Early in Game 2 between Golden State and Portland, Stephen Curry was fouled on a missed 3-pointer and given three free throws. While it’s possible that’s not as deflating as allowing a made shot well behind the arc, the former scoring opportunity is more efficient. In my free throw splits, Curry averaged about 2.77 points per fouled missed 3-pointer this season. At the time of the one Portland committed, the Warriors were on a 13-3 run. It appeared Curry would tack on at least two points, helping build a sizable lead as opposed to trading them like throughout most of Game 1.
But things got weird when Curry missed the first of three attempts, where he shot 100 percent in 18 such situations this season. He bounced back by making his next shot, but by the title of this post, you probably know what happened on the third and final free throw. He missed, and overall, missed two of three free throw attempts for the first time in his career.
Below is a look at all three-free throw sequences over Curry’s career, if anyone’s curious. I don’t have postseason splits available, but after scrolling play-by-play logs, Curry either got two or three points out of fouled threes during those games, too. The table below was from NBA.com’s play-by-play data.
With enough fouls on 3s, scoring only one point was going to happen at some point, if only once. If we only look at how Curry shot in the 79 sequences during regular seasons, he’s supposed to score only one point about two percent of the time. He’s actually scored only two points out of three slightly more often than the math says he should, 24 percent compared to 20. That meant he’s made or missed three free throws less often than expected.
Again, that only accounted for attempts in three-free throw sequences and not how Curry’s also shot during pairs, and-1s, etc. There wasn’t an adjustment I was super happy about, but it’s also difficult for a player not named James Harden to accumulate a large enough sample to feel great about the odds for each result.
Of course, since Curry never missed two shots during a three-free throw sequence, he’s never missed all of them. With the data I have since 1997 that included all three attempts (offensive goaltending or lane violations chipped away at totals), there have been 71 miss-miss-miss sequences, which made up one percent of the total, and 7,120 make-make-makes, which made up 58 percent. Michael Redd is the only player who missed all three free throws twice in a single season, but this hasn’t happened to anyone three or more times over their entire career. That could change as players draw more fouls on threes, but the biggest culprit, Harden, has yet to miss all three free throws once. The same goes for Jamal Crawford and Lou Williams. The only active players with two miss-miss-misses are Kyle Lowry, Nick Young, and Andre Iguodala. Now you know.
I’ll expand on this free throw-related data in a future post. As for Wednesday night, Portland kept the game reasonably close throughout the rest of the first half, but Golden State eventually pulled away for a 110-81 victory. Even without Kevin Durant, the Warriors proved their margin for error is quite large against a Blazers squad missing Jusuf Nurkic. Portland dodged a bullet when Curry scored only one point in a situation where he most often gets three, but they’ll need a few more breaks to contend with Golden State.
All statistics were derived from NBA.com’s play-by-play data.