Brian Rudolph still remembers the raspy voice instructing him to do something that sounded so extreme, so preposterous, so insanely radical that he was almost positive he would never see it again.
Loyola University Maryland was done with its morning shootaround before a November 2008 game against Davidson College when coach Jimmy Patsos realized the strategy that he’d devised for that night wasn’t going to work. Loyola was about to play the leading scorer in college basketball. Stephen Curry was already a problem without a solution. Patsos decided to scrap the game plan. Instead he wanted Loyola’s players to double-team Curry for the entire game.
“Huh?” Rudolph thought. “We just spent an hour at shootaround and didn’t work on this one time. But all right then. I guess that’s what we’re going to do.”
It backfired in spectacular fashion. Curry stood in the corner perfectly content to let his teammates play 4-on-3. Curry scored zero points. Davidson won by 30 points. Loyola’s players have regrets.
“I would’ve rather taken my shot against him and lost than play the way we did and lose by 30,” said Brett Harvey, a commercial real-estate broker in New York. “Now I wish I had that game back more than ever.”
That game more than 10 years ago would be the last time any team dared to get so crazy guarding Curry. At least until the NBA Finals.
Down by nine points with about five minutes left in a supremely weird Game 2 on Sunday night, the Toronto Raptors were as desperate as Loyola.
What happened next was one of the oddest strategic choices that you will ever see in the NBA. Raptors coach Nick Nurse called for a box-and-one: a rarely used gimmick in which four defenders play a zone (the box) while Fred VanVleet hounded Curry (the one). Nurse was putting himself at risk to be ridiculed. But it was also not that big of a gamble. The Raptors had nothing to lose since they were going to lose anyway.
“I was just trying to come up with something to stop them,” Nurse said.
It helped that Kevin Durant was out, Klay Thompson was injured and Golden State had about as many shooters surrounding Curry as that Davidson team. Curry called it “some janky defense” on Sunday night. He’d changed his mind by Tuesday afternoon and called it “innovative and unexpected.”
But the results suggest this strategy that could have easily been embarrassing was actually brilliant.