“Who do you get up for every morning?”
We all have that someone — or something — that keeps us motivated when we finally rouse from the sweet, yet temporary escape of sleep. It can be a significant other, someone who brings out the best in us, complements us, and understands us in ways that no other person in the world can. It can be family, the entity that will always be there for us when no one else in the world will have your back. It can even be your profession and everyone else that is involved in it — especially if you’re passionate about what you do.
When you wake up and doubt your ability to lift your head from your pillow, to draw back the sheets that kept you warm amid the cold night, and to face another day that could be more of the same, then there are some things in life — or some people — that make you realize that it’s all worth it.
In the same vein, the Warriors seemed like they had the equivalent of a lethargic awakening from a sweet and succulent dream, when Stephen Curry was injured and sidelined for 11 games. That was soon followed by the infamous spat between Draymond Green and Kevin Durant, and the subsequent toe sprain that kept Green out for 11 games himself. Without the presence of Curry and Green, the Warriors played like they didn’t want to get out of bed.
Everyone knew what the team was missing with Curry being out. They were missing his three-point shooting, his gravity that allows his teammates to operate freely, and his leadership and example that no one else in the organization can emulate or replicate.
But without Green, they were also missing a lot of what made them the dominant world beaters of years past. They were missing his ability to quarterback the defense; his ability to bring the ball down on offense and push the pace; his ability to be an elite playmaker and passer; and of course, his fiery passion and desire to win that has energized the Warriors to victory on several occasions.
Without Green to push the pace on offense, the Warriors were in the bottom half of the pace rankings — 100.37 possessions per game, good for 17th in the league, per NBA.com. Coincidentally, the reduced pace contributed to their reduced number of three-point attempts — averaging 31.7 per game, per NBA.com.
Against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Warriors’ pace went up considerably (105 possessions), while attempting 43 three-pointers for the entire game. Defensive effort that carried on from their game against the Milwaukee Bucks, coupled with the aforementioned increase in pace and three-point attempts, are what finally allowed the Warriors to reclaim their identity as the dominating force of the NBA.
Everyone knows that Green is a prolific rebounder, but an often overlooked aspect of his rebounding is the fact that he brings down the ball himself at a speed that catches defenses off guard. When he is going down the floor, the defense is hard-pressed to keep track of everyone else on the floor.
Green has several options with the ball in his hands during a fastbreak — he can go all the way to the rim and score himself; he can kick the ball out to a shooter on the perimeter; or he can elect to calm things down and run a half-court set.
In this possession, his pace in transition catches the Wolves’ defense unable to effectively keep track of Kevin Durant, who buries the smooth jumper.
In other instances, Green elects to go all the way to the rim for a layup. While being a scorer is the least of his priorities, he is more than capable of creating scoring opportunities for himself through sudden drives.
It’s the little things that Green does that make him vital to the Warriors’ offense. He is an excellent screener, allowing shooters to use him as an obstacle to defenders’ attempts to contest shots. When the Warriors run several pin downs for Klay Thompson, it is Green’s solid screens that free up Thompson to do what he does best.
Without Green, the Warriors were also without their best playmaker and distributor. His elite passing ability is an aspect of the team’s system that is often taken for granted by NBA fans in general, and also by some Warriors fans. Green thrives being the one who racks up the assist numbers, and in a system predicated on ball and player movement, it is an environment that feeds his desire to be the creator of his teammates’ scoring opportunities.
Green often finds passing lanes that others can’t fathom, and he uses his exceptional passing to thread the ball through even the smallest of windows. In this possession, he passes out of the right block to the weak side corner, where Thompson is stationed. This allows Thompson to eventually lock in on the target and bury the three.
Green’s hustle in getting an offensive board has the beneficial side effect of finding Thompson for a mid-range jumper. Not giving up on plays is a trademark of Green, and the Warriors are able to gain second-chance points from his tenacity.
Here is another instance of Green’s pinpoint passing skills. In what seems to be a variant of the “Blind Pig” option of the triangle offense, Green gets the ball up top from Alfonzo McKinnie, who doesn’t stop moving once he gives up the ball. He cuts inside and manages to get some separation from his defender. Green recognizes this and whips the pass to McKinnie, who goes up for the uncontested layup.
Green’s passing also garners the Warriors a three-point shot, even if he ultimately doesn’t get credit for the assist. Out of the post, Green finds a cutting Thompson, who attracts attention inside upon receiving the pass. He promptly recognizes McKinnie on the weak side corner, who gets the kick-out from Thompson and makes the three.
Even during a broken inbounds play, Green is well-aware and cognizant of his teammates’ positions on the floor. Most especially, he is in tune with Curry, who relocates to the right corner after botching the inbounds pass. The ball finds its way to Green’s hands, and he accurately whips the ball to Curry’s shooting pocket.
The Curry/Durant pick-and-roll is perhaps the deadliest weapon in the Warriors’ arsenal, but close behind it is the Curry/Green pick-and-roll. Often run at the traditional top-of-the-arc spread configuration, the Warriors improvise in this possession by running it on the sideline as on out-of-bounds play. Once Curry draws the attention of two defenders, he makes the quick pass to Green on the short roll. This is where Green’s decision making ability shines — he drives inside, sees Durant on the opposite corner, and gives him the ball for the three-point shot.
In this sequence, Green shows his skill as a floor director on offense. The defense is focused on Durant and Thompson, who are both on the left side of the floor. Green directs Jonas Jerebko to clear the left side by relocating to the opposite side corner. However, with the defense exclusively worried about Durant and Thompson, no one even bats an eye to Jerebko’s relocation. A simple back screen from Shaun Livingston ensures that Jerebko is uncontested. He receives the pass from Green and makes the open shot.
And finally, the most memorable assist of the night from Green — in what was supposed to be an alley-oop from Curry, Green instead kicks the ball out to Thompson on the perimeter, who doesn’t disappoint in claiming the momentum for the Warriors going into the break.
With Green now in the fold, the Warriors are back to their core four All-Star lineup. The difference with having Green playing as opposed to him being sidelined was evident in the way that the Warriors played tonight: fast-paced, uptempo, and playing with the kind of unrestricted flow that hasn’t been seen since the beginning stages of the season.
“Our pace was definitely slower,” answered Green when asked about the Warriors’ slower style of play without him. “But that happens, especially when me and Steph are out. We’re two of the guys on this team who push the pace. You take us out and the game does slow down a bit. It’s good to get back to who we are, and we’ll continue to push the pace more and more.”
During Curry and Green’s absences, it was apparent at times that the Warriors were slogging through their games, as if they were going through the motions. The intent to win was present — albeit bereft of actual purpose and passion; there was no desire and fire to light them up and motivate them to reach the levels that they were capable of.
With Curry’s return, the Warriors were able to return to an approximation of what they once were capable of. They were steadily regaining the “weaponized joy” that once took no prisoners along the path of destruction that was paved throughout the rest of the league.
It was clear that after the return of Curry, there was still one missing piece in the puzzle. Curry is the lifeblood of the Warriors, but Green is the heartbeat that keeps the Warriors’ engine running at breakneck speeds. He is that significant other that brings out the best in the Warriors; he is a crucial part of the Warriors family, in the sense that he is there to pick his team up when no one else is there to have their backs; he is what brings passion and purpose to his teammates’ jobs as professional basketball players.
Before the game, there was still one question that needed to be answered by the Warriors and their fans.
“Who do you get up for every morning?”
To the team and to several members of the Warriors’ fandom, Draymond Green is the answer. And he gave them a newfound reason to wake up with the energy and resolve to destroy everyone in their path.
Twenty-eight down, 54 more to go.
Stay Golden, Dub Nation.