AT&T CENTER – Early in the first round series between the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs, one of the Mavericks’ primary goals was to take away the Spurs’ 3-point shooters, and force Spurs guard Tony Parker to beat them with jumpers, as Shawn Marion and the Mavericks’ frontline did their best to close off the paint from Parker.
As the Mavericks’ defense was having its impact on Parker early in the series, Spurs guard Danny Green was limited offensively by not getting his spot-up or transition attempts, as the Mavericks’ defense was holding him to 17 total points in the first five games of the series, while Green’s minutes were also reduced to 17.6 per game during that stretch.
With Green not being on the floor, the Spurs lost arguably their second best perimeter defender outside of Kawhi Leonard for long stretches during those first five games. Beginning from game five, the Mavericks’ defense began to shift by allowing Jose Calderon and Devin Harris to guard Parker more for heavy stretches, which allowed Parker to get into the paint and get the ball moving.
In game six and seven, Green scored 33 points combined, while averaging 30.5 minutes per game. In game seven specifically, he had the duty of guarding Monta Ellis, one of the Mavericks’ primary leading scorers for stretches, and in game seven, clamped down on Ellis by pressuring his looks for a majority of the time he defended him.
Ellis would finish game seven shooting 3-of-11 from the floor for 12 points, along with two turnovers in 31:19 minutes. Green would finish with 16 points on 5-of-7 shooting in 32:09 minutes.
In the times Ellis was defended by Green, he shot 2-of-6 on his jumpers, and only got one look in the paint, which he missed. Looking at the SportVU player tracking data, Green held Ellis to 49 touches in game seven, nine fewer than Ellis was averaging in the series (58.0 touches). When reviewing some of the plays from game seven, Green put the pressure on Ellis by defending him sometimes all the way near half court.
Green would finish the series averaging 7.1 points per game, shooting 4.4 shots per game (58% FG), and he shot 55% from 3-point range on 2.9 attempts in 21.6 minutes.
As the Spurs prepare to play the Portland Trail Blazers in the second round starting Tuesday, Green’s defense will once again be needed as he’s likely have to defend Damian Lillard (25.5 points, 15.7 FGA, 47% FG in the playoffs), Wesley Matthews (15.3 points, 13.3 FGA, 41% FG), and Mo Williams (8.2 points, 7.5 FGA, 38% FG) for different stretches throughout the series.
As both Parker and Patty Mills said after game seven on Sunday, the key to defeating the Blazers will come on the defensive end for the Spurs. With Green and Kawhi Leonard primarily manning their backcourt defensively, the Spurs will need them in round two, not just offensively, but specifically on the defensive end, to do what they can in slowing Portland’s attack.
(Stats via NBA.com/Stats, SportVU, and Synergy Sports)