OAKLAND – Mostly because he has since found a higher level of brilliance, Kevin Durant’s emphatic reminder of his identity has been referenced ad nauseum and probably will to be for decades to come.
But Draymond Green also had a pivotal moment, and it came exactly one week after Durant’s “I’m Kevin Durant” pronouncement.
After the Warriors snoozed through a 129-120 loss to the Clippers in Game 5 of their first-round series on April 24, Green stood in the locker room, acknowledged the team’s apathetic defensive performance and blamed himself.
“It’s very disappointing,” he said, “and that falls on me.
“I’ve got to be better. I didn’t start with the defensive intensity I needed to. I’m the leader on that side of the ball and if I don’t do that, I can’t expect everyone else to do it.”
Consider that switch flipped. Post-blame Draymond has been a tireless beast against Los Angeles and Houston. His searing defensive presence has been nearly as significant as Durant’s post-proclamation scoring spree. At the very least, KD’s work over the past two weeks might have gone for naught if not for Green constantly roaming the court, revving the team’s collective engine.
“He's an All-Star for a reason,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said after the Warriors were 115-109 winners in Game 2 on Tuesday. “He's really good.”
In the three games since Green hogged the blame, the Warriors are 3-0. Their pace is faster and they’re defending with urgency and fury, sending the Clippers home in Game 6 in Los Angeles and then returning to Oakland to take Games 1 and 2 against Houston.
Specifically, the Warriors’ defensive rating in those three games (107.8) is nearly five points better than it was in the first five postseason games (112.5). Their 9.4 net rating during the recent stretch is tops in the league.
Playing significant minutes at center in Game 6 in LA and starting there in Games 1 and 2 against Houston, Green’s general impact is being paired with strong numbers: 15.0 points, 11.7 rebounds, 8.7 assists and 1.7 blocks.
Green also has nullified the lob threat posed by the drives of James Harden or Chris Paul and the dives of Rockets big man Clint Capela. It’s a Houston staple and it barely exists.
“It’s a little bit of a cat-and-mouse game down there,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “When the guards are coming downhill, if you’re guarding Capela you have to try and keep the offensive player off balance by defending the lob but also attacking the ball. Draymond happens to be really good at that.”
Green is outscoring and rebounding Capela. That Draymond has more assists than the Houston center is no surprise.
"He's really good, kind of a point guard at the center or forward position," D’Antoni said.
Green credits his late-season conditioning for providing the energy to produce at both ends. He lost about 20 pounds between mid-February and Mid-April, just in time for the postseason.
“It makes all the difference,” he said. “All this year, I don't think I was in great shape at all. Part of it was I wasn't healthy most of the year. Really just locking in and focusing on my body, getting it healthy and ready for this time of year has been important. I feel great out there. I think it's showing in my play.
“But it's a long road for what we want to do. I’ve just got to continue to do the things that I've been doing, continue to try to bring it on the floor.”
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Defense is the foundation of the Warriors’ success over the past three games. Energy, an issue at times this season, has been high. Green has taken it upon himself to be the catalyst, and his teammates are following his lead.