In the end, Draymond Green always finds a way to get where he’s supposed to be.
In Monday’s sweep-clinching series finale against the Trail Blazers, the place he was supposed to be was standing behind the three-point line while Stephen Curry was doubled teamed with the shot clock winding down and less than a minute remaining in overtime.
That normally wouldn’t be the best place for a player who shot 28.5% from distance in the regular season and entered his 16th playoff game connecting on just 20% of his postseason three-pointers, but the Warriors needed somebody to make a play.
So for the umpteenth time, Green stepped up and did what was needed to get Golden State to its fifth straight Finals.
Holding a 116-115 advantage with less than 42 seconds remaining in the extra period and 3.5 seconds left on the shot clock, Green caught a pass from Curry and launched an uncontested triple that pushed the lead to four and proved to be the winning score.
Since Kevin Durant’s arrival to the Warriors, Green has naturally had less responsibility on offense. In Golden State’s almost storybook season in 2015-16, Green’s leap as an offensive weapon was one of the keys to maintaining excellence throughout the entire campaign. He had a career-year across his stat columns in everything but steals—49% shooting overall, 38.8% shooting from three, 14 points per game, 9.5 rebounds, 7.4 assists and 1.4 blocks. As Curry and Klay Thompson partied on the perimeter, letting it rain from deep as they splashed their way into the history books, Green was doing the dirty work in the engine room to keep the cruise ship sailing toward paradise while also providing the energy to make sure the fun never stopped.
But after 73 regular-season wins and 15 playoff victories, they didn’t have enough. Green played arguably the best game of his life on a night where LeBron James hoisted the Danny O’Brien Trophy in Oracle Arena and the internet mocked the greatest team to never win the championship.
Who cares if he put up 32-15-9 while going 6-for-8 for three in Game 7? He was suspended for Game 5 and that’s what started the collapse.
So in came KD and down went Draymond’s offensive glory. He was still at the heart of of the attack by nature of his role as the main facilitator in the offense, but he was now setting the tone for a slightly different scenario. Durant now determined the pulse of the room, so Green, Curry, Thompson and coach Steve Kerr figured out how to merge Durant into their environment while giving him a certain level of creative control over how the festivities went.
What followed was two championships and a debate about whether or not Durant was just there to piggyback off their previous success or if he was a needed piece to avoid another epic defeat at the hands of James.
The answer likely lies somewhere in the middle, but on one controversial November night inside Staples Center while facing the Clippers, Green reportedly claimed it was the former.
The sideline blowup turned speculation of Durant’s departure for the Knicks into a forgone conclusion in the eyes of many. It was a turning point in the dynasty that revealed a potential chink in the armor. The same man that lost his cool in 2016 and was forced to watch a Finals game from a baseball stadium lost his cool again. And now he was seen as a major reason Durant was likely headed out the door.
But that wasn’t the case from Green and Durant’s perspective.
While speaking with reporters Sunday, Green explained how Durant made him learn from that moment, and how that challenge from the reigning two-time Finals MVP is propelling his game right now.
“It’s funny because when the stuff happened with Kevin earlier this year, he said, like, ‘Everybody is giving you this pass like, Oh, that’s just Draymond. He’s emotional,’” Green said according to Anthony Slater of The Athletic. “But [Durant] said to me then, like, ‘You’re not emotional. I’ve seen you lock in and not say a word to the referees. I’m not giving you that pass.’ That’s kind of stuck with me.”
Since the start of the postseason, Green has clearly been a different beast on the defensive end than he was in the regular season. Since winning Defensive Player of the Year in 2017, Green’s defensive rating and general dominance have slipped a smidge. His importance and versatility on that end have also diminished slightly as Durant’s transformed into an elite stopper and rim protector. But Green still calls the shots on defense.
So before the postseason started, Green dropped 23 pounds. He played the fewest games of his career this season and a toe injury help put into question just how much he had left in the tank after four consecutive trips to the Finals and the 2016 Olympics. But as Finals trip number five awaits, we can laugh at all concerns prior to April.
After knocking down his late three Monday, Green also played a part in stopping Damian Lillard’s game-tying attempt on the final possession. He picked him up in transition, pestered him on the outside so he couldn’t try a go-ahead three and ran him into Thompson, who was waiting at the rim to contest a layup.
He’s been the best defensive player this postseason and is looking like he did when he first broke into stardom. Except now he’s more mature.
It’s not that Draymond flipped a switch to get back to looking like the best previous versions of himself, because that would imply he was turned off in some way. And since when did Draymond Green have an off switch?
He has honed in on his talents and is looking like the perfect blend of past iterations of Draymond.
He’s cutting complaining out of his game. He’s called out his own team and the Rockets for how they talked about foul calls. He’s teaching his son about the ridiculousness of flopping.
But most important, he’s looking like a threat on offense again. Teams may not respect him beyond the arc still, but he’s finding plenty of ways to cause damage.
After a 20 point, 13 rebound and 12 assists triple double, Kerr compared him to a “wrecking ball.”
“The pace he was generating was incredible and it was like he never got tired,” Kerr elaborated.
In five games without Durant these playoffs, Curry’s increased offensive production has demanded the spotlight. But in that closeout game in Houston and throughout the sweep of the Trail Blazers, Green has also reminded us of how much more lethal he can be when not sharing the floor with a 7'0" scoring machine.
He’s pushing the tempo after defensive rebounds and baseline inbounds following makes. He’s keeping the others involved by finding open cutters and shooters who got left alone thanks to his aggressive drives to the rim. He’s tossing lobs to the other bigs and is making life easier for Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell as they do the same for him.
Sure, Draymond made his name by proving to be the ultimate small-ball center, but he’s still a power forward at heart, and Kerr would prefer to play him there more often. Without Durant and because of Portland’s size, Green has been able to play alongside the other bigs a bit more than he did against the Rockets.
He’s looking as dangerous as ever when he’s going downhill with the ball in his hands. Who is stopping Green after he sets a screen just to get the ball while rolling to the bucket. His quick decision-making and knack for finding the smallest gaps and toughest angles to deliver passes don’t generate the same fanfare Curry and Thompson heat checks do. But those skills are just as vital to this team’s success.
Steph isn’t the only player on the team who likes to shimmy after a big play. And those pretty fast break assists and the dimes Draymond drops as the roll man after getting a defensive stop are the types of plays that make him celebrate. And if Draymond has something to cheer about, there’s a really good chance at least one other Warrior is feeding off his energy and having a big game of their own.
Monday it was Curry, who decided to join Green on his triple double pursuit. As Green collected his fourth of this postseason and second in as many games, Curry got his second career playoff triple double. They’re the first teammates to have triple doubles in the same playoff game.
So it was only right Green let his shoulders do the talking after putting the game and series out of reach with a triple in front of the Trail Blazers’ bench in their home arena.
It was the Warriors’ third straight comeback win of 15 or more and fifth straight victory without Durant. And another sign that maybe this dynasty is never going end as long as free agency doesn’t push Thompson or Green out the door within these next two summers.
"I want to be remembered as a winner," Green told Logan Murdock of NBC Sports Bay Area. "If I leave this game and you ask somebody, 'What about Draymond?' and they say 'Oh, he was a winner,' my mission is accomplished."
This season’s mission won’t be accomplished until Golden State wins four more games. And there is a chance Durant returns along with fellow sidelined All-Star DeMarcus Cousins. The five All-Star lineup the Warriors constructed last July might only have one full playoff series together if that, but that won’t stop the haters from saying they stacked the deck to get to this point.
But if they are at full strength for June and Green is relegated back to being the last scoring option in the offense, his numbers will slide once more. But as long as he continues to mix his intensity and cunning in a way that elevates his teammates, and he makes big plays when the time calls for it, nobody will care about those stats or what his supposed shortcomings are.
As Green, Curry, Thompson and Kerr close out this season and put the finishing touches on the end of this chapter of the dynasty’s memoir, it’s fitting they had to revert back to what pushed them to elite status in the first place: Kerr unleashing Draymond. Letting him fuel the engine and shape the mind of the team in a way only Draymond can.
And Draymond is back to doing what he’s supposed to: Unleashing hell on the opposition by being the best defender in the league, a smart playmaker and world-class sh-t talker.
It’s what the team needs from Green in order to reach its dream destination.