Drive, pass, pass back, corner 3. This is a play teams haven’t been able to stop for years.
Death, taxes and Stephen Curry corner threes. They’re the three most unavoidable things in the universe, and the Warriors do a damn good job at making the latter virtually unstoppable.
The Warriors have won two championships in a three-year span and find themselves competing for a fourth in large part because of Curry, a two-time MVP who just might be the best shooter the game of basketball has ever seen. And if you’ve ever seen him appear from out of thin air for a wide open corner three, just know it wasn’t some wild hocus pocus magic trick Golden State pulled out of its back side.
It’s actually all by design.
This play has given Curry so many open threes, it’s not even funny
Steph Curry drives, passes, spots up for the corner 3. pic.twitter.com/BhmdWb3CDp
— RealGM (@RealGM) May 21, 2018
There’s no name on record the Warriors play-call that leads to an open Curry three, so to make things fun, let’s call it Peek-a-Boo.
In reality, this isn’t a drawn-up play Steve Kerr calls from the sidelines. But it’s something Curry and his teammates have clearly practiced over the years, and it works a little something like this.
Curry gets the step on his man and attacks the rim, which forces a help defender to cut his lane off. That’s the key part to the equation: Without getting the step, the help won’t come. Curry then gives the ball up to the man the defender helped off, usually a big man without much shooting range.
Curry’s primary defender tends to fall asleep at that moment, since he’s given the ball up. Not so fast. Without even a moment’s hesitation, Curry darts out from underneath the basket, tip-toes along the baseline and pops up in the corner. The big man gives the ball back to Curry and screens the closest defender. All Curry needs is a half-second to get a shot up. This gives him extra time.
Here it is, in live action in Game 7 against the Rockets.
Now, you’re probably wondering, “Damn, what about that illegal screen?” And you’re right, that screen looks illegal AF (though the official NBA referee Twitter account disagreed). Just look at the Rockets bench:
But Curry and the Warriors run this play — or some variation of it — all the time. And more often than not, it works with a solid screen. Here it is, again, in the same game against the Rockets.
Here’s a variation of it in the Western Conference Semifinals against the Pelicans, where Curry beats Jrue Holiday off the dribble — forcing Anthony Davis to come help — kicks out to Andre Iguodala, then flares to the corner. The Pelicans were so confused, Klay Thompson didn’t even need to set a screen on the closeout man. The Warriors already know what time it is.
And while this play against the Spurs in last year’s Western Conference Finals isn’t the exact same, it’s a similar concept: Curry gives up the ball, ducks behind a screen and appears in the corner. Death and taxes, rinse and repeat.
The Warriors’ super shooter set an NBA Finals record with nine threes made against the Cavaliers in Game 2 on Sunday. We saw Peek-a-Boo threes all over the place. The one that hurt Cleveland most turned into a four-point play.
Why does it work so well?
For starters, Curry is a career 43.6 percent three-point shooter who’s shooting it at a 42.3 percent clip this season. More specifically, he’s shooting 45.5 percent from the left corner in the playoffs and 37.5 percent from the right.
Those shooting percentages pale in comparison to what he did in last year’s playoffs. Curry shot 66.7 percent from the left corner and 50 percent from the right. Yes, last year, more often than not, a Curry corner three was going to fall.
Those numbers declined this season, in part because of nagging injuries, and in part because the league learned its lesson last year. But a corner three for Curry is still a shot you never want to give up.
It also works because the Warriors are a selfless ball club that loves to set off-ball screens. Those screens free up guys like Curry, Klay Thompson, or Kevin Durant all day, and because Curry’s release is so quick, sometimes it doesn’t even matter if a defender can get past a screen at all.
Does it work every time?
Not all the time. Here’s an example of a set-up gone wrong, which led to a forced and contested corner three against the Nets.
And here’s a picture-perfect Peek-a-Boo triple that just didn’t fall for Curry in Game 2.
This is the kind of serendipity — Warriors’ misfortune meets defensive preparation — that the Cavs need if they’re going to have any shot at rebounding from an 0-2 series deficit.
Golden State didn’t find Curry for one of his trademark Peek-a-Boo threes in Game 1, but Curry ran amok from downtown in Game 2. If Cleveland wants any chance at picking the pieces up off the ground, they had better be ready to blast through that screen and stop that pesky two-time MVP from getting open looks.
Because death, taxes and Stephen Curry corner threes are the only things certain in life. And if Curry is hitting those threes against the Cavaliers, you might as well add one more thing to that list.
A Warriors 2018 NBA championship.