August 12, 2022

BOSTON — Draymond Green and Marcus Smart will not collect NBA MVP awards. That honor belongs to their teammates – Steph Curry for Green and Jayson Tatum for Smart. Green and Smart have each been named Defensive Player of the Year once and hold a different title than their teammates who can score in groups.

They are the heart of their respective teams: Green for the Warriors and Smart for the Celtics.

Both players wear their emotions on their sleeve. You can see it, you can hear it, you can feel it.

In Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Smart came out on top bringing the energy, resulting in a historic victory for Boston. Green countered in Game 2 with fire replacing his breath. So what’s Smart’s answer for Wednesday night’s Game 3 now that the series is back at TD Garden?

“I mean, you answer fire with fire, don’t you?” Smart told reporters on Tuesday. “We just have to turn around and do the same. If he has to come here and try to be physical, this is our home and we have to protect it.”

Green knew he needed to be better Sunday night after the Warriors lost two nights before. He felt he let Steph Curry and the rest of his Warriors teammates down, and took it upon himself to even the series at one win apiece.

Curry said he knew five minutes after the series-opening loss that Golden State was about to get a different green in Game 2. And they did. Not just in the box score of the Warriors’ 107-88 win, too.

Thirteen seconds into the competition, Green found himself entangled in a jump ball with Boston big man Al Horford. Eleven seconds later, the Warriors forced a turnover on an errant pass from Smart. While baiting Celtics striker Grant Williams into a foul midway through the first quarter, Green was then called for a technical foul.

The Celtics really wanted a second tech call late in the first half when he and Celtics star Jaylen Brown got into their own fight, and they keep talking about it. Draymond toed the line, pushed the envelope, and Steve Kerr keeps sending him the same message.

Do not change. Be you.

“No, let it be him,” Kerr said. “He’s at his best when he’s passionate and emotional. I thought he played a great game the other night. He got the first tech, but he left the officials alone all night.

“The game is always going to be physical in the playoffs. Being physical is part of it. So the main thing is to leave the officials alone, and Draymond has done a good job of that.”

Immediately after the Warriors lost to start the series, and the hours and days that followed, Green knew what Golden State needed to move forward. The physical is part of it. The same goes for energy and intensity.

More than anything, he thought the Celtics weren’t feeling the Warriors enough.

The Warriors led by as much as 15 points in the third quarter of Game 1 and entered the fourth quarter with a 12-point lead. They wasted it. Highligths. The foot was released and the Celtics took advantage, breaking the record books and outscoring the Warriors by 24 points in the final period for a 12-point win.

But with his team basically facing a game to win, Green didn’t let that happen again. The Warriors won each of the first three quarters, largely because they ended every frame on an extremely high note. They entered the fourth quarter with a 23-point lead, pushed it to 29 early and won by 19.

“I couldn’t live with myself if I continued my summer and we lost the NBA Finals because we couldn’t face strength with strength,” Green said Tuesday. “So I think that was a bit of that for me and understanding that, like I said, this is my department.

“That’s where I’m supposed to lead, and I can’t let my guys down.”

This era of basketball is defined as soft by many, especially on the outside. The rules are different, 7-footers throw 3-pointers as if it were a lay-up line, and there’s more scrambling in the stands than on the field.

Those who played in the 1980s and 1990s can’t let go of the past and feel the need to let everyone know how physical the game was in their time. Last to go was Cedric Maxwell, who won two titles with the Celtics and was named MVP of the 1981 Finals when Boston beat the Houston Rockets in six games.

“What Draymond Green was doing, in the 80s, he was getting knocked out,” Maxwell said after Game 2 to Gary Payton. “He would get knocked out the f–ked out.”

Come Tuesday, Draymond had something to say in response.

“When guys start making these comparisons or saying, ‘Oh, if you were playing in that era’, like yeah. And if you were playing in that era, you should have been a lot better than you were. C is just different.

“Comparing the physicality of the game and everyone acting like they’re just the most physical and brutal enforcers, it’s like everyone acts like they’re shooting the ball like Steph Curry today. You know, it’s like it was physical then, now it’s shooting. Everybody I can’t shoot the ball. Imagine me 20 years from now, like, ‘Man, if you was playing in my day, you had to shoot.’ Like, yeah, guys were shooting better and more, but that doesn’t mean you were shooting as well.

“So it baffles me when guys come out here to talk and they don’t have – we have YouTube. You can highlight them and they don’t have fights on YouTube. You see them on the pitch intimidated, but they talk about you didn’t get punched in the face. These people are killing me.

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Microphone drop, end of Green’s press conference.

He won’t drop the ball anymore when it comes to physicality and strength in the final, and don’t expect Smart either. The fireworks have only just started and we might catch a show on Wednesday night, as well as the rest of this animated series.

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