Draymond Green at center gives Warriors wrinkle necessary to beat Rockets

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After the Warriors’ 110-106 Game 1 over the Rockets, both coaches were asked about continuing to use small-ball lineups throughout the series.

“The one thing I can tell you is that both teams like to play small,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said.

Speak for yourself.

“No,” Houston coach Kevin McHale said. “I hope that Dwight is healthy and we can stay big. I like us playing when we play big. We didn’t have that option tonight with Dwight out.”

The Rockets didn’t show much against the Warriors’ small units with Dwight Howard, who’s battling injury.

Golden State outscored Houston 47-29 in 16 minutes with Draymond Green at center. When Howard was in, it was 12-2 Warriors in three minutes.

In his final six possessions against the Warriors’ small lineup, Howard committed three turnovers, missed a shot and got strongly boxed out by Green after two other Rockets missed.

Green – who finished with 13 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists, two steals and a block – sure enjoyed his last possession against Howard:

The Warriors played 330 minutes entering Game 1 with Green at center and four wings/guards – a collection of Harrison Barnes,Andre Iguodala,Stephen Curry,Klay Thompson,Shaun Livingston,Leandro Barbosa,Justin Holiday andBrandon Rush – behind him. The results have been spectacular:

  • Offensive rating: 120.4
  • Defensive rating: 93.0
  • Net rating: +27.4

All three marks would easily lead the league.

Tuesday, the Warriors kicked it into overdrive on both ends with Green at center:

  • Offensive rating: 138.2
  • Defensive rating: 87.9
  • Net rating: +50.3

It works offensively, because the Warriors have excellent shooters who love to get out in transition. Smaller lineups are faster lineups.

When most teams go small, they sacrifice defense. Not the Warriors.

“Draymond is one of the best defensive players in the league because he can guard low-post guys and perimeter guys,” Kerr said. “He can switch onto James Harden. He can guard Dwight Howard. Doesn’t mean he’s always going to get a stop, but he’s always going to put up a fight, and he’s got a chance.”

Green’s interior defense is excellent, though not unique. Other players can duplicate or even best his ability defend the paint, including teammate Andrew Bogut.

But find another player in Green’s interior-defensive class with his ability to lead the fastbreak, pass and shoot 3-pointers. Some of his defensive peers are lumbering centers who are offensive minuses or, best-case scenario, inside scorers. Green is a floor-spacer.

I think that often gets lost in discussions of Green’s defense. It’s his ability to defend while contributing so much on offense that sets him apart.

Green is the total package, and that shines through when he’s at center (thanks in part to his wonderfully capable perimeter teammates).

Kerr saw it tonight, and that’s why he wants to see more. McHale saw it, too – and that’s why he’s seen enough.