NBA playoffs 2019: After dismantling Blazers, Draymond Green says he's the best defender ever
The Warriors forward plays defense with the confidence of a world-class playmaker
Draymond Green thinks he is the best defender ever. "That's what I believe," he told The Athletic's Marcus Thompson after the Golden State Warriors' 114-111 comeback victory over the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. "Wholeheartedly."
That designation is a matter of debate, but Green is unequivocally up there. Not only is he one of the most versatile defenders the league has ever seen, he is one of the most intense and intelligent. Warriors assistant coach Ron Adams describes him as a graceful, powerful and thoughtful artist on the defensive end, the rare player who sees plays develop earlier than most so he can "be an actor rather than a reactor." And it's hard to fault him for feeling particularly good about himself after what he did down the stretch of Game 2.
Andre Iguodala, another all-time stopper, made the defensive play of the game: a swipe-down steal against Damian Lillard in the final seconds as the Blazers star tried to rise for a game-tying 3-pointer. Iguodala, however, would not have had a chance to do that if not for Green's brilliance. On five straight possessions down the stretch, Green made defensive plays to hold Portland off. Let's run through them.
With less than three minutes left, Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney trapped Lillard on a pick-and-roll way beyond the 3-point line, and he found C.J. McCollum in the opposite corner. With Looney on the perimeter, Green was the Warriors' rim protector, and he provided perfect help defense as McCollum wiggled past Stephen Curry. It was Green's fifth block of the night, but the most impressive part was how he started a fast break. Green got his hand on the ball twice, first to block it and then to direct it to Iguodala.
Golden State trapped McCollum on the next possession, and Green scurried back to prevent an easy pass to Meyers Leonard in the paint. Then came the cat-and-mouse game that Green plays better than anybody: As Evan Turner put the ball on the floor, Green turned toward him but never strayed too far from Leonard. Turner was eager to get an assist, but Green was in position to disrupt the potential alley-oop, starting another break.
Steve Kerr's Warriors had trapped pick-and-rolls essentially all series, but he instructed them to abandon that strategy on the next possession. Green switched onto McCollum, one of the craftiest guards in the league. This is not a mismatch. McCollum was able to create a 3-pointer off the dribble, a shot he is capable of making, but a difficult one when you're on the road in the playoffs, the opposing team is on a 10-0 run, the crowd is going crazy and Green is contesting it. McCollum missed.
Green switched onto Lillard the next time down, and Lillard tried to bait him into a foul with a pump fake. Green left his feet, but jumped to the side of Lillard, not into him. The desperate, double-pump 3-point attempt drew nothing but air. (Seth Curry wound up making a 3 after the Blazers got an offensive rebound, but that had nothing to do with Green, other than the fact that airballs are tricky to rebound.)
McCollum targeted Looney after that, with Portland down by one point, and the big man stepped up to the challenge. Looney poked the ball away, then pressured McCollum outside the 3-point line. He was able to be aggressive partially because he trusted that Green was behind him. McCollum eventually made his way into the paint, but Green contested his floater and leaped over Looney's back to try to get the rebound. Golden State recovered the ball, thanks largely to what coaches would call a "multiple-effort play" by Green.
Your mileage may vary when it comes to how Green, a true original who changed the modern game with his ability to play center at a listed height of 6-foot-7, compares to the likes of Bill Russell, Kevin Garnett and Scottie Pippen. It should not be surprising, however, that he thinks he is the greatest. Confidence is typically associated with scoring, but Green approaches defense with the mindset of a playmaker. He believes he can guard anyone, and when opponents try to attack him, he sees it the same way Curry sees defenders who have the audacity to pressure him full-court.
Green is healthy and in shape to play 40-plus minutes at full tilt, and his playoff run has been both spectacular and familiar. "We know we can erase eight points in a minute," Green told reporters on Friday, explaining the Warriors' well-earned belief in themselves when they were trailing in the fourth quarter. Part of that is because Curry and Thompson can get hot, but equally important is their ability to string stops together in high-pressure situations. Green has been the driving force behind that since David Lee's injury in the 2014 preseason; as he chases his fourth title in five years, he is solidifying his place in history.
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