The NBA Finals are going great for the Warriors and Draymond Green. The fans at Oracle Arena are getting into crazy scuffles. Green isn’t.
Before this series began, you could have gotten odds that just the opposite would happen.
Instead, the Warriors’ most emotional player is successfully riding the fine line of keeping his passion at fever pitch against the Cleveland Cavaliers — while not going over the edge into flagrant or technical foul territory that could potentially derail the Warriors’ mission.
This is no small matter. It’s a definite factor in the way Golden State has jumped out to a 2-0 lead against the Cavaliers. So far, the Warriors are the superior team. Significantly superior, in many ways.
In fact, the only way that the Warriors can blow the series at this point is if something goofy or unexpected happens.
Such as? Well, such as Green getting suspended by the league for a game after taking a swipe at LeBron James’ nether regions to accumulate too many NBA demerits. As you may recall, that’s exactly what happened last June. The Dubs took a 3-1 lead in the Finals. But the Green suspension led to a Warriors’ loss in Game 5 and an eventual series victory by Cleveland in Game 7. Afterward, Green manned up and took the blame, saying he would never repeat the behavior.
Sunday night, he had the perfect chance to do so. During Golden State’s 132-111 victory, Green was whistled for five personal fouls and clearly did not agree with most of them. The Cavs tried to goad him into a tantrum. In response, Green was vocal and demonstrative but never crossed the line into psycho territory. At his postgame news I thought it was only natural to ask how he’s accomplished that feat.
But before I could even finish the question, Green interrupted.
“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.”
I decided not to bring Jesus into the equation–even as a guest expert analyst–and tried to continue my thought. I noted how Green had avoided going over the line and wondered if he’d been concentrating on that. But once more, there was an interruption–this time by teammate Kevin Durant, who was sitting alongside Green.
“You’re waiting on him to go over the line,” Durant said to me–and I suppose, to the world in general.
“No,” I replied. “I’m interested in how he’s been able to not go over the line.”
At which point Green finally answered.
“I’ve just been playing basketball, brother,” Green said. “And when you’ve got great teammates like I do, who allow me to play with my emotions . . . just really trying to lead this team as much as I can in the ways that I do for this team. I think at the end of the day, 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.”
It was an honest and genuine response. And it told me three things.
One, Green is very definitely focusing on suppressing any of his knucklehead tendencies while still maintaining proper NBA Finals intensity.
Two, he hasn’t forgotten last year one bit.
And three, the Cavaliers have a real predicament on their hands. Because if the guy who opened the door to Cleveland’s comeback last year is not going to open the door this year . . . well, then where do the Cavs go from here? Sunday’s brief tussle between fans in the Oracle lower bowl after the final buzzer–no one was arrested or detained–was a more competitive fight than the Cavaliers rolled out in the fourth quarter.
Cleveland has already thrown its best stuff at the Warriors, on and off the court. At Saturday’s off-day practice, Cavs guard J.R. Smith answered a question about whether his team was “dirtying up” its defensive strategy by taking a shot at . . . you guessed it, Draymond Green.
“Dirtying up the game?” Smith said. “I don’t know about that. They got one guy who keeps kicking people in the nuts.”
Attention, basketball professionals of Ohio: That’s not going to work. Neither is the going-more-physical strategy that the Cavaliers tried to employ Sunday by banging around the Warriors and trying to bully or muscle them into submission. James kept storming toward the basket in the first half with power moves. He made his share of those attempts en route to 29 points. It didn’t matter. Kevin Love occasionally found his range while scoring 27 points. Didn’t matter. The Cavaliers tried fouling the Warriors in transition to prevent fast break baskets. Didn’t matter.
And, yes, Cleveland jawed at Green and tried to irritate him. Didn’t matter. Green may have been irritated — after his monster rebounding performance in Game 1, he was blocked out more effectively — and was annoyed by some of the whistles. But he found other ways to contribute with six assists and a trio of three-point shots on the way to 12 points. Nothing spectacular, maybe, but it was enough to help create more space for Klay Thompson (welcome back!) and Durant and Steph Curry.
The Warriors are big on body language. Curry said that head coach Steve Kerr (welcome back even more so!) spoke to him at halftime about showing more exuberance and joy on the court, rather than letting the frustration show when he committed four turnovers in the first two periods.
To me, though, the best Warriors body language was the sight of Green staying on the right side of the technical foul line for yet another game. It’s why the Cavaliers are on the way to losing this series, no matter what Love said when he tried to put a good spin on their 0-2 start.
“We are in the same position that we were in last year,” Love said.
Not really. This year, Green isn’t being fooled twice. If he didn’t keep interrupting my questions, I would tell him that’s a good thing.