I was about 5'10" (since grown two inches) when I played at the highest organized level of basketball in my life. I am Chinese. I was also the starting center. Being a part of an Asian-dominated team meant that we were usually undersized, not as athletic, and had to work harder to funnel production from player to player. Not that we worked harder, per se, but that the culmination of the practices, shots put up, and defensive drills, no matter how much, added up to about the same result as other teams we played in either Santa Barbara, Monte Vista, or Orlando. So we found underdog-y tactics to combat the hole we were expected to climb out of every game. This ranged from a variety of full-court presses, half-court traps, zone-man switches in possessions, and most importantly, small-ball allowing transition opportunities and three-pointers to blend into the human psyche as instinct.
This is found around high schools everywhere and why teams like VCU and Duke have been exorbitantly fun to watch the past two seasons. With a relative dearth of talent, they've turned to cranking the pace to a nitrous-leveled playing field while simultaneously jacking up as many threes as humanly possible.
The Golden State Warriors, stuck in this peculiar set of circumstances, especially at a professional level, finally went to some of those tactics that make underdog, and under-talented teams so aesthetically pleasing to watch. With Draymond Green starting beside David Lee - consequently giving up size and forcing to fight mismatches everywhere - they scrambled enough on defense and offense to blow out the Blake Griffin-led Los Angeles Clippers.
Granted, there were extenuating and unfortunate events that perhaps caused the Clipper players to play like this. And who can blame them? But for the sake of this piece, and respecting the abilities of the Clippers, we delve into what happened in a Draymond Green universe.
The Clippers start out by running a simple side pick-and-roll with Blake Grifin and J.J. Redick, attempting to find a big-on-small or small-on-big mismatch. Literally, Green is bigger than Redick but is also much quicker and owns the ability to push Redick out of his comfort zone. An easy switch with Iguodala allows Green to envelop Redick in the lane. Easy forced turnover. O'Neal stated that spacing was key to Green's insertion into the starting lineup but this type of defensive versatility is just as important.
Green is the only healthy Warrior that can handle the quickness and strength of Griffin. In the Game 3 comeback, Jackson played a 5-out lineup that allowed Green to swallow up the quickness advantage Griffin possessed over bigs like O'Neal, Hilton Armstrong and Lee.
Green doesn't allow Blake to back him down, and Klay Thompson shows enough and recovers, forcing Blake to hesitate. When he turns his back, Curry sprints by to steal the ball, starting a transition opportunity. When a team is playing and gambling this much on defense, it either leads to open threes (for this team) in transition or dunks for the other team. Fortunately for the Warriors, the defensive anchor - by default when guarding Blake - that is Green is allowing the Warriors to attack on defense instead of reacting.
Probably not even a point worth bringing up but for a team so drastically undersized, it's important to treat every assignment as if it's the last play of every game. Green reaches in on a Darren Collison drive, then has the mindset to follow and push DeAndre Jordan out of bounds on a rebound opportunity. This, in turn, also takes Jordan away from the play at the other end. Subtle, but a testament to Green's cognizant game.
Zones are effective as a changeup, used sporadically and as a stun-gun attack that shocks the opponents for a possession or two. It doesn't necessarily work at the NBA level with the amount of shooters, high-IQ players, and the defensive three-second violation but the Warriors make it work for long enough.
When the Warriors played the Dallas Mavericks, Green spent several turns switching off between Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis. Here, Green starts on Matt Barnes, cuts off baseline from Chris Paul (the best point guard in the world), forces Griffin into passing the ball back out, then with hands strong as a Bear, rips it from Paul as he drives it into the lane. RIDICULOUS.
Aside: Green functioning as the anchor of the defense allowed me to specifically show his effects as an on-ball defender. His help defense, which I haven't shown, is just as good.
Spacing, spacing, spacing, the #hottake word that's taken over basketball analysis. Green provide oodles of it. From screening, passing, and the occasional three, Green generates everything that an offense thirsting for good shot selection needs. He sets the screen for Curry here, clipping Jamal Crawford just enough. The best part of Green is his lack of indecisiveness. He's already moving his feet and body into the paint before catching the ball. And one assumes, not unlikely, that he's already seen Harrison Barnes in the corner. Green pauses for a split second in the air, sucking in Danny Granger a step, before allowing Barnes to do the rest.
Much has been made of the Warriors' ability to screen and gets players open. Without running the tape on how many good screens Green set in this game, let's let Paul tell us how he feels about the Warriors stretch forward.
Yeah, he's had enough.
Green is just as important on defense as he is on offense. Like Iguodala, none of his work is as tangibly pleasing as Curry shooting off-the-dribble threes or Thompson's quick release off elevator screens. But their work is as invaluable to this team as the Splash Brothers. The two best perimeter defenders on the team, Iguodala and Green help reinforce the old adage "defense creates offense" leaving them as crucial to the Warriors' success Sunday night as they will become for the foreseeable future.
Oh, and we won the championship against a player that went on to play at UCLA. I guess this small-ball thing might work.