If you freeze-frame the play, it looks like a glitch in the system.
Draymond green with the assist to bell for the slam pic.twitter.com/6QAstWbrJC— The Render (@TheRenderNBA) June 4, 2018
Draymond Green has a wide-open shot underneath the basket late in the first quarter of Sunday’s 122-103 Warriors win in Game 2, and yet he doesn’t take the easy layup. More importantly, after setting a high screen and rolling toward the basket, Green doesn’t hesitate when the pass from Kevin Durant arrives. In an instant, he lobs it up to a streaking Jordan Bell, who flies in from the right wing and slams it home. It’s sublime, but it’s also mind-blowing that it isn’t rehearsed. A quick, spontaneous reaction like that feels impossible, especially when a player has a chance to add two points to his stat line. But it’s not impossible for Draymond Green.
This play is Green’s game to a tee: rambunctious, but selfless; erratic, but effective. He’s the most dynamic passer and the best defender on a team for which, on any given night, he might not be even the third-best player. His acceptance of that role is what makes him a priceless piece of Golden State’s burgeoning dynasty.
Through two Warriors wins in these NBA Finals, it’s easy to be wooed by Steph Curry’s 3-point-shooting spurts, especially his Finals-record nine treys in Game 2. It’s easy to fall back on Kevin Durant, who is at plus-41 in this series, as the safety valve on both ends of the court. But it’s impossible to ignore the catalyst.
Green is a combined plus-30 in both contests, the second-highest number on the team. It’s a testament to the myriad ways he can impact a game that he’s had that effect despite scoring only 18 points and missing seven of his nine 3s. In Game 1, he posted 11 rebounds, nine assists, and five steals, and he followed that performance up with a block, eight more rebounds, and seven assists in Game 2. He scored only five points and finished plus-19. Golden State is halfway to a third ring in four years, and it’s in large part due to Green’s “quiet” impact.
Quiet goes in quotation marks for a reason. If aliens arrived on Earth and watched a Warriors game, they’d be immediately taken aback by Green, who plays with a type of three-dimensional bravado not only in the basketball itself, but in every part of the theatrics, too. You can’t ignore him, and you can’t unsee him. Sometimes, you also can’t unhear him.
“Box him out, K!” Draymond yelps at Durant before a jump ball in Game 2. Durant’s reaction leads me to believe he has heard this one before.
“Right behind you, Steph!” Green continues. “Go get Kevin Love,” Green tells Klay Thompson on another play, who runs off to guard Love like a child responding to an intimidating teacher. “Way to stay alert,” he says to Jordan Bell on the bench, who nods aggressively like he’s been told he did a good job on his term paper.
This is Green’s intangible impact. He’s a coach on the court, brash and slightly degrading, but also necessary. He keeps everyone on their toes, and for a Warriors team that had a somnambulant season, he’s a crucial part of winning their biggest games.
Green is both the Warriors’ source of energy and their best player at harnessing that energy into effective play. The player with such brash confidence and unvarnished willingness to yell at teammates is typically the team’s alpha dog, the Kobe archetype who takes the final shot in a close game and has his name announced last in pregame introductions. Green breaks that notion, and given how impactful his defense is in plays like this one, he’s allowed to yell whatever he wants:
If Green is a lot for his teammates to handle, he’s even more for the opposing team to worry about. After some time, his Energizer Bunny–style game gets under players’ skin, and his proneness to mock or call them out can agitate even the most benign characters. The jawing never stops. Just look at how he’s clapping before Tristan Thompson pushes him in Game 1:
If it feels like this is all part of the strategy Green employs, that’s because, well, it is. On the Warriors, Green is allowed to be his effervescent self, toeing the line between precarious trash-talker and energetic motivator.
Draymond’s style has failed him, and the Warriors, only once—in the 2016 Finals, when he was suspended for a game after punching LeBron James in the groin, a mishap that likely cost Golden State the series. Green hasn’t changed, but he’s evolved, even if he is always teetering on the edge of trouble. If he’s able to stay balanced atop this tightrope, then all that comes from that is exactly the type of work the Warriors need to close out this series sooner rather than later. At the celebration, he’ll be the loudest one too, and if he continues to play like this, he will have earned every boisterous remark.