By Scott Cacciola
There is a line. Draymond Green knows the line well at this stage of his career. Sometimes he uses his arms and elbows and vocal cords to push right up against the line. And there are other occasions when he enthusiastically tramples all over it.
How Green treats 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 in San Francisco, though, as he sought to lead the Golden State Warriors in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, he seemed to act as if the line did not even exist. And if he was to go over it? Well, Green was willing to take that risk.
“We need that energy,” he said. “For me to sit back and say, ‘Oh, I’m going to push it to this edge and try to pull back,’ that don’t work. I’ve got to be me.”
Green being himself meant lunging for a steal before the game was 13 seconds old, forcing a jump ball with Al Horford of the Boston Celtics. Green being himself meant plowing to the basket for his first points and flexing his biceps. Green being himself meant getting called for a technical foul a few minutes later.
But it also meant playing relentless defense and throwing his weight around and urging his teammates to do the same: to be more assertive, more physical and more determined. By the end of the night, his body of work — however polarizing his behavior — helped clear the path for Golden State’s 107-88 victory, which tied the Finals at a game apiece before Game 3 on Wednesday in Boston (9 p.m. ET, ABC).
“I think everybody played with more force,” Green said, adding, “It was across the board.”
Stephen Curry, who scored a game-high 29 points for Golden State, said it was clear to him “about five minutes” after the team’s loss in Game 1 that Green would approach Game 2 with a different level of ferocity. Green finished with 9 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds in Game 2 but made an outsize impact.
“He knew what he needed to do,” Curry said. “I think we talk about how some of that stuff doesn’t always show up in the stat sheet in terms of points, rebounds, assists. But you feel him in his presence, and the other team feels his presence and his intensity, and that’s contagious for all of us.”
Green, of course, has been a staple of Golden State’s championship core since he joined the Warriors as a second-round draft pick in 2012. A tenacious defender and immensely skilled passer, he has already helped the team win three titles — and now, amid their renaissance, aspires for more.
Over the years, Green’s teammates and coaches learned to accept and even embrace the way he operates. The pros far outweigh the cons, unless you are 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 that most players know they should not cross, especially in the postseason — Green used to have more trouble negotiating it. In 2016, he was suspended for Game 5 of the NBA Finals after he collected too many flagrant fouls. (The last straw was striking LeBron James in the groin.) Golden State lost that game — Green had to watch it on television from a luxury suite at the baseball stadium next door — and then the next two as the Cleveland Cavaliers stormed back to win their first and only championship.
On Sunday, Green flirted with catastrophe. In the second quarter, he fouled the Celtics’ Jaylen Brown on a 3-point attempt before they fell to the court in a tangled heap and appeared to shove each other. A second technical foul on Green would have led to an ejection, but after reviewing the play, the officiating crew determined that his action was merely a common foul.
“I don’t know what I was supposed to do there,” Brown said. “Somebody got their legs on the top of your head, and then he tried to pull my pants down. I don’t know what that was about. But that’s what Draymond Green does. He’ll do whatever it takes to win. He’ll pull you, he’ll grab you, he’ll try to muck the game up because that’s what he does for their team. It’s nothing to be surprised about.”
The Celtics’ Jayson Tatum went so far as to express his “love” for the way in which Green goes about his business, although it might be worth revisiting how Tatum feels in another week. The Celtics shot 37.5% overall in Game 2, and the Warriors outscored them by 36 points when Tatum was on the court. The Celtics scored their fewest points since Dec. 29, when their record was 16-19.
“We knew we had to come with a much better focus and sense of aggression, and I thought that started right from the beginning,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. “Draymond played a huge role in that.”
That Green did so while attempting only five field goals in 35 minutes was fairly predictable. Instead, he sent backdoor passes to teammates for layups. He reached for deflections. He channeled his inner fullback to set screen after screen for Curry. And he might as well have used duct tape to affix himself to Brown, who shot 5 of 17 from the field while trying to keep his shorts on.
“I think we’re in a great mental space,” Green said. “Nobody panicked. Everybody stayed the course. And we ultimately knew if we go out and play our game, we put ourselves right back in position to take control of the series.”