OAKLAND -- Teams facing the Warriors can and do create plans to defend Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, and even if those strategies meet with varying degrees of success.
But there is no known offense that solves the problems opponents confront when facing Draymond Green’s defense.
Indeed, it may be easier to prevent the Warriors’ three leading scorers from doing whatever they please than it is to keep their top defender from doing whatever he wants at the other end.
Take Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinal Tuesday night against Utah. As impressive as Green’s statistics were -- 17 points, eight rebounds, six assists, two blocks, two steals - they provide only the slightest hint of his overall impact on a 106-94 victory.
“He’s always been active,” acting coach Mike Brown said Wednesday. “I don’t even know how it was possible, but his activity has gone up another notch or two -- especially defensively.”
No single sequence was more illustrative of Green’s devastating effect on an opposing offense than that which occurred late in the first half.
Following a Jazz score by Dante Exum, Green inbounded the ball to Stephen Curry, who carelessly flipped it ahead -- so far ahead that Exum, who had made it to half court, turned and grabbed it. There was a 2-on-1 window with Exum and Gordon Hayward coming at Green. Exum passed to Hayward, whose layup attempt was stripped at waist-level by Green. Curry picked up the loose ball, fired it to Andre Iguodala, who whipped to the cutting Kevin Durant for a transition dunk.
The groans turned to cheers in the snap of a finger. Green not only got Curry off the hook for an egregious turnover but also was credited with a block. Curry got the secondary assist, Iguodala the actual assist and Durant the easy bucket.
“That play was a big play,” Durant recalled. “I think we might have turned it over. But Draymond hustled back and got his hand on the basketball and just made an end-to-end play. Definitely got our crowd into the game.”
There is no offensive game plan for such a sequence. It was a spontaneous work of splendid defense.
There is no offensive game plan for the calculated defensive risks Green is prone to take. He’s terrific on the ball, but also has the reflexes and anticipation to freelance. As impressive as it is that Green is the only man to effectively guard all five positions, what’s absurd is that that he can do so on a single possession.
“They switch a lot; they switch a lot of pick-and-rolls,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said of the Warriors. “They switch a lot of screening actions. It gets back to how quickly they think and connect.”
Which is a testament to Green, who thinks and acts as quickly as anyone in the NBA.
Half-court or open court, he’s there protecting the rim, the back door, the mid-range and the 3-point stripe -- all while firing up teammates. Whether he’s sharing the court with starters or reserves, Green shoots megawatt energy through the group.
“He can affect the game in so many ways, and it’s not just scoring,” backup guard Ian Clark said. “He takes pride in knowing he can do that because he’s so talented and he’s a very, very smart player. So being able, especially with the second unit, to get three or four stops in a row and we get easy buckets, it generates easy points for us. And we don’t have to work as hard.”
The stakes are highest when the NBA advances into the postseason. This only stokes Green’s eternal flame. His work so far this postseason has been stellar at both ends, and he feels it’s all a part of his natural evolution as a player and as a man.
“Obviously, in the playoffs, every possession matters, especially against a team like Utah, where there aren’t as many possessions,” he said.
“When you’re playing the same opponent four or five or six or seven times, you kind of figure out what you’re going to get.”
The game-planning gets easier for Green and, by extension, the Warriors. As for the Jazz, they can game plan most everything the Warriors do. That is, except for Green’s defensive impact.
How do you turn to Gordon Hayward (4-of-15 shooting in Game 1) and Joe Johnson (4-of-10) and tell them to avoid Green? The video is proof he’s all over the court.
Green is so exquisite on defense that it’s easy to fall into the trap of ignoring his offense, which can be sneakily effective; through five playoff games he’s shooting 52 percent from deep.
Perhaps because it’s easier to plan for that than for his defense, which presents a quandary for any coach who dares to examine it.