Editor's Note: This piece was published before Draymond Green was retroactively assessed a flagrant foul for striking LeBron James, which earned him a one-game suspension. This piece discusses Green's basketball impact exclusively and should not be seen as a defense of the accumulation of questionable behavior that caused his suspension.
A quick look at the box score will reveal that the Splash Brothers came alive in the Warriors' Game 4 win over the Cavaliers. Stephen Curry had 38 points, while Klay Thompson scored 25 on just 14 shots. After really struggling in the first three matchups, Golden State's elite backcourt showed up to play on Friday and led the way on offense, as it's expected to do.
Yet as well as Curry and Thompson played, the real MVP of the night -- and the NBA Finals to date -- was Draymond Green. Green's numbers in Game 4 (nine points, 12 rebounds and four assists) aren't particularly impressive but, as the old saying goes, he did all the little things that allowed the Warriors to outplay the Cavaliers.
Green's play in the first half, just as Golden State's as a team, was not bad, but not particularly sharp. He defended well, drew fouls and pulled down eight rebounds, but Cleveland feasted on the offensive boards when Steve Kerr deployed small lineups that featured him at center. That's been a problem all postseason long -- a signature of that unit is switching every screen, which at times moves Green away from the paint and allows the opponent's center to grab misses.
Things got bad enough that Kerr gave minutes to James Michael McAdoo and Festus Ezeli in an attempt to have at least one big man under the rim. Those lineups with Green at power forward did better on the glass, but prevented the Warriors from deploying their best units.
Late in the third quarter and throughout the fourth, Golden State got lucky. The Cavaliers made the now-familiar mistake of not having their center screen as often as they should, opting instead to settle for perceived mismatches in the perimeter.
That still left Green with the unenviable task of keeping Tristan Thompson, one of the best offensive rebounders in the league, off the glass. He worked his butt off and did the job.
Green didn't grab every rebound, but thanks to his efforts boxing out, the Warriors as a team controlled their defensive glass in the second half. They allowed just six offensive rebounds and eight second chance points after conceding 10 and 17, respectively, in the first half. It's hard to overstate just how important the rebounding battle was. In Game 3 and the first half of Game 4, the Cavaliers survived offensive droughts just by getting easy second chance points. Thanks to Green, they didn't in the second half.
Yet Green's work on defense in general was even more impressive and equally critical. He was everywhere. He contested 17 shots in the game, by far the most out of any player, and logged five deflections to go with two steals and three blocks. Whatever the Warriors needed, whether it was containing Kyrie Irving in the perimeter on switches or contesting shots at the rim, he did all throughout the game.
Once again, though, his best work came in the second half, particularly in the stretch in the fourth quarter in which the Warriors created separation.
In the last nine minutes of the game, Green stifled Irving at the rim twice, got a steal, swatted James and deflected a pass that would have resulted in an easy bucket. His defensive playmaking was on full display. It prevented the Cavaliers from attempting a response at a critical juncture.
Green was on the court for 42 minutes, the most out of any Warrior players, and Golden State needed every single one of them. In the six minutes he rested, the Cavaliers actually outscored Golden State by three points. While all the other big men made contributions on defense and the boards in short bursts, they all would have been exposed in extended minutes. Without Green playing at the level he did, there's no way the Warriors win Game 4, no matter how many points the Splash Brothers score.
Every team needs a workhorse who will do the little things that are physically taxing so others can focus on more glamorous tasks. Green is obviously that player for the Warriors. It's not just defending and boxing out bigger players or chasing guards around, either. Draymond walked the ball up court for big stretches of the game, acting as the de facto point guard while Curry rested and played off the ball. He fought for offensive boards, but was also typically one of the first players back in transition. He did it all, except for scoring.
Green is averaging 15 points on 41 percent from the field, yet has undoubtedly been the MVP of the Finals so far because he's done everything else at such a high level. His antics elsewhere have understandably cost him the favor of many fans, while his terrific regular season run might have elevated expectations too far for his offense. But the bottom line is this is the player Draymond needs to be for Golden State to be at its best.
The Warriors can close the series on Monday, and they are surely hoping Thompson and Curry will have another great offensive performance like they had in Game 4. Without it, they might not be able to secure their second consecutive title at home.
They don't have to worry about Green, though. Shots might go in or they might rim out, but they can be sure that he will do everything else that's asked of him and do it well.
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