Early in the fourth quarter of Game 4 of the 2022 NBA Finals on Friday night, Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr made a bold decision. With his team trailing to the Boston Celtics, and in danger of going down 3-1 in the series, he sent Draymond Green to the bench, and then kept him there for nearly four minutes.
Such a move would have been unthinkable in the past. Green has been one of the driving forces of the Warriors' dynastic run, and if there was anyone you wanted out there in a close, must-win game, it was him. But this isn't 2016 anymore, and Kerr's move proved to be the right one. The Warriors went on an 11-3 run with Green on the bench to take the lead for good, and tied the series with the Boston Celtics at 2-2.
Kerr said that Green coming out initially was part of their rotational plan, and that he didn't put him back in because the group that was on the floor was playing so well. While Green understood that decision, he wanted to be on the court.
"I'm definitely never thrilled coming out of the game with seven minutes to go in the fourth quarter in a must-win game," Green said. "I'm not going to sit here and act like I was thrilled. I'm a competitor."
"But, at the end of the day, if that's what Coach decides, then you roll with it. You know, I had to keep my head in the game and, you know, whenever I went back in, try to make some plays. That was just my mindset. You know, don't make too much of it. I've always been of the -- on the bandwagon of if you've got something and it's rolling, you stick with it. So it is what it is."
In the moment, there's no time to think about the future or the potential fallout from a coaching decision; Kerr needed to make a move to win a game. It was a tough call, but he did it and it worked. Now, the Warriors have tied the series, and regained homecourt advantage. If he had stuck with Green, the Warriors may be on the ropes down 3-1.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that it will be fascinating to see what Kerr does with Green's minutes moving forward. For the series, Green now has a negative on/off differential. The Warriors are minus-1.3 points per 100 possessions when he's on the court, and plus-3.4 points per 100 possessions when he sits.
To his credit, Green did make some nice plays down the stretch to help the Warriors pull away, He still has value as a defender and a rebounder, but is almost a complete non-factor on the offensive end now. The Celtics have done well to take away a lot of his playmaking, and he clearly prefers not to shoot. He was terrible in Game 3, has fouled out of two games and is putting up 4.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists on 30.7 percent from the field in the series.
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Even his mom is asking questions:
"Please ppl stop asking me what's wrong with Dray," Mary Babers Green wrote on Twitter during Game 4. "I DONT KNOW! Maybe this is a CLONE! Lmbo WHERE IS THE Draymond that helped get us here!! Hmmmm I have never seen this either!"
While Green isn't going to fall out of the rotation, it is fair to wonder how much he'll play the rest of the series. Green is one of the toughest and most competitive players of his generation, and has built up an incredible amount of equity with his teammates and coaching staff.
It's not going to be easy to just sit him, even if the team looks better without him at times. Whether Kerr can strike the right balance and get the most out of Green may just determine who wins the championship.
"Look, this is a tough series for him to score because of Boston's size and athleticism, but he's still impacting the game at a huge level," Kerr said. "And he knows we're just going to do whatever it takes to win. We've got a lot of guys who can contribute. A lot of guys did that tonight, and you know, we got it done. And whatever it takes in Game 5, that's what we'll do, too."