Two key facets of any playoff series are matchups and adjustments. Now that we have at least two games played in each series, we can examine the data and highlight some of the top head-to-head matchups to watch heading into this weekend’s slate of games, beginning with Friday’s trio of Game 3s.
Draymond Green vs. Nikola Jokic
Golden State took a 3-0 series lead over Denver on Thursday as the Poole Party continued for the Warriors. Jordan Poole (27 points), Stephen Curry (27 points off the bench) and Klay Thompson (26 points) combined for 80 points and 12 3-pointers in the Warriors’ 118-113 win, despite a monster game from Nikola Jokic (37 points, 18 rebounds, five assists and three steals) for the Nuggets.
As great as the Warriors’ backcourt has been in this series, we have to focus on the battle inside between Jokic and Draymond Green, who sealed Golden State’s Game 3 win with a clutch steal against Jokic with under 40 seconds to play and the Warriors up by five points.
Draymond was fired up after getting the steal on Jokic 🔥 pic.twitter.com/zFlhaKjdqe
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) April 22, 2022
Through three games, Green has defended Jokic for 19:49 of matchup time and allowed 44 points on 19-43 (44.2%) shooting from the field, 1-10 from 3-point range and 5-5 from the free-throw line. But the key numbers to focus on are Jokic’s six assists and seven turnovers. Jokic is at his best when he combines his scoring and rebounding with his playmaking, and Green has been able to force Jokic into more turnovers than assists in this series.
Similar to Jokic, Green serves as Golden State’s primary playmaker on offense and has averaged 8.3 assists per game in this series – the fifth-highest average of any player in the playoffs. In 12:49 of matchup time against Jokic, Green has 14 assists compared to just two turnovers, while also adding 11 points on 4-9 (44.4%) shooting. With Curry, Poole and Thompson carrying the scoring load, any points Green adds are a bonus for the Warriors. But Green’s defense on Jokic and limiting the reigning Kia MVP’s ability to create scoring opportunities for his teammates is paramount to Golden State’s success and has them in position to go for the sweep on Sunday.
Tyrese Maxey vs. Fred VanVleet
As the Sixers go for the sweep against the Raptors in Toronto on Saturday, one matchup to keep an eye on is Tyrese Maxey against Fred VanVleet. The one-on-one point guard battle has been dominated by Maxey through the first three games of the series.
In 21:33 of matchup time against VanVleet, Maxey has scored 34 points (while the Sixers have scored 120) on 13-18 (72.2%) shooting from the field, 4-8 from 3-point range, and 4-4 from the free-throw line, while dishing out five dimes to just one turnover.
In 26:49 of matchup time against Maxey, VanVleet has been held to just five points on 2-15 (13.3%) shooting from the field and 1-9 (11.1%) from 3-point range. VanVleet does have nine assists against just one turnover, but the Raptors will need more from him offensively – he’s averaging 16.7 points per game in the series compared to 20.3 in the regular season – if they hope to extend this series.
Jalen Brunson vs. Royce O’Neale
Despite superstar Luka Doncic being sidelined with a left calf strain, the Dallas Mavericks have taken a 2-1 series lead on the Utah Jazz, thanks in large part to the brilliant play of Jalen Brunson. Brunson is averaging 32.0 points on 51-41-85 shooting splits, along with 5.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists in the series.
Royce O’Neale has spent the most time on the Jazz trying to slow Brunson down, defending him for a team-high 19:06 of matchup time. O’Neale has held Brunson to 21 points on 8-18 (44.4%) shooting from the field and 1-6 (16.7%) from 3-point range so far in the series. Danuel House Jr. has held Brunson to four points on 2-6 shooting from the field, with three assists and two turnovers in 7:49 of matchup time.
It has been a different story when Brunson has matched up against Mike Conley or Donovan Mitchell. In 5:21 of matchup time, Conley has allowed 20 points on 8-13 (61.5%) shooting. In 4:59 of matchup time, Mitchell has allowed 20 points on 8-16 (50%) shooting. That’s 40 points in just over 10 minutes of matchup time against either Conley or Mitchell, compared to 25 points in just under 27 minutes of matchup time against either O’Neale or House.
Meanwhile, Brunson has allowed just 29 total points on 39.4% shooting against all of his defensive matchups in this series, including just three points on 1-3 shooting (all 3-point attempts) against O’Neale in 14:06 of matchup time.
Jayson Tatum vs. Kevin Durant
After trailing by as many as 17 points, the Celtics stormed back against the Nets to take Game 2 and earn a 2-0 series lead as the series shifts to Brooklyn. Boston held Kevin Durant (0-10 FG) and Kyrie Irving (1-7 FG) to a combined 1-17 shooting from the field in the second half.
Durant finished the game with 27 points on 4-17 shooting from the field and 18-20 from the free-throw line. Jayson Tatum was the primary defender on Durant, guarding him for 10:33 of matchup time, and holding Durant to four points on 0-7 shooting from the field and 4-4 from the foul line.
For the series, Tatum has defended Durant for 18:39 and held him to eight points on 2-13 (15.4%) shooting from the field, while forcing seven turnovers and giving up no assists. How impressive is this: Durant has been blocked by Tatum the same amount of times he’s scored on him (twice). Only two players blocked Kevin Durant multiple times this season – Jaren Jackson Jr. and Wesley Matthews. Overall, Durant had 38 of his 1,115 shot attempts blocked (3.4%) during the regular season. Through two games against Boston, Durant has had five of his 41 shot attempts blocked (12.2%).
Meanwhile, in 10:28 of matchup time against Durant, Tatum has scored 12 points on 5-12 (41.7%) shooting from the field and 2-3 from 3-point range, with two turnovers and one assist.
One more matchup to watch is Kia Defensive Player of the Year winner Marcus Smart against Kyrie Irving. In 14:09 of matchup time, Irving has scored 14 points on 3-8 FG, 2-4 3FG, 6-6 FT shooting against Smart, with one assist and no turnovers. Smart has posted similar numbers while being defended by Irving, scoring 10 points on 4-8 FG, 2-5 3FG shooting, with two assists and three turnovers in 12:15 of matchup time.
Karl-Anthony Towns vs. Brandon Clarke
Karl-Anthony Towns made the same number of field goals in Minnesota’s Game 1 win (11-18 FG) as he attempted in Minnesota’s losses in Games 2 and 3 combined (7-11 FG). Limiting Towns on offense has been a team effort for the Grizzlies as three separate players have defended Towns for at least six minutes of matchup time in the series.
- Towns vs. Brandon Clarke: 6:59 matchup time, 3 points, 1-1 FG, 1 assist, 3 turnovers
- Towns vs. Steven Adams: 6:48 matchup time, 14 points, 6-8 FG, 1 assist, 1 turnover
- Towns vs. Kyle Anderson: 6:42 matchup time, 6 points, 3-3 FG, 1 assist, 2 turnovers
Clarke has forced as many turnovers (3) as he has points allowed (3) against Towns in this series. Offensively, Clarke has scored 11 points on a perfect 5-5 shooting in 10 minutes of matchup time against Towns.
Trae Young vs. Kyle Lowry
The Heat took a 2-0 series lead behind Jimmy Butler’s playoff career-high 45 points on Tuesday in Miami. As the series shifts to Atlanta for Games 3 and 4, the Hawks have to find an answer to slow down Butler. Through two games, Butler has torched his two most frequent offensive matchups: he has scored 21 points on 8-14 FG, 4-5 3FG shooting in 12:42 of matchup time against De’Andre Hunter and 12 points on 4-5 FG, 1-1 3FG, 3-4 FT shooting in 4:03 against Bogdan Bogdanovic.
While finding an answer for Butler on defense is paramount for the Hawks, they also have to get Trae Young going on offense. This is the matchup we want to spotlight for this series as the Heat have split the defensive assignment on Young fairly evenly between Kyle Lowry (6:56 matchup time) and Gabe Vincent (6:07 matchup time).
Young has scored 13 points on 5-12 FG, 1-5 3FG, 2-2 FT shooting against Lowry, while being limited to one assist against two turnovers. Against Vincent, Young has scored just three points on 1-7 shooting with all seven attempts coming from 3-point range. He’s dished out three assists with two turnovers in the matchup.
On the flipside, Young has defended Lowry for 12:06 of matchup time and held him to two points on 1-4 FG, 0-2 3FG shooting, with Lowry having five assists to one turnover. As a team, the Heat have scored 64 points in Lowry’s 12 minutes of matchup time against Young; compare that to the 55 team points from the Hawks in Young’s 13 minutes of matchup time against either Lowry or Vincent.
DeMar DeRozan vs. Wesley Matthews
This series has been a tale of two different games for DeMar DeRozan. In Game 1, DeRozan finished with 18 points on 6-25 shooting from the field and 6-6 from the free-throw line. In 6:31 of matchup time against Wesley Matthews, DeRozan scored four points on 0-4 shooting from the field and 4-4 from the line.
In Game 2, DeRozan scored a playoff career-high 41 points on 16-31 shooting from the field and 9-9 from the free-throw line to lead the Bulls to a 114-110 win and a 1-1 series split as the series shifts to Chicago. In 10:13 against Matthews, DeRozan scored 14 points on 5-12 shooting from the field and 4-4 from the line, while Matthews blocked two of DeRozan’s shots and forced one turnover.
Overall, Matthews’ defensive numbers against DeRozan are solid, allowing 18 points in nearly 17 minutes of matchup time and holding Chicago’s leading scorer to 31.3% shooting from the field. But with DeRozan leading the playoffs in field goal attempts per game (28.0), the Bucks need more defenders to throw at DeRozan. Jrue Holiday has been strong, allowing eight points in eight minutes of matchup time on 3-10 shooting. However, in just 2:12 of matchup time against Giannis Antetokounmpo, DeRozan has 16 points on 8-12 shooting through two games – including 8-9 in Game 2 alone. And with Khris Middleton out for the series due to a knee injury, the Bucks have one less defender to use against DeRozan.
Mikal Bridges vs. CJ McCollum
Mikal Bridges finished as the runner-up in the Kia Defensive Player of the Year voting as he has been one of the best perimeter defenders in the league all season long. Through the first two games of this series, Bridges has drawn the assignment on CJ McCollum and held him to nine points on 3-10 shooting in 17:08 of matchup time. McCollum has the same number of turnovers (3) as he does field goals (3) while being defended by Bridges. On the flipside, Bridges has scored nine points on 4-9 shooting in 11:56 of matchup time against McCollum.
Another matchup to watch as this series shifts to New Orleans is the battle of the big men between Deandre Ayton and Jonas Valanciunas. Ayton’s defense on Valanciunas has been strong through two games, holding him to 17 points on 6-21 (28.6%) shooting, recording two blocks and forcing five turnovers. Valanciunas has not had the same success in slowing down Ayton; in 15:12 of matchup time, Ayton has scored 21 points on 10-14 (71.4%) shooting with five assists and just one turnover. With Devin Booker out indefinitely, will the Suns look to Ayton more often for scoring?