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The Draymond Green, Jordan Poole, and Andrew Wiggins masterclass in the clutch

A big road win buoyed by three key players.

NBA: Playoffs-Golden State Warriors at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew Wiggins was on his way to having an almost-invisible Game 3.

Prior to being substituted at the 4:27 mark of the 4th quarter, Wiggins had a measly 6 points on 5 shots. The flashes of his renewed rim aggression were there, finding pockets of marginal opportunism to play off of the pull of his more threatening teammates.

Defensively, he did all he could. He took assignments on the ball, navigated screens to near perfection, and even capably contested a drive as the help-side low man on a Will Barton drive, with Jordan Poole “ICE”-ing (denying middle penetration) and funneling Barton toward expected backline help (i.e., Wiggins).

The possession above is a prime example of why defensive box-score stats don’t fully capture one’s value as a defender. Wiggins did not garner the block on his contest above — but his timely rotation on Barton’s floater forces that extra oomph and hurriedness that results in an off-kilter shot, leading to a Stephen Curry leak-out in transition.

These were far and few in-between. Wiggins’ tendency to “float” — to be a bystander watching everything unfold before him, instead of being part of the action — was a notable talking point throughout the first 3 quarters.

With Wiggins as the virtual 4th option on offense, he has a thin line to tread. He can either be that aforementioned opportunistic operator who feasts on the margins, or he can vanish into relative obscurity and contribute zero impact.

When he was reinserted in the 4th quarter as the final piece of the new-death-lineup puzzle, Wiggins — who was a 48.3% shooter from the left corner during the regular season — had all the time in the world on this shot:

Shooting 48.3% on left-corner threes virtually translates to making 1 of every 2 left-corner shots you take. The chances were good that the shot above was going in, considering the circumstances and the way the defense was bent.

The stage was set for Wiggins. Draymond Green sucking in help from Nikola Jokić. Curry, Jordan Poole, and Klay Thompson keeping their defenders glued to them and clearing the left side. Wiggins relocating to the left corner, with a noble but futile contest from Jokić. A good shot by any measure.

That didn’t go in.

If you’re Wiggins in that situation, it’s extremely easy to lose confidence, to sit back and return to being a bystander. But despite the 3 quarters of passivity and the missed wide-open shot, there’s a reason why Steve Kerr continues to have faith in Wiggins, who has become sort of the odd-man out in this new death lineup.

Two-way reasons, to be exact.

When at first you don’t succeed, try and try again, as they say. Wiggins gets another open look on this possession, courtesy of an after-timeout (ATO) play:

What the Warriors run after the timeout: a staggered double ball-screen with Poole as the first screener, who ghosts the screen and flares toward the right wing. Aaron Gordon switches onto Poole, with Monte Morris taking Curry around the second screen (set by Wiggins). Jokić and Morris stick with Curry around the screen, with Wiggins rolling to the rim without anyone covering him. Curry releases to Green in the post.

It was at this point where the Nuggets defense started to bend.

Green recognizes Wiggins’ uncontested roll to the rim and executes the high-low pass. This sets off the panic alarm: both Jokić and Gordon collapse inside to cut off the layup. Instead of forcing the shot, however, Wiggins senses Gordon behind him, looks for Poole, and kicks it out.

The key to making this possession work wasn’t just the bending of the Nuggets defense — it was also the decisiveness. Poole is quick to attack Gordon’s close-out, all while thinking one step ahead. He anticipates Jokić sliding over to help one pass away from the strong-side corner. As soon as Jokić has a foot in the paint, Poole whips the pass to Wiggins in the corner, with no hint of hesitation.

True to the theme of decisiveness, Wiggins has no qualms with taking the shot — from the same location he missed from not too long ago — and making use of the made shot he’s owed from his 48.3% clip from the left corner.

A key switch onto Jokić garnered a huge stop in the following possession:

After timely rotations and close-outs — forced by an inverted ball-screen by Morris for Jokić — Wiggins finds himself switched onto Jokić close to the rim. With only 5 seconds to go, Jokić decides to go up for a turnaround fade that is contested by a high-leaping Wiggins.

Wiggins made sure to pay Poole back with a crucial hustle play:

Wiggins keys in on the miss by Curry, with no Nugget boxing him out (shame to all ball watchers!). A panicked defense scrambles toward Curry, leaving Poole open in the corner. Again, Poole’s decisiveness here is key — instead of taking the open shot, he attacks the rim and finishes with a nifty up-and-under.

Poole scored 27 points on 13 shots (6-of-8 on twos, 3-of-5 on threes) and 79.6% True Shooting. He has scored at least 25 points in all of his three career playoff games so far — a total of 86 points on 42 shots (28.7 points per game), 67/59/81 shooting splits, and 83.9% True Shooting. He’s proving himself to be a big-game player who revels being on the big stage.

Last, but most certainly not the least, is the late-game heroics of Green. Amid talk of Defensive Player of the Year awards and All-Defensive nods, he continues to stand out as the sole member of an excusive club.

To be perfectly clear, Jokić still got his numbers, and they weren’t empty: 37 points on 22 shots (12-of-19 on twos, 2-of-3 on threes). He willed his team to near-victory against a team that had the commanding talent advantage.

The early signs were there. Despite Jokić getting to his spots and scoring, Green was mapping his plan of defense with every isolated possession on him. The blueprint was already drawn up as early as the 1st quarter:

And again, in the middle of the 4th quarter:

And finally, during the closing stages of the game. When push came to shove — figuratively and literally — Green was there to make sure the shot that counted didn’t go in.

The common themes among all three successful stops on Jokić: a wide stance resulting in low center of gravity, establishing inside position to gain leverage against constant backing and shoving, and the usage of every bit of his length and 7-foot wingspan to crowd and poke at the ball.

Green played 46 regular season games, and was 10-15 games away from garnering his 2nd Defensive Player of the Year nod. That distinction belongs to a perimeter guard back East, a key member of the best defensive team in the league — rightfully deserved for several reasons.

But a 3-0 series lead and making life extremely difficult against a reigning MVP — a transcendent offensive talent — makes it hard to believe someone else in this world is better than Draymond Green at playing defense.