The Houston Rockets defeated the Utah Jazz in five games during the first round of the playoffs thanks in large part due to Eric Gordon.
He was able to lock down offensive juggernaut Donovan Mitchell despite not being seen as an elite defender. The 6-foot-4 guard is rarely celebrated for his defense and most measurements say he is sub-par in this regard. Gordon ranked just No. 79 among 115 shooting guards during the regular season in ESPN’s Real Defensive Plus-Minus.
Houston head coach Mike D’Antoni, however, has given endless praise to the 31-year-old Gordon (via The Athletic):
“Well, Eric is one of the better defenders in the league, without a doubt. Nobody ever talks about it, because he’s pretty understated, but he’s so strong. Nobody can post him up. He puts his chest on people and keeps them out of the lane. He’s just really good at what he does.”
Perhaps that is why Gordon believes there is “no other team” besides the Rockets who could defeat the Golden State Warriors in the postseason. The first round offered a much less complicated test than stopping Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant. But the Jazz could not get any offensive momentum when Mitchell matched up against Gordon.
Mitchell was 24-for-90 (26.7 percent) during the postseason when Gordon was on the court. That is quite a bit worse than the field goal percentage that the sophomore guard has recorded (43.4 percent) in his two regular seasons. He was 12-for-22 (54.5 percent) when Gordon was not on the floor.
But even more impressive is what the Rockets were able to do to contain Mitchell from the three-point line, where he has connected on 2.4 shots per game over the past two years. It has become a point of pride for Gordon, who may not get the credit he deserves for his defense.
The 22-year-old was just 4-for-33 (12.1 percent) from long range during the 165 minutes he and the Houston guard were on the court at the same time. However, Mitchell was 7-for-10 (70.0 percent) on his three-pointers when appearing on the floor without Gordon.
When averaging out the statistics to an average game, Mitchell would have averaged 15.3 points and 0.9 three-pointers per 36 minutes when Gordon was on the court. For comparison, though a smaller sample size, the 2018 lottery pick would’ve posted 46.6 points and 8.8 three-pointers per 36 without Gordon.
Gordon’s physicality was a huge factor in containing the Utah guard, who said he plans to get in much better shape during the offseason after losing the series to Houston.
While not all attempts from Mitchell were defended by Gordon, the Rockets guard is credited for defending 17 total attempts from beyond the arc during the series with only one connecting. That is significantly fewer than all other guards who had a similar amount of opportunities on defense since the postseason began.
In fact, only three shots taken from over 15 feet that were defended by Gordon went in during the entire series. According to Cleaning the Glass, his block percentage ranked above the 75th percentile in each game that he has played in the postseason thus far.
He has also recorded the third-most defensive win shares among all Western Conference guards during playoff action. While it may fly under the radar, his defensive presence could be a huge factor when the Rockets will presumably take on the Warriors in the next round.