After two seasons on the outskirts of the NBA, a place that compromised his spirit, leading to whispers that his best days were behind him, Draymond Green has returned to the heart of the game with reminders that his present remains quite spectacular.
It’s truly impressive that even with all his off-court endeavors, from podcasting to pitching sandwiches, Draymond still has the energy for coast-to-coast fast breaks, the occasional 3-point swish and, above all, a defensive intensity that can bend steel.
When the Warriors walked out of Barclays Center in Brooklyn late Tuesday night after a 117-99 rout of the previously impressive Nets, most of the chatter focused on Stephen Curry. With good reason. There was his scoring brilliance – 37 points in 29 minutes, on 63.1-percent shooting, with nine 3-pointers – and also his typical peerless entertainment value.
New York knows a show when it sees it, and Curry gave them a memorable one.
Draymond, meanwhile, was putting on a show of sensational defense for the Nets, their fans and his good friend and former teammate and Kevin Durant.
“You can’t do a better job defensively than what Draymond did tonight,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters. “Kevin is the most talented basketball player ever, with that size and skill and ability to get any shot he wants. He showed it in the first quarter. He got anywhere he wanted. We stayed with it.
"That third-quarter performance, Draymond was with him everywhere he went. You can’t possibly do a better job than what Draymond did.”
Draymond was all over the court, but his best work came against Durant. After KD hit the Warriors with a 12-point first quarter against a variety of defenders, Green included, there was a shift in disposition.
Mainly, there was Draymond taking it personally.
Durant played 20 minutes over the final three quarters, scoring seven points on 2-of-12 shooting. As the Warriors were taking command in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Nets 35-18, Draymond was keeping his nose to KD’s chin, forcing 0-of-8 shooting from the field.
“I thought I was pretty decent,” Green said. “Just tried to get some good contests. Kevin doesn’t ... every shot he takes is open. He just rises over everybody and sees over the top. I just tried to make him take tough shots, and I was able to come up with a few stops.
“I wanted that challenge.”
Green conceded that defending Durant was a team effort, utilizing box-and-one and triangle-and-two schemes, and he is correct. He also vastly understates his effectiveness, which goes beyond forcing misses, getting steals and blocking shots.
Draymond’s defensive impact inspires teammates to raise their level of defense. While KD was 0-of-8 in the pivotal fourth, his teammates were 5-of-14.
“They got long defenders, guys that can help, so seeing bodies all the time when I had the ball, that’s what great defenses do. And then some shots I wish I could’ve had back,” Durant said. “I rushed a few once we got down 15, 20. I’m trying to get it back so fast you end up taking bad shots and rushed shots.”
That’s KD taking some blame. It was Draymond who nudged him to a place where there was blame to take.
This is but the latest addition to a video Draymond is compiling to validate his Defensive Player of the Year candidacy. As the Warriors keep winning the tape keeps getting longer. They’re an NBA-best 12-2 and playing the best defense in the league.
A winning team with the best defense always has a DPOY candidate, right?
It’s not a coincidence that Draymond is in the middle of that ferocious defense. He’s the on-court, real-time architect.
He’s first in line to seek the biggest challenge.
Draymond sees possibilities that never materialized last season and never dreamed of making an appearance two seasons ago. The Warriors are in the championship mix, again, and nothing about the game stirs Draymond’s soul more than the aroma of success.
After two seasons without the slightest sniff, it’s back. To watch Draymond play defense is to realize it’s tickling his nose and feeding his fire.