Postgame: Seth Curry

Mavs G Seth Curry discusses Thursday night's win over the Utah Jazz.

The box score of Tuesday’s zany Mavs/Blazers game was significant for many reasons. Three Mavs starters scored 20-plus points, Dirk Nowitzki and Harrison Barnes shot 15 free throws combined, and Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum combined for 61 points.

But the most surprising number of the night: one.

That’s how many shots Seth Curry took in 27 minutes against the Blazers, in addition to two free throws. It was a slightly abbreviated appearance for Curry, who briefly left the game after tweaking his left shoulder in a collision with Portland center Mason Plumlee.

Rather than becoming critical and looking at the number as a negative, however, Curry and Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle see it as a sign that opponents are starting to place a higher premium on slowing the 26-year-old down. The Mavs are 9-3 when Curry scores more than 15 points, per Basketball-Reference, so there’s a correlation between the team playing better when he’s more effective.

“Teams are starting to focus on me, so I’ve got to find ways to get my shots in different ways,” Curry said after Thursday’s overtime win against the Jazz. “It’s just a different adjustment for me. But the confidence the coaches have in me, and the guys I’m on the floor with have in me, is helping me out as well.”

This has been a season full of adjustments for Curry, who’s already played more games this season, 49, than he had in his three previous seasons combined. You hear a lot about the proverbial rookie wall, a time when first-year players find the NBA season feels more like a grind than ever, and it seems to take more and more energy and effort to accomplish anything. This time of year is usually when players start hitting that wall.

Curry isn’t a rookie, but this is the first time he’s played such a significant role on a team. “He’s in kind of uncharted territory,” Carlisle said. “He’s never played this much, this deep into the season.” To wit, Curry has played 30-plus minutes in 21 games for the Mavericks, after doing so just eight times total all of last season for Sacramento.

That increase in minutes means more everything: more games, more shots, more defense, and more attention.

“I feel like I’m pretty versatile,” he said. “Obviously they want to take away my catch-and-shoots, and things of that nature, so I’m just trying to mix it up by making plays off the dribble, finding teammates when I get in the paint, and things like that. Try not to force it, but try to show different aspects of my game.”

Curry isn’t an under-the-radar player anymore, and in the fourth quarter and in tight games he’s beginning to see and understand those differences. “It’s definitely been a learning process,” he said. “A game changes down the stretch.”

Sometimes the best way to handle a new experience is to hand the reins to a veteran. The Mavs have played through Harrison Barnes late in games for most of the season, and Dirk Nowitzki has been a closer as well, of course. But Curry has seen his fair share of big moments, too. He hit a game-tying 3-pointer late against Utah the last time the Jazz came to Dallas, and his fourth-quarter layup against the Spurs helped the Mavericks put the game away.

His pair of plays late in regulation in Thursday’s win against the Jazz, however, might have been his most meaningful of the season.

First, it’s important to understand what the Mavs hope to accomplish in their crunch-time offense. It’s always a pick-and-roll with the point guard and either Nowitzki or Barnes, in hopes of creating a switch. If the opposing 1 ends up on the big man, Dallas will feed either Dirk or Barnes at the elbow and let him go to work.

The flip side of that can lead to easy offense for the Mavericks, too. After all, if a point guard is switched onto Nowitzki, the center, that means the opponent’s center is switched onto the point guard. In this case, Curry was running point, and his opponent was the most fearsome rim protector in the game, Rudy Gobert.

All night long, the Mavs had been mindful of where Gobert was on the floor, understandably intimidated by his height, size, and length. He is a shot-blocking force, one of the best, if not the best, defenders in the NBA. Watch below as Curry recognizes the switch and attacks the slower Gobert off the dribble, but doesn’t quite feel like he has enough separation to get a shot off.

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Instead of panicking and either putting up a timid shot or making an errant pass, Curry wisely pulls the ball out back to the perimeter. At this point, Curry knows if he plays his cards right, he’s quick enough to get around Gobert, fast enough to create separation, and confident enough to put up a shot if he meets those first two criteria. The result:

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This is what development looks like. He hadn’t taken an attempt like this earlier in the game against a switch — in fact, he’d actively avoided taking a shot, to the detriment of himself and to the team.

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In the play above, Curry was whistled for traveling. He turned it over three times in total when turning the corner off a screen and seeing Gobert, either in a true switch situation or in a more traditional help defense role. But Curry processed that information throughout the night and was prepared to shoot if that same situation presented itself later in the game, and simply by changing his angle of attack he could gain an edge. He capitalized.

“I just can’t let a center play me consistently, especially down the stretch,” Curry said. “We get switches and guards are on Dirk and HB, so we want to take advantage of that matchup, but I feel like if I have a center on me, I have that advantage, too. So we’ve got to mix it up by who we go to, and I’ve just got to make good plays.

“Wes, Dirk, HB told me to take advantage of my matchups, too. So it’s a matter of going out there and playing for my teammates, and just doing what I do every night.”

It would be one thing if he made one nice play against Gobert, but Curry did it twice in a row late in the final moments of the game. After his first and-1 bucket made the game 96-94, Utah, Curry found himself with a switch the next time down the floor and pulled it out once again.

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Do you notice Dirk clearing out and giving Curry as much room as possible? That’s the German’s way of telling Curry to shoot. It’s all him.

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And Curry followed his advice, driving past Gobert once again to score. That’s no easy feat.

“He has a flair for the moment,” Carlisle said. “He’s a guy that’s unafraid. He has a lot of confidence in his ability to score the ball, both on his shot and off drives. We don’t get to overtime if he didn’t get on a roll in the fourth again.”

The Mavs wouldn’t be in the position they’re in right now — knocking on the door of the eighth playoff spot after that 4-17 start to the season — if Curry weren’t so confident and effective. He appears to have had as much to do with this team’s success as pretty much anyone else on the roster, at least as of late; Dallas is 10-5 during his 15-game run as a starter.

His stat line against the Blazers was an aberration. After watching what Curry did against the Jazz, I don’t think we’ll see a one-shot game again anytime soon.

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