The Golden State Warriors improved to 22-0 with a 114-98 win at Brooklyn on Sunday and seem intent on rewriting the history books all season long. Even Superman has a weakness, however, and it appears the Warriors have one too: the three-point shot.
The Warriors’ 15 losses from last season show that by opponents limiting Golden State’s three-point effectiveness while being proficient from long range themselves is a recipe for success.
For example, in the Warriors’ wins from last year they shot 41 percent from three compared with 34.8 percent in the losses. The challenge this year, of course, is even more daunting, as the Warriors are the best three-point shooting team in the league (39.8 percent) with Stephen Curry on fire from beyond the arc (47.2 percent with a league leading 116 three-point shots made).
The first step is guarding Curry within two feet on those three-point attempts, something that happens just 2.9 percent of the time. Here is an example from the game against Brooklyn, with Shane Larkin up close and personal on Curry’s no-dribble jumper (red arrow).
Or better yet, double team Curry like the Kings did on this missed three-point attempt (below).
But the difference in wins and losses last season comes by limiting the Warriors to one or two fewer three-point shots per game — a fool’s errand with how well they are shooting the ball. Instead, the opposition should focus on hitting their own three-point shots: opponents shot 39.7 percent from three in games in which the Warriors lost and 32.1 percent in those games Golden State won. Opponents not only shot better, they took almost three more three-point shots per game on average (23.7 vs. 20.9).
There is one other team besides the Warriors that takes more than 23 three-point shots per game this season while hitting at least 39 percent: the Indiana Pacers, who will host the Warriors on Tuesday night.
The Pacers rank second in three-point percentage (40.1 percent) but more importantly rank 10th in opponent’s three-point percentage, holding team’s to 33.7 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
Indiana’s defense also ranks second and fifth, respectively, for points per possession allowed in transition (0.96) and half-court sets (0.86) per Synergy Sports. As an added bonus, the Pacers are sixth in the NBA for points per possession with four or fewer seconds on the shot clock (0.65), a time when Curry is at his best from beyond the arc.
If it isn’t Indiana who ends the Warriors’ winning streak, it could be one of their opponents over the next seven games — Golden State will face five teams in the top 10 for three-point percentage: Milwaukee Bucks (twice), Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz and Sacramento Kings.
Yes, it is simplistic to say defeating one of the best teams in any sport is as easy as limiting the best player in the game, but someone is going to defeat the Warriors at some point, and recent history suggests this is how it is going to happen.