Much like the regular season that preceded it, this NBA postseason has been marked by some eye-popping individual performances. As he tries to reach the NBA Finals for the seventh-straight year, LeBron James has been phenomenal, even by his own ridiculous standards. Meanwhile, point guards Isaiah Thomas and John Wall have been throwing haymakers at one another for the right to face James and the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
But perhaps no star has raised the level of his game in the postseason as much as Golden State’s Draymond Green. Yes, he was great on offense in Game 4, recording a triple-double as his team finished a sweep of the Jazz1. But it was his defense — both in this series and all postseason — that made his performance as special, if not more so, as Stephen Curry’s or Kevin Durant’s.
Utah scored a meager 95 points per 100 plays with Green on the floor (down from 105 points per 100 with Green on the sidelines), connecting on just 52 percent of its shots inside of five feet with Green on the court (down from a respectable 61 percent with him on the bench), according to NBA.com. But Green’s raw defensive numbers in the series weren’t the real surprise — the Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner was statistically the best interior stopper in the NBA this season2 — rather it was the emphatic way in which he repeatedly shut down the Jazz at the rim.
On Monday night, Utah tried and failed to score on Green at the basket, shooting just 3 of 10 from close range with him nearby. You would have thought the Jazz had learned their lesson earlier in the series: In Game 2, they tried sneaking three alley-oops past Green, including two to Rudy Gobert, a skilled big and Defensive Player of the Year candidate in his own right. In all three instances, Green snuffed out the play.
Those plays came on the heels of a series against Portland in which Green had a couple of similar rejections at the rim.
In all, he’s blocked four dunk attempts in 283 minutes this postseason, the most in the league. It’s important to remember here that blocking the dunks of 7-foot-1-inch NBA players is about as hard as it sounds. During the regular season, players were successful on better than 90 percent of their dunk attempts, according to Basketball-Reference.com. To give Green’s postseason performance even greater context, consider this: In his entire career — five seasons and 10,627 regular-season minutes — he had four such blocks, according to ESPN Stats & Information Group.
Blocked dunks are not only difficult to accumulate, players also run the risk of becoming a potential poster. “There’s definitely a sense of urgency, but it’s also [me] not caring if I get dunked on,” Green said when asked by FiveThirtyEight about his spike in blocked dunks. “Because every time you do it, you put yourself in that position. I like the reward we can reap from getting a block. That outweighs getting dunked on. The way I see it, it’s still just two points. I try to read what the offense is trying to do and be a step early, if I can.”
Green, who’s averaging just under five blocks and steals a game combined this postseason, knows his aggressive approach is inevitably going to cause some embarrassment. And that was on display in Game 4 when Utah’s Derrick Favors got the best of him on one play.
But more important than a few blocked dunks, the Warriors rely heavily on Green’s instincts to read the opposing team’s offense. Many times, his ball denial or ability to close out on someone like Gordon Hayward forces the opponent to look elsewhere to get a shot; a huge accomplishment in the postseason, when teams learn which role players can handle the moment versus which ones can’t.
Earlier in the series, acting Warriors coach Mike Brown was asked to compare or contrast Green’s defensive ability with that of Ben and Rasheed Wallace, from the mid-2000s Detroit Pistons teams. In his response, Brown praised Green, saying he was more versatile than those two while saying that Green took a similar leadership role in terms of how much he communicated with teammates on the court.
“They anchored whatever defense they were a part of, and they did a lot of things that were kind of on the fly, that they felt,” Brown said. “That’s something Draymond does. I mean, he has carte blanche. Steve [Kerr] has empowered him since day one to quarterback the defense, and he does a heck of a job in that regard.”
And as long as Green keeps improvising the way he has, it will be tough for anyone to challenge the Warriors.
Check out our latest NBA predictions.