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Draymond Green Was Golden State’s Lifeline, Until He Wasn’t

Our daily look at the NBA’s best players of the night highlights the man who can’t stop kicking and a 3-point artist reborn

(AP Images)
(AP Images)

Welcome to King of the Court, our daily celebration of the best players in basketball from the night that was. We’ll be keeping track of the best player of every night of the NBA season, and tallying the results as we go along.

King of the Court: Draymond Green

These King of the Court designations are an imperfect science. We’ve awarded losers before — a gaudy point total or an undeniable triple-double might force us to look past the binary of game results to find the heart of individual brilliance — but can the King of the Court be the player whose actions directly led to a loss? Draymond Green’s 20-point, 15-rebound, and nine-assist performance in Thursday night’s 132–127 double-overtime loss to the Houston Rockets had everything: an unexpected scoring run of three straight driving layups in the first quarter; late-game defense that seemed to grow in acuity as the rest of the players on the floor ran ragged; then, of course, the grand ah-whoom that rendered everything else null and void — yet another instance of Green’s trademark momentary loss of limb control that registered as a boot to James Harden’s face and a flagrant 1 with 2:10 remaining in the second overtime.

What we saw wasn’t Draymond at his best, but Draymond at his fullest. In what was the game of the season — a joyous, exhaustive affair — Green tapped into something rare once he checked back into the game in the fourth quarter. He was instrumental in keeping Harden scoreless in the final frame of regulation; all five of his offensive rebounds came in the fourth quarter or later; he never stopped. The Warriors had an uncharacteristically awful shooting night all around — Green was the only player among Golden State’s big four who converted over 43 percent of his attempts from the field. Viewers on the East Coast were dragged way past their bedtimes, and so, too, it seemed, were the players. By the end, the play on both ends of the floor reflected the game’s run time of over three hours. Yet there Green was, active as ever, loud as ever. He was the Warriors’ lifeline until he flatlined them.

So here lies your King of the Court. On a night when the Warriors had nothing left to burn, Draymond decided to set himself on fire. He’s got enough energy himself to will his team through slumps, and he’s got enough energy to completely wipe all the goodwill he’d earned this season as the Defensive Player of the Year front-runner with one exaggerated movement. Green’s athletic charisma walks a fine line, and it’s always riveting.

Runner-up: Ryan Anderson

But say we recently read Chris Ballard’s profile of Sam Hinkie in Sports Illustrated and accepted that plays in the middle of the game bear as much consequence to the final results as the final moments. Who might be our champion then? You could do worse than nominate Ryan Anderson, whose ridiculously difficult 3-pointers in the fourth quarter might’ve given him next-morning folk-hero status had the Rockets been able to secure a victory in regulation.

The 3-point shot was ported to the NBA in the 1979–80 season, and in its first two years of existence, there were six teams that shot less than 100 attempts over an 82-game season. Thursday night, the Warriors and Rockets combined for a league-record 88 attempts in a single game — a figure that would have eclipsed the total attempts of five different teams in the 1979–80 and 1980–81 seasons.

The Rockets and Warriors combined to shoot 29.5 percent from behind the arc, and for stretches at a time, neither team seemed particularly interested in venturing much farther than the top of the key to mine for points. It was Charles Barkley’s worst nightmare, and a sure sign that we’re far closer to the NBA 3-point line’s 40th birthday than we are to it as a newfangled gimmick, even as we continue to find ways to make the arc novel again. Anderson and fellow Rockets signee Eric Gordon’s combined 9-of-19 outing from 3 was a brief respite from the bloodbath both teams showered Oracle Arena with.

Ryan Anderson is Channing Frye is Tim Thomas is Boris Diaw — the latest in Mike D’Antoni’s career revitalizations rooted in a very simple, effective mantra: Don’t think, just ball. Anderson signed a four-year, $80 million contract this summer, a gamble on Houston’s part at the time due to legitimate injury concerns, but after his 29-point performance Thursday, let’s look into a restructuring, CBA be damned.