The Draymond Green that the Golden State Warriors had been accustomed to seeing for most of the season returned in Game 5 as the team staved off elimination against the Oklahoma City Thunder. It was a complete turnaround for Green, who was out of sorts as the Warriors were blown out in Game 3 and Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.
It certainly wasn’t his best game of the season, but Green brought the kind of intensity that earned him a spot on the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team just hours before tipoff on Thursday. He gave Golden State the rim protector they were lacking in Oklahoma City, seamlessly switching on picks and defending multiple positions.
Green ended the game with 13 rebounds and four blocks, most notably a rejection of Russell Westbrook off a switch that led to a transition basket by Stephen Curry. Those are the kinds of plays that Green made routinely in the regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs, playing a key role in the Warriors’ record-breaking year.
It was something Golden State had desperately needed in order to avoid having their season end abruptly in utter disappointment.
“When I don’t live up to who I know I am it really bothers me. I had a lot of people who were in my corner reaching out to me, and it was great. It helped out a lot,” Green said in the postgame press conference. “To have all those people reach out to me really let me know ‘Bro, you’re somewhere else.’ I was on another planet somewhere.”
Prior to Game 5, the Warriors were not seeing the same Green that had been there all year. Even after a strong performance on Thursday, the Thunder’s ability to frustrate Green in Oklahoma City is a worrying sign for Golden State and their NBA Finals hopes.
On both ends of the floor, Green was a detriment to Golden State in Game 3 and Game 4. He grabbed just four rebounds in Golden State’s 28-point Game 3 loss, and he didn't add much to a frontcourt that was dominated on the glass by Oklahoma City’s bigs. Green’s offense wasn’t spectacular on Thursday, but his 4-10 shooting performance for 11 points was a welcomed sight after he went a combined 2-16 from the field in Oklahoma City, totaling just 12 points in two games.
The Warriors lost by a total of 52 points in Game 3 and Game 4, and they were outscored by 73 points when Green was on the court.
Green is Golden State’s emotional leader, and his fire often drives the team’s success. But that same passion sometimes appears to backfire, as has been the case multiple times against the Thunder.
In a regular-season visit to Oklahoma City, Green got into a heated halftime exchange with head coach Steve Kerr as he went on to miss all of his eight shot attempts. After Green was hit with a flagrant foul in the second quarter of Game 3, coincidence or not, he wasn’t the same player. He was serenaded with boos in Game 4 amid the thought that he should have been suspended, and he responded poorly to the controversy that engulfed him.
Green was the Warrior’s third-leading scorer in the regular season with 14 points per game, and he stepped up in the second round in Curry’s absence, averaging 22.2 points against the Portland Trail Blazers. He’s yet to find his stroke from three-point range this series, missing 12 of his 14 attempts. Green’s ability to knock down shots from long range was a big part of what made the Warriors’ small lineup so effective in the regular season, when he made 38.8 percent of his threes.
Curry is the team’s best scorer, and his 31 points were as important as anything in Golden State’s Game 5 win. But Green’s value has been immeasurable. With the Warriors' hot-shooting backcourt, Kerr has leaned on his workhorse to do the many things away from the ball that lead to points.
He also fills up the stat sheet, falling 0.5 rebounds short of averaging a double-double in the regular season while leading the team with 7.4 assists per game. Green is so essential to the team’s success that he finished seventh in MVP voting, ranking as high as second on two ballots.
But Green’s struggles during this series have some questioning whether his impact on the Warrior’s 73-win season was overstated.
Oscar Robertson to SiriusXM: "Green's a good player, but he does not have the abil to go over & above what he needs to do to be successful."
— Diamond Leung (@diamond83) May 26, 2016
Oscar Robertson to SiriusXM: "I think (Draymond Green) can do certain things because of what Thompson and Curry has been doing all yr long."
— Diamond Leung (@diamond83) May 26, 2016
Oklahoma City’s frontcourt of Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant has given Green trouble, and one good game doesn’t mean that won’t happen again in Game 6. While teams throughout the season failed miserably when trying to match up with the Warriors by going small, the Thunder have trotted out three players at a time that are bigger than the 6’7 Green.
Even as Green bounced back on Thursday, his emotions got the best of him when he picked up his fifth technical foul of the playoffs, putting him just two away from a one-game suspension. He cost the Warriors four points as he fouled Durant on a three-point attempt and gave Oklahoma City a technical foul shot when he argued the call. It’s those kinds of mistakes that Green has to avoid when playing in a hostile environment on Saturday.
The passion with which Green plays has been an essential part of his success, despite the few instances that it’s cost his team. He insists his effort will be there as the Warriors look to become just the 10th team to win a series after trailing 3-1.
“If all else fails, I’m going to fight,” Green said. "That’s what I did, and that’ll be my mind-set for the rest of the series.”