Warriors

Steph Curry goes cold, gets locked up by Raptors' aggressive game plan

Steph Curry goes cold, gets locked up by Raptors' aggressive game plan

OAKLAND – Knocked down by the Raptors last month in Toronto and again Wednesday night in Oakland, the Warriors would like nothing more than to come back for a third chance soon as possible.

That can’t happen before May 30, when Game 1 of the NBA Finals is scheduled.

“I know if that were to happen,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after his team was blown out of Oracle Arena, 113-93, “we would be ready to play.”

Meanwhile, they have to recover and study and analyze the events of Wednesday night. There were several troubling signals, including low defensive intensity and mental errors at both ends, though none was more evident and enlightening than the defense the Raptors threw at Stephen Curry.

After watching Curry dribble, shoot and splash his way through defenses this season, it was striking to see him running into roadblocks and thickets of arms and hands, led by a rugged and redoubtable defender named Fred VanVleet.

Curry entered the game averaging 30.1 points per game, shooting 51.3 percent overall, and 50 percent from beyond the arc. He totaled 10 points, a season-low in games for which he was healthy throughout, on 3-of-12 shooting, 2-of-8 from deep.

“We just tried to make them uncomfortable, make them make plays they’re not used to making,” Van Vleet said. "Every team has their main guys, multiple playmakers, and we try to take it out of the playmakers’ hands and make others make all the plays. That was our game plan going in. We did a great job executing it."

VanVleet, who usually comes off the bench in the role of sixth man, started at point guard due to lineup change necessitated when Kawhi Leonard was ruled out before tipoff. Curry normally gets to cook Kyle Lowry, an All-Star offensive force but a mediocre defender vastly inferior to VanVleet in both pluck and technique.

With VanVleet in junkyard-dog mentality, Curry seemed to spend the evening searching for enough room to move, much less fire an uncontested shot.

“I didn’t really have rhythm,” Curry conceded, “for whatever reason.”

[RELATED: Steph Curry says Warriors would beat Shaq's Lakers that had three-peat]

Though VanVleet was the primary defender, he had help. Even when Curry was coming off screens, there wasn’t much room. He had a couple open looks, but any good defender knows any shooter harassed all night tends to miss even when we he gets some space.

“There are only two ways to guard Stephen,” said Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin, who conducted the postgame news conference because head coach Nick Nurse left immediately for a family matter. “The No. 1 way is to pray that he misses. No. 2 is to get a body on him and do not give him any open looks.”

Curry’s previous success against the Raptors – he was averaging 29.8 points against them for his career, his highest average against any opponent – has been largely a matter of taking advantage of Lowry, with VanVleet getting some spot duty.

The Raptors, however, may have found something with VanVleet in the starting lineup. One game does not a Steph Stopper make, but he clearly is an upgrade over the usual Raptors defenders.

This variation of man-to-man defense is especially effective given the frequent and assertive help from Toronto’s assembly line of lengthy wings.

Asked whether Curry’s poor performance was a result of Raptors defense or simply an off night, Kerr pointed to both.

“It’s always a combination,” Kerr said. “I’m sure we’ll look at the tape and we’ll see some shots that Steph would normally hit and we’ll also see excellent defense. Fred VanVleet picked him up full court and did a good job of getting into him.

“But it’s always a combination.”

[RELATED: Warriors' blowout loss to Raptors deserves long look in the mirror]

The combination worked exceptionally well for the Raptors. They gave Curry something to think about. They gave the Warriors something to think about.

They may have given a few other NBA teams something to consider.

A lot went wrong for the Warriors in this game, particularly their defensive lethargy. But if they see the Raptors again in May, VanVleet will have a nice audition video for the role of defending Curry.

Which doesn’t mean the Raptors would get the same results.

NBA rumors: Warriors' Steph Curry targeting March 1 return to lineup

NBA rumors: Warriors' Steph Curry targeting March 1 return to lineup

Steph Curry reportedly is targeting a March 1 return. 

The two-time MVP has not played since breaking his left hand on Oct. 30, and The Athletic's Marcus Thompson has "been told" that Curry hopes to play on March 1 at Chase Center against the Washington Wizards, though the date is not "set in stone."

Curry told Warriors broadcasters Bob Fitzgerald and Kelenna Azubuike during Golden State's win over the Orlando Magic on Saturday that he has had "no setbacks" rehabbing his broken hand. 

"Rehab is going great, every day is tough,” Curry said Saturday. “When you're hurt, and we've all been there in some way shape or form, its a grind, every day kind of being monotonous with the little strength workouts you have to do, and you understanding that it takes time and patience to get back to 100 percent.”

[RELATED: Poole shows even more progress in Dubs' win over Magic]

Curry is traveling to road games with the Warriors, and the 30-year-old has impressed his teammates and coaches during individual shooting drills. Warriors coach Steve Kerr told the "Posted Up" podcast earlier this month that there was an "excellent chance" Curry would return in March. He'll be re-evaluated Feb. 1, and NBC Sports Bay Area's Kerith Burke wrote last week that a minutes restriction is possible as Curry "gets his wind back."

Before Curry is re-evaluated, though, he reportedly already has a timeline in mind. 

Warriors' Jordan Poole showing more progress after bad start to season

Warriors' Jordan Poole showing more progress after bad start to season

SAN FRANCISCO -- With four seconds left in the third quarter of the Warriors' 190-95 win over Magic on Saturday, Jordan Poole ran full speed to the right-wing with a bucket on his mind. 

Sprinting alongside teammate Omari Spellman, Poole received a pass from the big man, pump faked, took a dribble and drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer, pushing the Warriors lead to 11. 

Walking to the bench, Poole had both arms in the air, and was yelling "Yeahhhh" towards the crowd. Similar plays have been the norm for Poole over the last week as he gradually digs himself out a bad start to his rookie season. 

"He's starting to figure out where his spots are," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "Where his spots are and his comfort zone and how to impact a game." 

Remnants of Poole's improvement were on display early Saturday night. After Golden State went down 13-0 four and a half minutes into the contest, Poole scored 11 first-quarter points, helping Golden State take a 28-25 lead by the end of the period. Poole totaled 21 points for the game, including four 3-pointers, providing another example of his evolution. In his past three outings, Poole is averaging 16 points on 45 percent from the field. 

Such stretches are uncommon considering the start of Poole's career. During his first 29 games -- with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson out of the lineup -- he shot just 25 percent, prompting a demotion to the G League. While his shot was ineffective, it was his propensity to not give all-out effort that drew ire of the coaching staff. On his way down to Santa Cruz, Kerr gave him a player that he'd like Poole to use a blueprint for success: Pelicans guard JJ Redick. More specifically, the shooter's habit of constant movement on the defensive end, complimented by his shooting ability. 

Poole followed suit during his G League stint, averaging 26 points, 5.3 assists and 1.3 steals in three games. The performance has carried over back to the NBA, as he's making 42 percent of his 3-pointers over his last three games. But he showed his  growth six minutes into the third quarter Saturday, when he fought through two screens, moved his feet on Magic guard Evan Fournier before stripping the guard, causing a fast break on the other end, prompting praise from his coach and teammates along the way.  

"He's doing better on defense, handling the ball and making plays," Kerr said. "The game is so fast at this level. Everything happens much faster, so whether you are defending somebody or having to get over a screen or leave a rotation or if you have the ball and you are trying to make a pass, everything just happens quicker than you are used to. I think the time in Santa Cruz helped him gain more confidence and maybe the game has slowed down a bit ... He just looks more confident and comfortable."

"I think his approach has been better," teammate D'Angelo Russell added. "I think that's what's contributed to him successfully on the court. Not just worrying about his shots but his demeanor, his approach is business-like."

Poole's progression comes as the Warriors are in transition. As he works towards a long-term role, organizational cornerstones Curry and Thompson are working their way back from injuries, while Russell -- an All-Star guard -- is giving 20-year old daily lessons on how to be a pro.

[RELATED: Paschall regains form after tough stretch]

"I'm like a kid in the candy store, especially being able to have Steph, Klay and [Russell]," Poole said on Warriors Postgame Live. "I'm in awe every day. You wouldn't want to be in any other situation." 

As Poole celebrated his buzzer-beater, Curry sat on a makeshift stage, soaking in the rookie's latest step as a pro, leaving compliments along the way. 

"The way that he's fought through his early-season struggles and gone down to Santa Cruz, really able to work on his game, see the floor, get his rhythm and shoot the ball the way he's been doing the last few games," Curry said during NBC Sports Bay Area's broadcast. "That's what an NBA player is made of. It's not going to be pretty but you got to keep coming back to try and make it work."