The fire within Draymond Green was hot after losing Tuesday and hotter after losing Thursday. With the Warriors losing consecutively in the most consequential games thus far this season, his emotions were in a full blaze Saturday.
The Warriors were not going to lose to the Houston Rockets because Draymond would not allow it.
There was embarrassment in being slapped by the Dallas Mavericks four days prior. There was disappointment in being smacked by the Minnesota Timberwolves two days later. Losing to the Rockets, though, would be downright demeaning. An attack on his pride.
Even in this season of limited potential, Draymond’s pride is not to be messed with.
“He expressed to the group how badly we needed all these wins,” Mychal Mulder said after the Warriors' 113-87 win. “We need to go home feeling good about our road trip, feeling like we handled our business.”
As the Warriors went through an atrocious first half in Houston, Green was doing his part.
They wanted to set a tone on offense by moving the ball, so Green’s personal response was four assists in the first quarter. They were clobbered on the glass Thursday, so Green’s personal response was six rebounds in 17 minutes.
Since that debacle against Dallas, coach Steve Kerr has been preaching defense with a passion. Green’s personal response was to make a game-altering impact on that end.
Not until the third quarter, when Draymond’s labor combined with Steph Curry’s splendor, did the Warriors generate the momentum that led to a rout.
The second-half score: Warriors 64, Rockets 32. It was enough to allow Green and Curry to watch the entire fourth quarter from the bench.
“Draymond was brilliant tonight, as he has been all year, just all over the place defensively, directing traffic offensively, making plays at both ends,” Kerr said. “Just another great night for Draymond. He was terrific.”
Kerr obviously remembers Green’s performance in the 126-114 loss to the Timberwolves on Thursday. While guards were combining for 51 points, Draymond was holding All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns to 6-of-18 shooting.
That’s pride at play, and it was no different Saturday.
Green made Golden State’s first bucket, a driving layup 15 seconds after tipoff. His defense disrupted Houston’s offense and his overall presence inspired his teammates. He was not going to let them lose to a team any playoff-caliber squad should destroy.
“His leadership is a key, important thing to us,” Mulder said. “You see that on the floor. What you don’t see is one of the most important things: How he impacts the locker room, how he impacts the group.”
Green finished with nine points, 11 rebounds, eight assists (with one turnover) and one steal. His plus-27 was the best on the team.
This from a 6-foot-6, 225-pound forward/center that was listed on the injury report as “probable,” with shoulder soreness. He could have glanced at the Western Conference standings, saw the Warriors in 10th place and sat.
But they were coming off two games in which they’d seriously hurt their chances of rising to sixth place, thereby avoiding the play-in tournament, or even getting to seventh place, the most favorable seed in the tournament.
So, Draymond played. And well. The Warriors turned the game in their favor by limiting Houston to 12 points, on 19.0-percent shooting, in the third quarter. When the Warriors defend well, it’s indicative of Green’s inner fire raging through his teammates.
“It’s important that we come out and try to close this road trip and continue to build,” Green told the NBC Sports Bay Area “Warriors Postgame” crew. “One thing about the playoffs, if you’re able to get there you don’t want to limp in. You want to go in rolling.”
They’re not rolling, and maybe they won’t start rolling. If they do, check the man behind much of Curry’s offensive fireworks. That’s Draymond. Pride won’t be enough this season, but there’s no doubt it’s still a factor.