Don’t back down! Be man! Don’t be soft!
Many players and fans believe in this ethos, especially when applying it to “playoff basketball.” Me? I’ve always found softness to be a winning bet, and its antithesis to be a sucker’s game. Dirk Nowitzki’s style was considered soft till he won a championship. The “soft” aspects of Chris Bosh’s game scare defenses out to the perimeter, exposing them to LeBron’s brutal drives. “Soft” is for winners, “tough” is for also-rans like ZBo and David West. Much as we try to make basketball some crucible of manhood, the truth is that it’s an exhibition of grace, where physical contact is repeatedly punished, whistle after whistle. Stop pretending that basketball isn’t Spherical Object Ballet and get with the program.
So, when Nuggets players taunt Stephen Curry as “soft,”, my first thought is, “go with it.” Curry is a skinny point guard who gets paid to make three-pointers far, far, from the paint. He will never come off as tough, and there’s really no reason for him to do so. What Curry can do, is draw more fouls. Look at how Kenneth Faried bumps Curry early, off the ball, before the play where Faried slided at Curry’s ankle.
Steph bounces off the first bump, drawing no whistle. Where’s the sales job? Where’s the Kevin Martin full-scale-flail? It was a moderate bump by Faried, but if Curry hits the floor, a flagrant could be in order. Instead, no whistle.
Perhaps emboldened, Faried kicks towards Curry’s ankle minutes later. The Golden State response is Andrew Bogut shoving at Faried’s throat, causing a flagrant foul and helping Denver’s offense on a possession where the Warriors could have easily just grabbed the rebound. It’s a dumb play, and it benefits the Nuggets immensely.
Before I continue, a few thoughts on Faried’s tripping of Curry, and the discussion surrounding it. Yes, it likely was a dirty play. I say “likely,” because there is the off chance that Faried’s trip was accidental. And I say “off chance,” because of the surrounding plays in which Faried tooks shots at Curry off the ball. From a Faried perspective, Bogut has been smacking him all series. Cycle of violence and such. While Mark Jackson’s postgame comments are a bit much, you can understand why Kenneth Faried’s possible targeting of Curry’s ankle might drive Jackson into a rage, or at the very least, motivate him to work the refs–just as you can see why Faried might lash out at other GSW players in response to Bogut setting brutally illegal screens all series.
The dumbest trope in the aftermath of all this is the notion that Warriors (and by extension, their fans) are betraying an ignorance as to how playoff ball goes. Hey man, it’s playoff manly stuff! You’re a noob if you can’t take all the physical physicality, physicalizin’ around! Oh, please. I’m sure if Derrick Rose comes back and someone kicks at his knee, Thibs and the Bulls fanbase will take that super calmly. The Warriors have a star, and he’s playing on injured ankles. They don’t appreciate someone (perhaps!) trying to intentionally re-injure their franchise player. The notion that a playoff-experienced team would take this stoically is ludicrous. You’d have to be an idiot to take this stoically. Mark Jackson should be bleating to the media and the refs. He must do everything in his power to protect his franchise player.
Anyway, back to the flopping.
The Warriors have suffered from a flopping dearth for quite some time. Even though Monta Ellis made dazzling forays towards the rim, he didn’t garner as many free throws as you’d expect. “That’s not what I do. That’s what they do,” Ellis once replied when I asked whether he’d consider selling more calls. I do believe that Monta looked at this as a matter of dignity. Many fans share that mentality, but I’d personally rather my favorite stars get to the line. There’s more dignity in winning with flops than losing without them. Monta’s gone, but the Warriors still lack that guy who expertly pulls off a less repugnant version of Maggette’s flail and wail.
It’s easy for me to say that Stephen Curry should sell more calls, of course. Curry is focused on navigating screens, getting in the right position, and a million other things that might distract him from flopping effectively. Still, there is value squandered in trying to fight through contact, rather than mining it for free throws. Think of flopping as jiu-jitsu, the martial art predicated on using an opponent’s momentum against that opponent. If Faried and co. want to strike out at Curry, Curry’s response should be to react as though Mark Jackson’s invisible “hit men” are actually firing bullets his way. Use the force of the contact against the Nuggets. Don’t fight through the contact; suf it like a wave that sends you to the line.
The Warriors will be at home for Game 6, in front of a rabid crowd, keen to alert refs to any Denver foul. Should the Nuggets seek extra contact, flopping the other cheek is the best response.