OAKLAND, Calif. — Through six games of the Western Conference Finals, the Warriors and Rockets have both focused their attacks on exploiting mismatches. The Rockets expect defenders to switch against them because that's the only way to stay in front of James Harden. The Rockets can hand-select the defender they want to isolate and let talent do its thing. In most cases, that weak link is the opponent's big man. That's just not the case with the Warriors.
The Rockets have been successful without one of their signature offensive attacks: the Harden-Clint Capela pick-and-roll. Draymond Green's defensive prowess has eliminated important aspects of the Rockets offense from the series.
With Game 7 looming Monday night, Houston's cards are all on the table. The team is isolating Stephen Curry every chance it gets. Instead of the usual Capela-Harden pick-and-roll to draw the opposing center away from the basket and switch onto Harden, the Rockets are targeting Curry by screening with whoever he defends.
"No, it's not really our concept, so no," Capela told Bleacher Report, expressing the Rockets' offensive priorities. "It's because of the offense, we're looking to get to Curry."
It's not that Curry is a weak link. It's that the Rockets want nothing to do with Green.
Harden will shoo away Capela any time he comes to set a screen because Green's switching onto him is bad news. And the Rockets should be afraid to allow that switch. When Green is guarding Harden, Houston's star guard has scored just seven points on 29 possessions in this series, per box-score tracking.
There are very few, if any, centers in the league who can stop Harden at all three levels. Green's ability to stay grounded and contest jump shots, move his feet and force the dreaded mid-range jumper—not to mention avoid fouling while forcing misses at the rim—is unparalleled for someone at his position.
Since the Rockets won't attack Green in the pick-and-roll, and Green is guarding Capela, they haven't been able to use Capela the way they did the entire season. In essence, Green has single-handedly prevented Houston from isolating the matchup it would normally attack.
That's fine; the Rockets will attack Curry instead. But the byproduct of that hasn't been quite what they hoped. As they're unable to attack the big man, Green has been able to remain around the rim, where he has done an exceptional job helping to hold the Rockets to 56.8 percent shooting during the series, 3.1 percentage points below their season average.
Part of this dip in field-goal percentage at the rim is because Capela can't play the roll man if he isn't setting screens for Harden. Capela is only averaging 2.3 possessions per game as the roll man in the playoffs and scoring 0.81 points per possession, down from 3.9 possessions per game where he would score 1.34 points per.
Because Green is such a dreaded mismatch, the Rockets can't use that pick-and-roll for fear of Green's switching onto Harden. As a result, they haven't been able to use Capela as the roll man. Those easy lobs at the rim are fewer and farther between as Green's presence has deterred the Rockets from even trying. When the Rockets do try using Capela as the roll man, it's far less effective, as the efficiency is down by half a point per possession. This is an incredible accomplishment considering the value of those lobs for the Houston offense.
Houston leaned heavily on Capela in the first two rounds, where he averaged 14.4 points per game on 10.1 shots. Now, he's down to 8.7 points on 5.5 shots per game in the conference finals. He looked like the league's biggest breakout star before Green's presence removed him from the offense.
Now, Capela hangs out in the dunker spot (halfway between the block and the short corner) waiting to dive toward the basket for a lob when Harden drives or go after offensive rebounds.
From there, Green can slide over to help cut off drives, and that can lead to a lob pass from Harden to Capela. But Green has been outstanding at stunting toward Harden to trick him into making the pass, while still getting back in time to disrupt the lob.
Green has guarded Capela for 173 possessions in this series and allowed him 22 points, per box scores. Green forces you not to forget how good he is.
"Oh, my gosh, Draymond, there is nobody like him, honestly," Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said after Game 3. "I don't know another player who is like Draymond in this league. His ability to impact the game in so many ways, defensively, getting out on Harden and [Chris] Paul and switching, and rebounding, and staying on Capela's legs, and trying to knock the ball away on the lobs and protect the rim without fouling. Draymond is just a tremendous defender."
Curry and Klay Thompson's spectacular shooting has stolen the headlines, and Kevin Durant's isolations have driven the narrative thus far. But Green is a massively underreported part of the Warriors' success, and he lets you know it every time down the court.
"Pissed," Green facetiously replied to his feelings about not making the All-Defensive First Team. "No, honestly, it's an honor to make All-Defensive teams, All-NBA teams and different All-Rookie teams. It's an honor. Such a great league with great talent. A lot of guys are good on the defensive end, so to be one of 10 guys named to an All-Defensive team is great. But it's also motivation for me to make first team and go win Defensive Player of the Year again next year, so that's what I'm going to do next year."
Green has all the accolades, but it's easy to forget how important he is on the defensive end. He's taken away a huge part of the Rockets offense and forced Houston to re-strategize how to win. Not many players are that impactful. Someone this special is worth paying attention to.