After two crushing losses to the Golden State Warriors, Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone was brutally honest about how Draymond Green has played a significant role in the series.
The Nuggets, who are down 0-2 in the first round of the series, haven't found an answer for Green, who has made life hard for reigning MVP Nikola Jokic in the past two games.
"Draymond Green is literally not guarding anybody. He is a free safety out there," Malone said on Wednesday's Nuggets practice before game three.
While this quote from Malone may be taken out of context, it's essential to understand what he really meant. To be clear, Malone said that Green was a safety net because the defensive specialist can cover for all his teammates on the court.
Whether that's erasing all the mistakes from the point-of-attack, backline, or frontline defense, Green has done a stellar job (over the past couple of years) being an anchor for his team.
A one-person defensive game plan
Malone also indicated that Green isn't guarding anybody because the Nuggets are not challenging the forward. Denver does not have enough shot makers (they only shot 36.1% from the three-point area in game two and 31.4% in game one) on the floor, which means Green can focus on Jokic plus the cutting lanes while not worrying too much about getting beat on the perimeter.
The key to challenging Green on the defensive end is to switch him onto the perimeter and create space on the frontcourt for Jokic, but this hasn't been the case for the Nuggets. Since the Nuggets haven't gotten contributions outside of Jokic, this enables the one-time defensive player of the year awardee to make life hell for the big man, who was limited to 26 points in Game 2 and 25 in Game 1.
The Warriors are bullying Jokic
The Warriors took a page out of the Los Angeles Lakers' 2020 series game-plan against the Nuggets, where they bullied and physically imposed their will on Jokic. In both games, there were multiple instances when the Dubs were trying to piss Jokic off, and it worked as the latter was ejected towards the end of game two.
The Warriors know the trick to stopping Jokic is to play physically with him inside the paint and limit him enough that his teammates have to do most of the work.
It's a brilliant game-plan for the Dubs and one that will probably end the series early. Led by Green's masterful defensive performance, the Warriors' new-found death lineup had an unprecedented defensive rating of -75.0 in 11 minutes.
The Nuggets haven't found an answer for Green and the Warriors, and it seems the league will have a difficult time doing so as well.