CLEVELAND — Draymond Green spent the majority of Game 2 in foul trouble, which usually spells trouble for the Warriors. He is not only their best defensive player, but also one of their prime playmakers and an integral part on both ends of the Warrior machine.
This is a different Golden State team, however, and the Warriors are able to overcome an off night from any of their stars and still thrive. The term off night here is relative. Green still racked up 12 points, six rebounds, and six assists, but in only 24 minutes of action. He didn’t play badly, he just didn’t play that many minutes.
The truly interesting thing about Green’s Game 2 was that he didn’t allow piques of frustration to build into mountains of regret. That’s been his mantra throughout the playoffs and he didn’t receive his first postseason technical foul until midway through the Warriors’ second-round playoff series with Utah. There is no Draymond Watch this season because he hasn’t allowed there to be one.
Last year, of course, Green had to watch Game 5 of the Finals in a baseball stadium with general manager Bob Myers across the street from Oracle Arena. His absence helped tilt the Finals back toward Cleveland and he’s been determined to not put himself or his team in that situation again. It was during that game when Myers said to Green, “Let’s never do this again,” and Green has made sure that they won’t.
“Whatever he’s doing, he should keep doing it,” Myers said on the off day between games. “And he hasn’t lost any of the intensity and he hasn’t lost his edge. That’s the hardest challenge, when you have that type of emotion, is to channel it. And he’s really been able to do it.”
Game 2 offered a stern test for Green’s enlightened approach. He picked up his first foul barely two minutes into the game and got tagged with his second late in the first quarter, for which he expressed his displeasure.
His third came just 10 seconds into the second quarter and for veteran Draymond watchers it was a moment to gauge his reactions. He was clearly not happy, but by and large Green did not allow the situation to escalate beyond the initial bubbling of emotional volatility.
The foul trouble continued throughout the second half, yet Green didn’t tamper down his aggressiveness on either end of the floor. He was his usual self offensively while also conducting his regular business on the defensive end, which accounts for just about everything.
More than the outbursts or even the untimely suspension in last year’s Finals, Green’s career has been defined by his beautiful basketball mind. He told me last year that he has instant recall of plays and moments. That manifests itself in ways both big and small as the Warrior players and coaches will testify.
“He knows every player,” Zaza Pachulia said. “Tendencies and strengths and weaknesses. He makes quick decisions. He kind of reads the opponents’ minds most of the time. That’s what makes him special.”
“I use the analogy of a middle linebacker,” assistant coach Jarron Collins said. “If he’s playing our five he’s calling out coverages, he’s calling out the screens. Constant communication. The key to any good relationship is communication and trust. Guys know that when they’re pressuring on the perimeter they have Draymond behind them and trust that he’s going to be there. And then, he’s always communicating where guys need to be on the floor. It’s invaluable.”
Trust and communication were both on display in Game 2 when Golden State coach Steve Kerr went back to Green at around the seven-minute mark of the second quarter. It was a bold move by Kerr, who was coaching his first game since taking a leave from the bench earlier in the postseason. Imagine the headlines if his gambit had failed.
But Kerr doesn’t coach conservatively and Green has earned that trust. He is, after all, one of the smartest players in the game. Afterward in a curious but revealing postgame exchange, Green was asked about his temperament with Kevin Durant sitting alongside him.
Q. Be interested in both you guys' general thoughts about the game tonight, but also Draymond, I'm interested in your thoughts of how you've been able to restrain yourself emotionally and avoid getting —
KEVIN DURANT: Geez.
DRAYMOND GREEN: You act like I'm just this troubled guy who's been in a bunch of trouble and can't control myself and Jesus Christ.
Q. You've avoided going over the line, right, to get any T's so far?
KEVIN DURANT: You waiting on him to go across the line.
Q. No, I'm interested in what his — how he's been able to do that.
DRAYMOND GREEN: I just been playing basketball, brother. 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. I think at the end of the day, I think everyone talks to officials. I talk to them. 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.
Fool me once, you can’t fool me twice.
That response lies at the heart of Golden State’s march toward redemption. An interesting dynamic has taken place during the postseason. The Warriors are taking nothing for granted, having dispatched of every opponent in as little time as possible.
They previously had a maddening tendency to give away Game 3s in the past and their biggest challenge will be here, where they have lost both of their previous Game 3 Finals encounters. They are all aware of it, and no one more than Green who understands the pulse of this team like he knows everyone else’s playcalls.
“I think that there's an understanding in between our guys that we haven't been very good over the course of the last, really, two years,” Green said. “And that's probably a sense of complacency. So I think guys are locked in, like I've never seen before. Understand the task ahead and know that this is going to be the hardest game of the series.”
Fool him once. You’re not likely going to get another chance to fool him again.