OAKLAND - Two months ago, as his team was in the midst of a late-season swoon, Warriors forward Draymond Green had a declaration for a crowd of local reporters ready to question the future of his team's dynasty after a 30-point home loss to the Boston Celtics.
“If we compete can’t nobody can beat us, Green said. "And even sometimes when we don’t compete, people still can’t beat us."
Green's late-season credo was tested in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, when the champs found themselves trailing the Portland Trail Blazers by eight points with a little over four minutes left. Then, Green unlocked his heart, overcoming foul trouble to contribute to 10 of the Warriors' last 14 points and helping Golden State escape Oakland with a 114-111 win and a two-games-to-none lead in the best-of-seven series.
For nearly a decade, Green's intensity has pushed the Warriors to heights the franchise has never seen. With Kevin Durant out for the foreseeable future, his contributions will be more vital than ever.
"Tremendous," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of Green's play Thursday. "That's what it takes in the playoffs, you have to have guys playing at a really high level."
In their quest for a third straight title, the Warriors used mini-goals to stay focused for much of the season, whether they were forced or came naturally.
First, it was overcoming the fallout from an on-court argument between Green and Durant in the waning moments of a December overtime loss in Los Angeles. Then, there was the excitement of bringing talented-but-mercurial star DeMarcus Cousins into the fold after he rehabbed from a ruptured Achilles. Recently, it's been the fight against their complacency. Last month, they squandered a 31-point lead in an NBA playoff first-round matchup against the lesser, scrappy Clippers.
After dominating the Blazers in Game 1 of the conference finals, seeds of complacency sprouted again in Game 2. The Blazers outscored the champs 34-21 in the second quarter, taking a 15-point lead into halftime. Midway through the fourth quarter, in a game many NBA observers assumed would be an easy victory for Golden State, the Warriors found themselves down eight with 4:28 to go.
Then Green, despite playing with five fouls, went to work. He got started with a layup to bring Golden State within six. A minute later, he found Andre Iguodala for a cutting dunk. Thirty seconds after that, he blocked Blazers guard CJ McCollum at the rim and found Kevon Looney on an alley-oop on the other end. In the final minute, he scored a layup for his team's final basket of the night.
By the end of Green's run, the Warriors capped a 14-3 run of their own to finish the night.
"We stole the game," Kerr said. "They outplayed us much of the night, the majority of the night, but we brought enough competitive fire in the second half."
Prior to Thursday's game, the Warriors announced Durant and Cousins would be re-evaluated in a week, the day after what would be Game 5 against the Blazers. Worse for Golden State, a source told NBC Sports' Monte Poole that Durant is expected to be out for the rest of the conference finals. With that in mind, more responsibility will fall on Green's shoulders, and a new mindset will have to fall in line as the playoffs progress.
"We can't sit and look over our shoulder and say, 'Hey, man, when is K gonna be back," Green said. "We just got to play and give him an opportunity to get back, and I think that's what really falls on our shoulders.
"Hopefully, he's back sooner than later but ... as a guy who's in the war, we can't just look over our shoulder and wonder when he or DeMarcus Cousins is coming back. We have to assume that -- this year, they are never coming. We have to assume they are not coming back and play with what we got."
With Cousins and Durant out for the foreseeable future, Green's late-season credo will be tested more than ever. But if Golden State can summon the energy he displayed in the last four minutes of Game 2, the fort should be steady for the time being.