Article written by Itamar Roitman (@itamar1710)
Jeff Green had a fantastic series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, finding success attacking the Thunder’s defense in the pick and roll, whether it was as the ball handler or as the screener, Steven Adams and Danilo Gallinari struggled to guard him with Green having so much space to attack, and James Harden‘s gravity sure helped.
Scoring 94 points, Jeff Green had the third most points for any Rockets player in the first round, trailing only James Harden and Eric Gordon, on a series-leading true shooting percentage of 65.6, which was his best playoff series since 2013. He shot the 3-ball at an unreasonably good rate (46.5 3PT%, 6.1 3PA), and was a key part in Houston’s first two victories against OKC, as well as in the crucial Game 7.
Green had 7 points in Game 1, playing 24 minutes, but he’s capable of making a bigger impact on this series than some think.
In the Thunder-Rockets series, Jeff Green managed to attack Oklahoma City’s weaker and unathletic front-court defenders, using the fact that the Thunder refused to switch Dort off of Harden to his advantage. But the Lakers don’t have such defensive liabilities, and neither do they have a matchup nightmare for Harden that would force Houston to spam pick and rolls just to force a switch.
However, the Lakers also don’t have any reliable perimeter defenders who can stop dribble penetration.
And that’s where Jeff Green should capitalize.
Take this play, for example. Russell Westbrook is gaining a head of steam against the backpedaling Kyle Kuzma, and the Lakers show him a lot of bodies. He passes the ball to Green, who uses his peculiar shot fake to get AD in the air. He then drives and hits the floater over Kuzma.
Green had more opportunities to attack the Lakers off the dribble, but he passed those up. Many other opportunities will come since the Lakers don’t have a Luguentz Dort type on defense — a defender who is able to keep the best-of-the-best in front of him and doesn’t need any help. The Rockets had an easier time forcing rotations in Game 1 against the Lakers than they had in all of the Thunder series, minus the series opener in which Dort didn’t play.
Jeff Green is someone who can take advantage of a scrambling defense. Here are two clips of him doing that against the Grizzlies, in a scrimmage from July:
There is also the pick and roll/pop game. The Rockets love using Jeff Green as a screener, and for good reason — he can roll, pop, put the ball on the floor or finish in traffic. He presents a matchup problem for the vast majority of centers in this league because of his versatility.
Here’s a thread that I tweeted after the Rockets’ Game 7 victory. Every team is different, but look at the results the Houston got against OKC out of the Harden-Green pick and rolls when Harden was guarded by Schroder, vs when Harden was guarded by Luguentz Dort:
Green didn’t have a very good Game 1, but I suspect he’ll make his presence felt this series on the offensive end, as long as his defense is good enough for him to stay on the court.
Jeff Green is going to face an uphill battle here. Against the Thunder, Robert Covington‘s average on-ball defense was exposed, and even PJ Tucker had some trouble staying in front of the Thunder’s quick guards. Those presented a unique matchup problem for Covington and Tucker, and Green was surprisingly better than both of them when it came to guarding Dennis Schroder, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Chris Paul on-ball, which led to him getting more minutes.
But this series is more optimal for aforementioned duo. Tucker’s defense against LeBron James and Anthony Davis is highly valuable to the Rockets, and Covington’s help defense is very important against the Lakers’ offense, which involves many post-ups and not much perimeter play.
Head coach Mike D’antoni isn’t too fond of the Rockets’ “big” lineup, which includes all three of these players, so Jeff Green might have to step his defense up even more to get consistent minutes, especially as we go further into this series and both coaches shrink their rotations. Although, to be fair to Green, he did have some impressive defensive plays in Game 1.
Here’s one of them: With LeBron James on the bench, the Lakers go to a Caruso-Davis pick and roll. Davis doesn’t try to hit Danuel House with his body, but instead, he slips the screen. Caruso tries to throw a lob to Davis, something the Lakers didn’t manage to do successfully even once in Game 1, but Jeff Green sees it coming, jumps high with both hands and intercepts the pass, creating an opportunity for an easy transition score.
That was one of Green’s three steals of the night.
But Green wasn’t perfect on the defensive side of the floor by any means.
Here, the help has to come way earlier. Green doesn’t recognize it on time, and LeBron James scores inside, plus the foul.
Prior to Game 1, I expected that when Tucker wasn’t on LeBron James (either when Davis is on the floor, or when Tucker is on the bench), we would see some Jeff Green on him, and we did see a little bit of that in the Lakers-Rockets series opener.
Green is the Rockets’ biggest rotation player and has been a good on-ball defender in Houston. He is strong, long and is able to hang with almost every player one-on-one. Meanwhile, Eric Gordon is a very good on-ball defender against guards, but he’s only 6-foot-3, with LeBron James towering over him at 6-foot-8.
Matching up Jeff Green and LeBron could be an interesting change of pace, and might even be the better matchup. Green played with James in Cleveland, and is the only Rockets rotation player other than PJ Tucker who has a positive experience of guarding the Lakers superstar:
I am by no means suggesting Jeff Green is the same player he was in 2013 on either ends of the court, or that he is some “LeBron Stopper”, but I do believe that his experience could help him, and it’s something the Rockets should keep in mind.
Besides, putting Jeff Green on the ball means the Rockets will have better off-ball defenders ready to help.
When guarded by Green, LeBron shot 0-2 from the field and from three, but the possession I was most impressed by is this one:
With 5 seconds left on the shot clock, LeBron tries to attack quickly and over-power Green, after he had some success bullying House earlier in the game. But Green uses his strength and does a great job staying with LeBron, not giving him an inch of space, and the ball goes out of bounds with 0.5 seconds left on the clock.
Jeff Green is the Rockets’ seventh man, and he was out of the league for over two months before getting picked up by Houston, but his play off the bench could play a big role in deciding the winner of the Lakers-Rockets series
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