SAN FRANCISCO – The imposing Phoenix Suns, winners of 18 in a row, including the Warriors three days ago, walked right into a Friday night San Francisco trap.
The one set by Draymond Green.
The Suns were in his house, and there was no questioning his determination to protect it. Draymond clearly was off his game in an eight-point loss Tuesday night in Phoenix, and he waded into Chase Center determined not to let anybody take him out of his game for the second time this week.
So, he rubbed his hands together, cracked a couple knuckles, pressed his intellectual power button and went to work.
By the time he finished, the Warriors had a 118-96 victory that evened the season series with Phoenix and also provided the power forward/center/point guard with copious clips worthy of a promotional video for a Defensive Player of the Year campaign.
“I’m not surprised,” Andrew Wiggins said. “He was Defensive Player of the Year (2016) for a reason. He’ll probably be (DPOY) this year too. He keeps locking guys up. He’s that guy for a reason.”
From tipoff until he left the floor with 3:23 remaining, Draymond brought audible grunts, inaudible growls and constant injections of energy. His drive drove his teammates, and his court generalship led them.
He also submitted a stat line that came close to capturing the breadth of his presence: Nine points, nine rebounds, nine assists, six steals and three blocks in 30 very tidy minutes, during which he finished a team-best plus-25.
“He’s the best defender in the world,” coach Steve Kerr said for perhaps the fifth time in seven weeks this season. “He does everything for us defensively. He captains the defense; he’s the one directing traffic. He (defends) guards on switches, he’ll guard (Suns center) Deandre Ayton and everybody in between. And he’s all over the place with his help.
“Draymond was brilliant tonight.”
Draymond’s best individual performance came against Ayton, who at 6-foot-11 stands about five inches taller. Ayton was too much for Kevon Looney, who picked up three fouls in nine first-half minutes. Enter Draymond.
Ayton finished with 23 points on 7-of-16 shooting but had only four rebounds while committing two turnovers. He was minus-16 over 32 minutes.
Draymond in the first quarter: Blocks a Landry Shamet shot, steals Chris Paul pass, steals a Jae Crowder pass, steals another Paul pass, blocks an Ayton layup. In NBA parlance, this is called setting a tone.
“It’s impressive, man,” Juan Toscano-Anderson said of Green’s performance. “He is (defensively) what Steph is offensively. It’s just not sexy.
“I watch him all the time and I’m just, ‘Damn, that’s impressive. Kudos to Draymond. Hall of Famer for a reason. It’s dope. I respect his game and respect guys that are dominating at this game and he’s dominating the hell out of the game on the defensive end. It’s a lot of fun to watch. It’s a tutorial for me.”
The Warriors (19-3) held the Suns (19-4) to their lowest point total of the season and they limited them to 38.3-percent shooting from the field, their second worst of the season. It wasn’t all Draymond, of course, but his intensity flowed into that of his teammates.
“The beauty of Draymond’s defensive acumen,” Kerr said, “is the versatility even within one possession, the versatility that he shows in terms of switching onto different people, recognizing screens, recognizing cut, recognizing whatever the pattern is – and blowing it up from multiple positions.
“There are very few people in the world that can do that. Phoenix makes you guard. They put a lot of pressure on you and there’s a lot happening on the floor. Draymond was fantastic.”
Three days after leaving the arena in Arizona feeling victimized and empty after a loss, Draymond activated playoff-game mode. He was a shark Friday night, and the Suns were his prey.