The Houston Rockets notched a classic “statement” win on Wednesday by beating the Clippers, with Kawhi Leonard playing, by a score of 102-93 to improve to 8-3 on the season. James Harden went nuts, scoring 47 points on 12-of-26 shooting. He knocked down seven 3-pointers and shot 16-of-17 from the free-throw line.
Harden cooked everyone in front of him all game long, but in his post-game scrum, Russell Westbrook decided to pin Harden’s huge scoring night squarely on the shoulders of Patrick Beverley, who in Westbrook’s eyes, is an all-bark-no-bite defender who spends his time “running around doing nothing.”
“Pat Bev trick y’all, man, like he plays defense,” a chuckling Westbrook told reporters. “He don’t guard nobody, man. It’s just running around, doing nothing. As you seen what happened. Forty-seven. All that commotion to get 47.”
There’s only one problem with Westbrook’s logic here:
These defensive matchup stats (i.e. who was guarding who on every possession), which can be found on NBA.com (usually not until the day after the game was played), can be somewhat deceiving. You can be guarding a guy at the top, for instance, give a half effort on a screen and give up on a play, and the guy sliding over to help on the guy you couldn’t stay with will end up getting dinged for having had the bucket scored on him.
That said, as the great Rasheed Wallace might say, the tape don’t lie. Watch Harden’s scoring highlights from Wednesday night and count for yourself how many of these buckets came while Beverley (No. 21) was defending him.
As you can see, Beverley wasn’t anywhere near Harden in 95 percent of those clips. Moe Harkless took buckets. Montrezl Harrell took buckets. Kawhi Leonard took buckets. The Clippers collectively decided to just let Harden shoot in a sea of pull-up space on a couple occasions. Harden cooked everyone in front of him, but Beverley was rarely that guy.
In fact, here are a few possessions when Beverley was the one guarding Harden.
Yep, that’s Beverley anticipating the ball screen, beating Harden to the spot and knocking the ball off his leg for one of Harden’s six turnovers. Below is another shot of Beverley getting in Harden’s kitchen, this time forcing Harden to take a step back out of bounds:
That’s two of Harden’s six turnovers caused by Beverley. But it wasn’t just the turnovers. Here Beverley fights through screens to stay with Harden, crowds his space, and interrupts Harden’s shooting motion with a perfectly-timed swipe down near the ball:
If you’re counting, Beverley actually caused more turnovers when guarding Harden (two) than he gave up buckets (one). Westbrook has been rattled by Beverley in the past, as has Stephen Curry, and clearly Harden, and every other star perimeter player at one point or another, and there’s no doubt Beverley is a certified pest who gets far enough under his opponents’ skin to leave them in a perpetual state of annoyance, if not drive them to the brink of insanity.
Add in the fact that Westbrook wouldn’t give an opponent credit to save his life, and it makes perfect sense that Russ would try to use Harden’s 47 points as evidence that Beverley isn’t nearly the defender he’s made out to be. But Westbrook is just wrong on this one. Beverley is one of the best on-ball defenders in the league. The numbers say it. The eyes confirm it.
Saying Beverley is one of the elite overall defenders in the league may be too far, because his height does make for a few limitations. But he’s terrific. No two ways about it. And ironically he proved it again on a night when Harden had 47 on pretty much everyone besides him.