Game 1 of the 2018 Western Conference Finals started off dangerously for the defending champion Golden State Warriors. Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant blew a defensive assignment so poorly it left James Harden wide open for a three point bomb. The Dubs retaliation attempt on the next possession ended alarmingly, as Rockets’ big man Clint Capela lept into the air to hammer-spike a hurried Durant floater.
Then, in a sequence directly of out of Harden’s dreams, “The Beard” sized up Durant and bullied him out of the way for a tough, SportsCenter worthy, layup. The Houston fans burst into a fiendish delirium; for a split second it felt like the Warriors were down 50, not 5. Harden looked like a hip DJ at a Halloween party in 1985, settin’ the party off right by droppin’ the iconic intro to Michael Jackson’s smash single, “Thriller”.
Until Draymond Green decided to crash the party.
*DRAMATIC RECORD SCRATCH SOUND EFFECT*
That forearm shiver to Houston’s best player was Dray bullying an entire building, pausing the momentum of the Rockets fast start, and upping the emotional ante for Golden State. While most NBA players shy away from that level of antagonism, Green is constantly hunting for any motivation to act as the kerosene to his internal fire.
The Trouble With Keeping It Lit
As an undersized enforcer in the land of giants (Green is allegedly only 6-foot-5), he does his best work with a chip on his shoulder. Unfortunately, he spent the majority of this season dealing with lingering shoulder soreness. An assortment of nagging injuries compounded this, and he played in a career low 70 games. Additionally, the boredom of kicking everyone’s ass seemed to catch up to Green, as his focus for the regular season flagged. In the month of April, as the Warriors stumbled into the postseason, Green averaged more turnovers than shots made.
Per Connor Letorneau of SF Gate:
By most metrics, Green has hardly had a down season. His regular-season scoring (11.0 points per game), assists (7.3) and shooting percentage (45.4) were up from last season. For the third season in a row, Green was named an All-Star.
Perhaps his most important trait — consistency — has been an issue, however.
After being the centerpiece of a top-five defense for four straight seasons, Green was part of the reason Golden State dropped to ninth this season. His focus waned as he made uncharacteristic defensive mistakes. With Green on the court this season, the Warriors’ defensive rating was 103.7 — a far cry from the 98.4, 96.0, 97.5 and 99.3 they posted the four previous seasons.
Green told the SF Examiner: “When you’re on a run like we’re on, the challenge is to be able to get up for those games, and to stay engaged in the process of getting better each and every time you get on the floor, and not necessarily [relative to] the opponent that you’re playing.”
Fortunately, there’s no motivation like the playoffs.
The Playoffs were a Lit-uation
Green was a terror once the stakes rose, averaging 10 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals in the postseason. He locked horns with All-Stars like Lamarcus Aldridge and Anthony Davis and showed no fear. In fact, my favorite Green game of the postseason came in Game 2 against the New Orleans Pelicans in the second round. He wrestled, roared, and battled his way to 20 points, 9 rebounds, 12 assists, and 2 blocks on 7-of-11 shooting from the field.
His impact went even deeper than his box score numbers, as he was the team’s de facto defensive coordinator, cheerleader, disciplinarian, and motivator throughout the postseason. There’s a clip on HBO’s behind-the-scenes look at the Warriors-Cavs last battle, “Courtside At the NBA Finals”, wherein Green confidently leads the team in prayer before they clinch the final game.
He’s like the ultimate Team Dad.
Draymond really is a defensive coordinator pic.twitter.com/q8wEVnX3zw— r/Warriors (@GSWReddit) June 15, 2018
The Power of the Controlled Burn
“There’s so many times in life people try to change you,” Green says. “And sometimes, although someone may think they’re changing you for the better, it could be for the worse. And where [Kerr] helped me was, he didn’t try to change me. His whole thing to me was: How do you channel it? How do you channel your aggression, your passion? How do you use it, get it to where it’s always working for you, or never against you?
”And that was kind of Steve Kerr’s thing with me that helped me so much. Because I think if you take my fire away, I may be a decent player because I can really think the game. I’d still have that, but if you take my fire away, I’m not near the guy that I am and the player that I am. And so if he was more so bent on trying to strip that away from me, I’m not where I am today.
Green had 15 technical fouls this season, and 3 ejections. In the playoffs, he had 5 techs. Yet, this was the first season that I personally stopped worrying about his much ballyhooed temper. I learned that the matured Green is now like a WWE wrestler bad-guy; he knows exactly what he’s doing when he’s at his antagonistic best.
Per usual, there were a couple incidents this season where teams tried to goad Green into boiling over the edge.
This season established that Green has mastered his passions, and uses that controlled fury as a superpower to lift his teammates and crush his opponents. Even if the rest of the world despises and doesn’t understand him, Green is perfectly content with his role.
“Let’s be honest — if Draymond were on a different team, nobody at Oracle would like him,” Steve Kerr said on KNBR 680. “Nobody on our team would like him. He’s the ultimate irritant. He’s the ultimate antagonist.
“And when he’s on your team — oh man do you love him. He competes so hard and he generates so much energy and competitive desire. He brings this edge to the game. We would not have a single championship without Draymond. I know that. He’s such a huge factor for us in every series because of his versatility.
“But he’s just one of those guys who no matter what happens, there’s gonna be a lot of stuff going on. And I love it — we need that.”
What kind of man guarantees a series win, down 3-2 against the Rockets? Or goads Charles Barkley to make good on the threat of a punch to the face? Green embodies the bombastic excellence that is the gold-blooded spirit, and if that rubs you the wrong way, it’s alright.
How would you grade Draymond Green’s 2017-18 season?
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