SAN FRANCISCO — There’s a line. Draymond Green knows the line well at this stage of his career. Sometimes he uses his arms, elbows and vocal cords to push against the line. And there are other occasions when he stomps with enthusiasm.
How Green handles the line depends on the circumstances, but also on his mood. The line might help him focus his emotions today, then constrain him too much tomorrow. On Sunday, however, as he looked to lead the Golden State Warriors in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, he seemed to act as if the line didn’t even exist. What if he had to go over it? Well, Green was willing to take that risk.
“We need this energy,” he said. “For me to sit and say, ‘Oh, I’m going to push it to this edge and try to pull myself out’, that doesn’t work. I have to be me.
Green being himself meant rushing for a steal before the game was 13 seconds away, forcing a jump with Al Horford of the Boston Celtics. Green being himself meant plowing the basket for his first points and flexing his biceps. Green being himself meant being called for a technical foul minutes later.
But it also meant playing relentless defense and throwing his weight everywhere and urging his teammates to do the same: be more assertive, more physical and more determined. By the end of the night, his work — also polarizing his demeanor — helped pave the way to Golden State’s 107-88 win, which tied the Finals in one game apiece heading into Game 3 on Wednesday at Boston.
“I think everyone played harder,” Green said, adding, “It was all-around.”
Stephen Curry, who scored a game-high 29 points for the Warriors, said it was clear to him “about five minutes” after the team lost in Game 1 that Green would approach Game 2 with a level of different ferocity. Green finished with 9 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds in Game 2, but had an outsized impact.
“He knew what he had to do,” Curry said. “I think we’re talking about the fact that some of those things don’t always show up on the stat sheet in terms of points, rebounds, assists. But you feel it in his presence, and the other team feels his presence and its intensity, and it is contagious for all of us.
Green, of course, has been a fixture in Golden State’s championship core since joining the Warriors as a second-round pick in 2012. A tenacious defender and hugely skilled passer, he’s already helped the team win three titles – and now, in the midst of their renaissance, yearns for more.
Over the years, Green’s teammates and coaches have learned to accept and even adopt his way of operating. The pros far outweigh the cons, unless you’re an opposing player, in which case he can be one of the most irritating people on the planet.
As for that fine line — the one most players know they shouldn’t cross, especially in the playoffs — Green had a harder time negotiating it, believe it or not. In 2016, he was suspended for Game 5 of the NBA Finals after picking up too many flagrant fouls. (The final straw was hitting LeBron James in the groin.) Golden State lost that game — Green had to watch it on TV from a luxury suite at the nearby ballpark — then the next two as the Cleveland Cavaliers stormed in to win their first and only championship.
On Sunday, Green boarded his personal time machine and flirted with disaster. In the second quarter, he fouled the Celtics’ Jaylen Brown on a 3-point attempt before they fell at court in a tangled heap and seemed to jostle each other. A second technical foul on Green would have led to an ejection, but after reviewing the play, the officiating team determined that his action was just a common foul.
“I don’t know what I was supposed to do there,” Brown said. “Someone put their legs on top of your head and then they tried to pull my pants down. I don’t know what it was. But that’s what Draymond Green does. He’ll do whatever it takes. “it takes to win. He’ll shoot you, he’ll catch you, he’ll try to ruin the game because that’s what he’s doing for their team. It’s no wonder.”
The Celtics’ Jayson Tatum went so far as to express his “love” for the way Green handles his business, though it might be worth revisiting how Tatum feels in another week. The Celtics shot 37.5% overall in Game 2, and the Warriors then outscored by 36 points when Tatum was on the field. The Celtics have scored their fewest points since Dec. 29, when their record was 16-19.
“We knew we had to come in with a much better focus and a sense of aggression, and I thought that started early on,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Draymond played a huge part in that.”
That Green did it while only attempting five field goals in 35 minutes was quite predictable. Instead, he sent back passes to his teammates for lay-ups. He reached for diversions. He channeled his inside back to set screen after screen for Curry. And he might as well have used duct tape cling to Brownwho shot 5 of 17 from the field while trying to keep his shorts on.
“I think we’re in a big mental space,” Green said. “No one panicked. Everyone stayed the course. And we knew eventually that if we went out and played our game, we would get back into position to take control of the show.