists) per game. During any given game, Doncic will do Doncic things—he’ll dribble the ball enough to grow new calluses on his hands, get his teammates open by twisting anxious defenses into recklessness, and score somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 points. He creates consistency through volume—there’s an upper and lower bound on how good or bad he can be.

In this sense, the Mavs fate rests in the hands of everybody else. When the Mavs win, they have a 65.6 percent effective field goal percentage on catch and shoot opportunities; when they lose, that number shrinks down to 50.6 percent. This is hardly groundbreaking shit; it’s shot variance. 

But beyond that, the Mavs are ironically, uniquely reliant on their role players because of the way that Doncic hogs the spotlight. By dint of Doncic’s individual dominance, the rest of the Mavs handle the ball within specific, frantic moments of opportunity while the defense is in fire drill rotation. Doncic invariably creates good chances for his teammates; it’s up to the likes of Dorian Finney-Smith, Reggie Bullock, Spencer Dinwiddie and especially Jalen Brunson to transform them into great ones. 

Unsurprisingly, the Mavs season-prolonging, Game Four win doubled as both their best shooting and best passing performance of the Western Conference Finals. With the Warriors prepared to recover on Doncic’s kick-outs, the Mavs recognized that the pressure point of the Warriors’ defense was their ability to make second and third rotations rather than simply executing the first. 

As such, Dallas weaponized Brunson and Dinwiddie as sources of shot creation rather than merely as possession-ending shooters, trusting them to exploit advantages against the Warriors. Accordingly, both Brunson and Dinwiddie were more involved as passers—Brunson made 50 passes (up from his average of 43.8 for the playoffs) and Dinwiddie passed 36 times (up from 31.8). Similarly, the Mavs increased their off-ball creativity, setting pin-in and flare screens away from the ball to further obstruct the Warriors’ attempts to contest shots. As a result, over 49% of the Mavs’ threes were either open or wide open. 

Of course, all this is secondary to the less romantic reality that the Mavs won mainly because they made shots rather than miss them. More than any other year in recent memory, these playoffs have been decided by the basic arithmetic of field goal percentage and have spawned an anticlimax of blowouts and non-competitive fourth quarters. Staring down a 3-1 deficit, the Mavs are still probably going to be fodder on the way to another Finals run for the Warriors, but their evolution to suit peccadillos and peculiarities of Doncic could vault them from a year as a surprising contender and into years of perennial contention. 

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Andrew Wiggins Does It All

By now, the Golden State Warriors are hardly breaking new ground. Whereas their offense felt radical when it was unveiled in 2015, it’s now an institution unto itself. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson running through split actions together, Draymond Green ricocheting around the court to guard all five guys on the other team at once, the face-melting scoring sprees that end the game by the first media timeout of the third quarter: this is just what springtime basketball has looked like for most of the last eight years. It’s this constancy that not simply allowed the Warriors to withstand the roster attrition and churn that naturally occurs over eight years, but what has turned Andrew Wiggins from a churlish gunner into an all-purpose dynamo. 

In the Warriors’ 112-87 dog-walking of the Dallas Mavericks in game one of the Western Conference Finals, Wiggins was the primary Luka Doncic-stopper. He acquitted himself well—Doncic easily had his worst postseason performance of his career, with just 20 points (on 6-18 shooting) and four assists. While the Warriors mixed in their usual array of blitzes and switches and pre-rotations to unsteady the Mavs, their defensive gameplan was predicated on the belief that Wiggins had the right cocktail of strength and quickness to bother Doncic. 

Unlike the Suns who let Doncic window-shop for his preferred matchup, the Warriors labored to prevent Doncic from dictating the terms of engagement. Instead of simply granting the switch, the Warriors hedged Doncic into oblivion, forcing him to retreat while Wiggins scrambled back into position. In total, Wiggins matched-up with Doncic for about 10 minutes of game time, holding Doncic to 12 points and forcing three turnovers. On a larger, more impactful level, the Mavs were able to squeeze just 39 points from the 43 possessions that Wiggins spent on Doncic—after averaging 1.14 points per possession in the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Mavs could only muster .906 points per possession when Wiggins was sicced on Doncic. 

During the Warriors’ playoff run, Wiggins has been the unseen suture that’s held the team together. Although Stephen Curry, Jordan Poole and Klay Thompson are the offensive engines and Green is a one-man defensive game-breaker, the team has thrived because of the way that Wiggins can toggle between different matchup-specific roles. In the Western Conference Finals, Wiggins cosplays as a perimeter stopper; against Memphis, he attacked the offensive glass with never-before-seen vigor, grabbing 3.33 offensive rebounds per game despite averaging just 1.2 offensive rebounds for his career; for the Warriors’ first-round romp against the Nuggets, Wiggins was a capable floor-spacer and shot nearly 54 percent from beyond the arc. 

As a Minnesota Timberwolf, Wiggins was derided as a glory-boy monotasker who had internalized the shot selection of Kobe Bryant without any of Kobe’s competitive sicko-ness. People only cared about the delta between what he could’ve been—an epoch-defining superstar—and what he actually was (i.e. something far short of an epoch-defining superstar). But now, on a Warriors’ roster that’s devoid of much depth, Wiggins is so valuable because of his malleability; he can plug whatever gap pops open. Even if there was some initial consternation about how Wiggins would fit within the Warriors’ incredibly specific ecosystem, his fit now is clear: Andrew Wiggins is whatever you want him to be. 

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Jimmy Butler Is Too Much for the Boston Celtics

Jimmy Butler traffics in excess. No one person needs a 6000-pound, boombox fish tank; there’s no earthly reason to show up to work seven hours early. Even more than Patrick Beverley or Dillon Brooks or Trae Young, Butler is the league’s primo shit-stirrer, an indomitable jerk who has no compunctions about masking his jerkiness. “Tobias Harris over me!?” he howled into the ether after the Heat thoroughly crunched the Sixers into a fresh wave of existential crises. “You can’t win without me,” he barked at his, uh, teammates and coaches in Minnesota. He’s too much, too much of the time—and now it’s the Boston Celtics’ turn to reckon with it. 

Against Boston, Miami reaffirmed their status as the NBA’s resident grinch; they don’t so much beat teams as exsanguinate them, draining the life-force out of their opponent and leaving only a grumpy carcas. After getting shelled by Jayson Tatum in the first half, Butler and the Heat ripped off a torrid 39-14 third quarter to seal a 118-109 series-opening win. During the third quarter alone, Butler contributed 17 points (on five shots) and three steals as part of the rabid Miami defensive effort that provoked six turnovers from Tatum. Overall, Butler chipped in 41 points, nine rebounds, five assists and four steals. He was the best player on the court. For the game’s final 24 minutes, he was conceivably the best player in the world. 

This is simply what Jimmy Butler does—in basketball talking-head parlance, he “controls the game.” More than his sturdy 6’8 frame or productive psychopathy, Butler’s superpower is his poise, his galvanizing clarity of purpose. Possessing an uncanny ability to function completely on his own terms, he doesn’t just bend the flow of his game to his will; he manifests his own vision for how the game should—and will—be played. He plays with a drummer’s understanding of tempo, setting the rhythm and cadence for the other nine players on the court. Sensing that the Heat needed a jolt after halftime, Butler stalked passing lanes and hunted for early offense in the third quarter; nursing a lead in the fourth, he iced the game by hunting matchups and getting buckets in isolation. 

On a Miami roster that’s broadly prioritized an institutional over hyperbolic individual skill, Butler at once transcends and fits within “Heat Culture.” Whereas his teammates are largely specialists —PJ Tucker is a chesty stopper, Tyler Herro is a zippy off-the-dribble shooter—Butler is the load-bearing figure in Miami’s offense, pacing them in both scoring and assists.  

While Butler won’t rummage through a Never-Full and pull out a complicated dribble combo, he gets sturdy. In Game One, Butler bullied his way to 18 free throws, largely because no Celtic was strong enough to withstand his drives without fouling. Whereas other elite offensive hubs have a kind of weightless ease to their game, Butler boasts a tremendous physical gravity, inviting contact which he can then power through. Nearly everything is off two feet; he’s never off-balance or out of sorts. Just watch him plow through Robert Williams’ chest with a jump-stop for a dunk or shed Jaylen Brown with a forceful last step for evidence. 

In these playoffs, Butler has leveled up into a nearly 30 point per game scorer by leaning on his strengths, both figuratively and literally.  For the postseason, he’s averaged 15.0 drives per game and scored 9.4 points per game from those forays, compared to 13.4 drives and 7.6 points during the regular season. He’s upped both his volume (6.7 possessions versus 4.3 in the regular season) and efficiency (1.26 points per possession vs .92) as a pick-and-roll ball-handler. Additionally, he’s even become a confident shooter, taking 4.2 threes per game after sandbagging through the regular season. 

As such, Butler is not dissimilar to Lebron James or Luka Doncic in function, if not form.  He’s a superstar, despite his general scruffy vibe. Most of the pre-series chatter was oriented around Jayson Tatum’s star-turn and place in the league, but that discussion is probably missing the real point. Jimmy Butler is the face—no, Big Face—of the NBA playoffs. 

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Sports Strength

Winners and Losers of the NBA Trade Deadline

The NBA trade deadline has become an unofficial holy day on basketball’s calendar, representing the ultimately establishment of a team’s identity. This is where months-long storylines come to a head and the drama-filled first half of the season gives way to the intensity and focus that defines the back-half. Amongst the chaos of this year’s especially chaotic edition, here are our winners and losers of the NBA’s trade deadline.

Winner: Complaining

For the umpteenth year in a row, complaining has continued to run up the score against silently enduring. Across the NBA, basketball’s squeakiest wheels were greased—Brooklyn and Philly swapped world-historic malcontents James Harden and Ben Simmons; Goran Dragic was liberated from Toronto. Trade demands are certainly not a new development, but never have they been so protracted and, ultimately, all-around beneficial. Harden, Simmons, Dragic and the teams that dealt them are all better off today than they were on Wednesday. “Player empowerment” is often unfairly sneered as an euphemism for “teams getting screwed over,” but Thursday presented a vision of how players and teams can mutually advance their seemingly conflicting interests. 

Loser: The Therapy Industrial Complex

Tired: months of grueling work with psychiatrists and therapy to resolve mental health issues. Wired: being cured because you no longer have to live in Philadelphia.

Winner: The Eastern Conference Playoffs

Long considered the NBA’s kids’ table compared to the perennially loaded Western Conference, the East is now home to the NBA’s most intriguing teams. Between the Nets, Sixers, Bulls, Cavs, Heat and Bucks, there are six teams who can credibly hope to win the conference. And, over the last few days, nearly all of them significantly and materially improved. April and May will be a bloodbath. 

The Cavs kicked off the week by trading for Caris Levert, crucially adding a second guy who can, like, dribble and shoot to their surprisingly potent gumbo. The Bucks acquired Serge Ibaka, giving them a drop-coverage friendly stretch-five who provides them with insurance for the injured Brook Lopez. 

Most significantly, the Sixers and Nets helped each other heal. In their abbreviated Big Three flop era, the Nets tried to live on buckets alone—Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden were such transcendent offensive players that nothing else really mattered. This year, though, Durant’s injuries, Harden’s apathy and Irving’s terrible taste in Youtube videos revealed the precarity of the Nets’ success—heading into the deadline, the team had lost nine consecutive games and plummeted from the top of the conference down into play-in range. In Simmons, the Nets have seemingly acquired the tonic for their ails; on a team that’s been unable to scrounge up enough defense, playmaking, size or athleticism, Simmons provides all four in spades. 

Similarly, Harden legitimizes the Sixers’ championship aspirations. For the first half of the season, Philly’s relative success has been entirely tied to Joel Embiid’s greatness; his 37 percent usage rate is the highest mark that any center has ever posted. But beyond Embiid, the Sixers haven’t really had any other way to conjure productive offense. Tyrese Maxey is a spunky shot-maker, but is more of a sidekick than a co-star; Tobias Harris is the least inspiring efficient volume scorer in the NBA. With Harden, the Sixers have a perimeter counterweight to Embiid’s interior stylings, giving them two of the best isolation scorers in recent history. Even if there are questions of whether the team will able to accommodate two of the most profligate ball-stoppers in the league (will this be the least frequent passing team ever? Will Danny Green ever know the warmth of a basketball’s touch ever again?), the combined talent of Harden and Embiid could prove to be overwhelming. 

Losers: Dallas Mavericks

In perhaps the most shocking move of the deadline, the Mavs shipped Kristaps Porzingis to the Washington Wizards for, uh, Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans. Porzingis may not be the All-NBA center that the Mavericks forecasted him to become when they traded for him back in 2019, but he’s still a very good—albeit overpaid—player when he’s available. Conversely, Bertans and Dinwiddie are both mired in the worst stretches of their career. Bertans is a reputed shooter who can no longer make shots. Dinwiddie has struggled to regain his explosiveness after tearing his ACL last year and is shooting 37.6 percent from the floor this year. Unless the two of them can recapture their form from two or three years ago, the value that they bring to the Mavs is dubious. 

Winner: Sacramento Kings

Although the Kings don’t necessarily deserve the benefit of the doubt on account of their Kings-iness, their early trade deadline returns don’t seem unpromising. The decision to move on from Tyrese Haliburton was widely pilloried, but the newly-acquired Domantas Sabonis has already shown an intriguing chemistry with star point guard De’Aaron Fox; in their first game together, Sacramento’s star duo demonstrated a nascent, zippy chemistry as a pick-and-roll and dribble-handoff battery that should serve as the foundation of the team’s offense. In a smaller move, the Kings also added Donte Divencenzo from the Milwaukee Bucks, giving them a gritty defensive wing who, theoretically, could help space the floor. Even if the team’s ceiling isn’t necessarily high, this is just about the first time in nearly two decades that their floor has ever crept above ground-level.