Draymond Green's unique, uncanny effect on Warriors on full display in return, with Durant altercation in rear-view mirror
Green reminded those who may have forgotten just how valuable he is to Golden State
OAKLAND, Calif. -- So much of what Draymond Green does on the court is indescribable -- insufficient words like "intensity," "energy" and "force" are often used in an effort to pin down the one-of-a-kind Golden State Warriors forward's impact on the game. So when you get an outright example of his je ne sais quoi, a singular, identifiable moment that encapsulates all those intangibles, you have to sit back and appreciate it.
One of those moments came during the Warriors' 116-108 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday, Green's first game back after missing 11 straight contests -- and 14 of the previous 16 -- due to a lingering toe injury. After jumping out to a 13-0 lead to start the game, Golden State saw its lead dwindle to three points as the halftime buzzer neared, thanks to a transition layup by Josh Okogie after a Stephen Curry turnover.
Because of the four-on-one break by the Wolves, the Warriors had numbers on the other end, and Alfonso McKinnie threw a long inbounds pass to Curry, who saw Green wide open just outside the paint near the basket. Curry lofted a lob pass, but Okogie closed quickly, paving the way for Green to make the play that perfectly displays what he brings to this team.
So this is the point in the sitcom where we freeze frame on the protagonist and the reflective voiceover comes in: "I bet you're wondering how I got myself into this mess?" (cue laugh track).
Just look at the position Green is in. Okogie is smothering him, so he has no chance to score himself. Karl-Anthony Towns and his 7-foot-4 wingspan are a step away from Curry, making a return pass an impossibility. The only chance at a hoop in the 2.5 seconds remaining in the half is to get the ball to an open Klay Thompson, but, as you can see, Green is facing the wrong direction, gravity pulling him back toward the floor, and from this position likely can't even see Thompson, let alone get him the ball.
Ladies and gentlemen, Draymond Green.
Even after watching the replay several (thousand) times, it's still hard to tell how Green knew Thompson was there. Not only did Draymond display the strength, body control, awareness and vision to find his teammate, but he also delivered a perfect pass into the shooting pocket of one of the greatest shooters to ever walk the Earth.
It's Draymond in a nutshell. So many would have tried to force a shot, or would have landed before passing, not leaving enough time for Thompson to get the shot off before the buzzer. Instead, Green's uncanny play (and Thompson's shot ... let's not sell him short) energized the Oracle crowd and gave the Warriors a six-point halftime lead, setting the stage for a signature third-quarter run that put the game out of reach.
Steve Kerr called it the play of the game, saying Green must have known he was going to make the pass before the ball was even lobbed in his direction. Green, however, gave a simpler explanation.
"Realistically, I was gassed and had no energy to go for the layup, and I saw Klay open so I just threw it," said Green, who played 29 minutes in his first game in nearly a month. "Steph threw me a lob -- there was no way I was catching a lob. And, yeah, Klay was open, so, you know, it's the road of less miles traveled. One more dribble probably would have took me out. So, just give the ball to Klay and walk off. That's about it."
An unfathomable pass boiled down to "I saw Klay open so I just threw it." Simply remarkable, and it shows the unparalleled instinct with which Green plays.
Green, who finished with seven points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, said he felt like "a kid in a candy store" during his first game back, and Kerr commented on how Draymond immediately changed the pace and force that the Warriors played with. In the 11 previous games without Green, Golden State played at a pace of 100.37 possessions per game, according to NBA.com, 18th in the NBA over that stretch. On Monday the Warriors played at a pace of 105, which would be third in the league.
"The first few minutes we looked different," Kerr said after the game. "[Green] got a couple rebounds and pushed the ball and everybody else sort of said, 'Oh yeah, we got to run. Draymond's got the ball,' and he was out ahead of the play a couple of times. He gives us a different dimension and it's great to have him back."
Curry had another phenomenal game with 38 points, including 7-for-14 3-point shooting, and he was quick to credit Green for generating open looks for him. He even said that Green's, shall we say, animated nature -- arguing with refs, jawing with the Wolves bench, etc. -- helped get Curry out of an early shooting funk en route to a huge game.
"It's all about competitiveness and that fire -- enjoying what we get to do on a daily basis," Curry said after the game. "Obviously when you're out there, you've got to find different things to keep you engaged, and if you don't have energy during a certain stretch of the game, you hear somebody go at somebody on the other team, or to themselves or talking to a teammate, it just kind of refocuses you a little bit and gets you re-engaged. Over the course of 82 [games] you need that."
Green's performance almost makes you forget that the last time he took the court was two days after he served a one-game suspension for his infamous verbal altercation with Kevin Durant. It even made some question, if the situation escalated into a "him or me" type of ultimatum, whether the Warriors would entertain the idea of trading Green to appease Durant. However, Draymond's first game back made it clear how much that would affect the Warriors and their pursuit of a fourth title in five years, and beyond.
All parties have said that they've put the issue behind them, and the timing of Green's injury may have given both him and Durant a necessary cooling off period emotionally. In the past, Green said he has generally pushed for the training staff to let him play through injuries, even when he's not quite 100 percent, but this time both he and the staff exercised a great deal of patience. Kerr has said that occasionally minor injuries are blessings in disguise because they give players a mental and physical reprieve from the arduous season, and Green said he definitely felt that during his absence.
"Sometimes you need that mental break," Green said. "You really don't necessarily want it, and you don't want it come by way of injury, but there's always a silver lining. So if there is one, it's definitely that. Doesn't stop you from itching to get back on the floor, though."
Green certainly looked refreshed and focused in his first game back, and the effect on his teammates, both tangible and intangible, was clear from the start. For all the spiritual and physical strife the Warriors have endured early in the season, they find themselves in a virtual tie for first place in the Western Conference. On Wednesday they'll face the owners of the NBA's best record, the Raptors, who narrowly escaped with an overtime win after a herculean effort from Durant in Toronto a couple weeks ago. This time around the Warriors will be at home, they'll have Curry and they'll have their pace-pushing, defense-playing, trash-talking emotional leader back on the court.
"[Green's] probably the most unique player in the league in terms of what he means to this team," Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. "Offensively, very dynamic, unusual, they can run their offense through him. Changes the way they run their offense, unbelievable passer, decision maker, screener, great awareness as to what is going on in the game. And then of course defensively -- very, very unique. His ability to play so many different positions, particularly when he goes to the five, they don't sacrifice their defense ... I think his numbers don't reflect how important he is to winning."
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