The Golden State Warriors have looked overwhelming in the first two games of the 2017 NBA Finals, outscoring the Cleveland Cavaliers by 41 points en route to a pair of convincing wins that give the Dubs a 2-0 edge as the best-of-seven series heads to Ohio for Wednesday’s Game 3. They rolled in Game 2 despite star forward Draymond Green battling foul trouble throughout, and being limited to just 25 minutes in the contest.
After the game, Green took the podium with superstar and Finals-MVP-through-two-games Kevin Durant. With the scene about to shift to Quicken Loans Arena — where, as you might remember, things tilted in a very bad way for Draymond and the Dubs last year — Green fielded a question about how he’s been able to keep himself from boiling over thus far during a playoff run in which he’s picked up only one technical foul and zero flagrant-foul points in 14 postseason games.
Neither he nor Durant seemed particularly thrilled by the question.
Draymond Green gets into it with a reporter when asked about his emotions on the court pic.twitter.com/AS7kH25RvL
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) June 5, 2017
“Draymond, I’m interested in your thoughts of how you’ve been able to restrain yourself emotionally and avoid getting …” the reporter asked.
“Jeez,” Durant interjected.
“You act like I’m just this troubled guy who’s been in a bunch of trouble and can’t control myself,” Green said. “Jesus Christ.”
“You’ve avoided going over the line, right, to get any T’s so far?” the reporter replied.
“You waiting on him to go across the line,” Durant said.
“No, I’m interested in what his — how he’s been able to do that,” the reporter said.
The phrasing might have been a bit brusque and direct, but it seemed like a fair question.
After all, Green himself has been pretty open about the extent to which he blames himself for the way things shook out for Golden State in the 2016 Finals.
“If I don’t put myself in that position and I don’t get suspended for Game 5, are we sitting here champions?” Green said after the Warriors’ Game 7 loss. “Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know. We’ll never know the answer to that question. But the answer that I do know is I won’t put myself in that position again, and that’s all I can really do […] I’m not afraid to say that it’s my fault. I think it was.”
That feeling has persisted throughout the last year.
“One of the most brutal things I’ve ever had to go through in my life,” he said during a recent “E:60” special on ESPN. “If I played, we win, of course. So I do feel it’s my fault we lost. … Absolutely my fault. But I don’t feel wrong for what I did at all.”
Green has allowed that feeling — the sense that he let his teammates down, that the only thing separating the Warriors from a chance to three-peat was his own overzealousness in responding to LeBron James walking over him near the end of 2016’s Game 4 — to fuel his fire all year long. But while he’s made no bones about his desire to annihilate the Cavs in a rematch, he’s been more subdued — well, as subdued as Draymond gets, anyway — in that pursuit.
“I’ve never seen [Green] in a better place emotionally,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said before the start of the Finals, according to Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle. “Still playing with rage, desire and force, but totally under control.”
That’s carried over into the Finals. Green has yet to put up crooked numbers — 10.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.5 steals in 30.4 minutes per game thus far, just 35 percent shooting from the field (albeit 36.4 percent from 3-point land) — but he made his presence felt on the defensive end in Game 1, and still managed to finish with 12 points, six rebounds and six assists in his limited minutes in Game 2.
And while he might have found himself frustrated by the whistles he picked up on Sunday, he didn’t allow that frustration to build up into a larger explosion. He just took his fouls, hit the bench, and waited for his chance to make an impact once more.
“I just been playing basketball, brother,” Green eventually responded. “And when you got great teammates like I do, who allow me to play with my emotions and allow me to be emotional when I’m talking to them, to use my emotions to the better for us, it’s easy. So just really trying to lead this team as much as I can in the ways that I do for this team. Not worrying about the officials and all that.”
Ah, yes: the “great teammates.” The main reason the Warriors didn’t suffer in Green’s absence on Sunday? They had Kevin Freaking Durant to put in at center.
The Warriors outscored the Cavs by seven points in 12 second-half minutes with Durant on the floor and Draymond on the bench, much of which came with Durant as Golden State’s lone big man. (David West was out there for a spell, though whether he was the five and Durant was the four depended on cross-matching and defensive assignments.)
It was kind of a trip, seeing a player who began his pro career as a shooting guard under P.J. Carlesimo in Seattle transformed into a 7-foot point center in the NBA Finals, but it was inarguably effective. Durant anchored defensively in the post against Kevin Love. He held his ground and protected the rim. He used his length and instincts as a help defender to deter Cleveland’s drivers and cutters away from the action, and generally wreaked havoc as the kind of small-ball center the Cavs have had trouble countering against Golden State these past couple of years.
Sounds kind of like the guy he was replacing.
“I don’t think there’s many teams in the league who their backup is better than their starter,” Green said of Durant’s performance in the middle. “So I think that’s a luxury that we have, and with K.D. here and when I went out with foul trouble, obviously he — to say pick up the slack is kind of a ridiculous term, because he’s a great player, a MVP, one of the best players in the world […] With me going out, it wasn’t like we were going to skip a beat with him right there, taking over my minutes.”
“Yeah, when Draymond went out, I just tried to do my best to help everybody out,” Durant added, “He’s so good at just sniffing out plays before they happen, and so I just tried to follow his lead with that, and I learned so much from him throughout the season.”
So far, so good. With Green in the middle or with him on the bench, Golden State’s defense has suffocated the Cavalier offense that so summarily roasted the East. After scoring at a playoff-best rate of 120.7 points per 100 possessions through three rounds, Cleveland’s averaged just 97.4 points-per-100 through two games against the Warriors, who have gotten superstar offensive performances from both Durant and Stephen Curry alongside myriad contributions elsewhere to draw within two wins of a second NBA title in three years.
Whether or not Draymond’s actually kinder or gentler, or just hasn’t had all that much to be ticked off about during a blistering blitz to 14 straight postseason wins, remains unclear. Whatever the case, though, he heads back to the Q intent on not making the same mistakes that derailed last year’s bid for a repeat.
“I think at the end of the day, I think everyone talks to officials. I talk to them,” he said. “But going over the edge isn’t going to win me a championship. I think I’m a pretty smart guy and I learned my lesson. So I went over the edge before. Fool me once; you can’t fool me twice.”
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