The Golden State Warriors beat the Utah Jazz wire-to-wire on Thursday for a 115-104 win to go up 2-0 in the series.
In doing so, the Warriors accomplished a remarkable feat – they haven’t trailed in their past three games. The last time they trailed in a game was Game 3 of the first-round series against the Portland Trailblazers, and they still won that game.
The Warriors, of course, are a matchup nightmare for any team, but they have recently benefitted from a surprising development in the playoffs: Draymond Green has been their best three-point shooter.
The Warriors present a pick-your-poison scenario for every team – duck under screens for Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson and they’ll rain threes. Fight over those screens, and they’ll beat you into the lane. Double a ball-handler and the Warriors will swing it to a capable playmaker who will make the correct decision in a 4-on-3 situation. And, sometimes, even after playing perfect defense, Curry, Thompson, or Kevin Durant will turn nothing into something and score on their own anyway.
The result has often been teams choosing to back off of Green, particularly on the perimeter. Green is a capable three-point shooter, raising his accuracy last year to a respectable 38.8% from deep. But at 33% from beyond the arc for his career, it’s understandable to leave him open. This season, Green shot just 30.8% from deep, the second-worst mark of his career.
In the playoffs, that’s flipped. Green has hit 18-of-33 from three, good for 54%. Simply put, when Green is knocking down the open threes teams are forced to give him, the Warriors are impossible to stop.
In the play below, as Green sets a screen for Curry, the Jazz all flood to recover on Curry. Joe Johnson, who was covering Durant but got scrambled on the screen, hesitates to contest Green’s shot, knowing the alternative is Green driving to the basket and likely setting up an easier basket. It’s not an unwise formula – the Jazz are simply playing the percentages. Green made them pay.
The same thing happened on Green’s fourth three-pointer of the first quarter. Green set a screen for Curry, and the Jazz all jumped to cover Curry getting open. As a result, Green was wide open.
Green is the key to the Warriors offense, because he’s a great screener and can make plays for others off the dribble. His one relative weakness has been shooting. He later showed why teams don’t close out hard on him at three-point line. After canning four three-pointers, the Jazz ran out to contest his shot and he beat them off the dribble to find Andre Iguodala for a layup.
What set up the play is similarly important. The Jazz had to double Durant as he posted up the smaller Gordon Hayward. As Dante Exum recovered on Green, the Warriors all fanned out of the paint. As a result, no Jazz players were going to leave Durant, Curry, or Thompson open to provide help on Green’s drive. Rudy Gobert is on an island.
After the game, Warriors coach Mike Brown (filling in for the injured Steve Kerr) explained Green’s space on the perimeter.
“Obviously, [the Jazz’s] game plan is to have whoever’s guarding Draymond sit in the lane. And so, he’s getting wide open threes, and hopefully, he’ll keep shooting the ball the way he’s been shooting it throughout the playoffs and make them pay. He had great looks, and they were not just looks where he came up and shot it without a pass, but the ball moved a little bit and found him at the top of the floor, and he stepped in and shot it with confidence.”
Green joked after the game when asked if he felt “particularly open,” saying, “I feel particularly open every game we play. So, yeah, I do. I’m pretty sure I’ll stay particularly open. That probably won’t change.”
For the Jazz, there’s basically no alternative but to ignore Green’s shooting, despite how devastating it might be. Overreacting to Green’s shooting and sticking with him or closing out hard on his shot attempts will only open up better looks around the floor.
Green has long been the Warriors’ defensive lifeblood and a key part of their playmaking, but if he’s knocking down threes at a Curry-esque level, defenses are in trouble.