Wizards clamp down defensively on Stephen Curry, Warriors

Washington Wizards' Trevor Ariza, left, is guarded by Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry during the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
You like this D, Trevor? (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

OAKLAND, Calif. – Starting with John Wall’s chase-down block and ending with Trevor Ariza’s refusal to leave his feet after a series of pump fakes in the closing seconds, the Wizards’ ability to fluster Golden State Warriors all-star point guard Stephen Curry was instrumental in leaving Oracle Arena with an 88-85 victory.

Curry finished with a game-high 23 points, extending his string of 20-point games to nine, but he missed 15 of 23 field attempts. The Wizards were committed to chasing him off the three-point line, challenging almost every shot and living with the consequences.

Even when Curry was able to score, his shots often required some creativity and high degree of difficulty. During one play in the first half, Curry drove left to get away from Ariza, dribbled the ball back to front between the legs, stepped back and popped a fadeaway. The shot was impressive, but also displayed how hard Curry had to work to get off the most basic shots.

“I just tried to make it tough,” Wall said. “He is a heck of a player and an all-star in this league and he is very tough. He has unlimited range and a definite green light. You just keep trying to chase him, keep trying to contest and make it tough for him.”

Wall dealt with Curry most of the night, dealing with the difficult task of fighting over screens and constantly running around to keep up. Ariza, Martell Webster and Garrett Temple also took turns defending Curry, and the Wizards also would switch bigger defenders to give him more length to shoot over.

Washington once again had success in keeping Curry contained. In two games this season against the Wizards, Curry is 13 for 40 (32.5 percent), which is the worst field goal percentage that he has posted against any team that he has faced at least twice this season.

I think we did a good job on him,” Ariza said. “When they set screens, we switched and our bigs did a great job on him playing one-on-one defense. They helped us out a lot.”

When Curry struggled in Washington earlier this month, the Warriors got a combined 47 points from Klay Thompson and David Lee. On Tuesday, the duo was limited to a combined 24 points on 7 for 27 shooting.

Lee has been dealing with a problem in his left shoulder and only made two shots, getting most of his 11 point from the free throw line. Thompson was held in check in every period except the second quarter, when he scored eight of his 13 points. The other three quarters, Thompson shot 2 of 13 from the floor.

For the second time in three games, the Wizards were able to throttle one of the league’s most explosive offensive teams. They held Phoenix almost 10 points below its scoring average in Friday’s 101-95 victory and held the Warriors to 19 points blow their season average.

Golden State has scored less than 90 points just five times this season, going 1-4 in those games. The Wizards also limited the Warriors to 37.5 percent shooting, which as only the third time this season that they shot worse than 40 percent.

The Wizards defense would have to carry them to the finish after Wall made the go-ahead three with 87 seconds remaining. Ariza forced Andre Iguodala into shooting an airball. Then, after Gortat missed a putback that could’ve put the game out of reach, Nene switched off Lee to guard Curry, who missed a potential tying three off the front of the rim.

Martell Webster missed another long jumper with six seconds left, setting up Cury’s final shot. After the Warriors called a timeout, Coach Randy Wittman went with a small lineup of Temple, Ariza, Webster, Wall and Bradley Beal.

The Warriors had shot a sizzling 48.6 percent from long distance in their previous five games, but were just 7 of 23 on Tuesday. Wittman didn’t want to foul on the last possession, hoping that his defense would hold on.

“I just thought there was too much time, and if we could defend it the way we were, I’m just not a big proponent of it at that time,” Wittman said. Ariza “is one of our better defenders, so he stayed down. We covered the three-point line the last two possessions as well as you can.”

Ariza covered Curry like a cornerback, trying to deny the ball, then never lost track of Curry as he tried several moves to get separation. Curry dribbled behind the back to go right and pumped but Ariza didn’t jump, using his length to disrupt the shot and forcing Curry to attempt the final shot with his left, non-shooting foul.

“I tried to crowd him. Tried to not let him get off a three,” Ariza said. “I’d rather him take a two or get a basket, but I wasn’t going to let him get a clean look.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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