There’s no knowing if the Warriors, with Draymond Green playing 35 minutes, would have wiped out a six-point halftime deficit Thursday night and defeated the New York Knicks.
There is every reason to believe they were not going to win once Green was ejected late in the second quarter.
Green’s value surfaces in many ways, but mostly in finding routes to victory. Some of it is tangible, the orchestration of the offense and coordination of the defense. Some of it is intangible, simply a matter of presence.
When Draymond is absent, the team’s collective pulse plummets and fits of confusion rise.
When I asked what the team loses when Green is off the floor, Stephen Curry summed it up.
“Everything that he provides in terms of his experience on the defensive end and even his playmaking,” Curry said. “He had eight assists in 17 minutes, so you know we were moving the ball pretty well considering the pace of the game, with all the fouls.
“It was kind of a weird night all way around in terms of the flow of the game and him getting ejected. And then to come back the second half with different rotations and lineups, and it was kind of all over the place.”
All of this was conspicuous during this 119-104 loss to the Knicks.
After a languid first quarter, during which they allowed 40 points to a Knicks team that averages 25 per quarter, the Warriors were down seven (46-39) when Curry and Green reentered with 6:09 left in the second quarter.
A little more than four minutes later, the Warriors had pulled into a 55-55 tie.
One minute after that, with 1:04 left in the half and the Warriors were trailing by five, Draymond received a second technical foul – by rule an automatic ejection – for using profanity. Though the Warriors insisted Green was addressing rookie center James Wiseman, rookie official John Butler thought otherwise. Thought it was directed at him.
As the designated pool reporter, I relayed questions submitted by Nick Friedell of ESPN to crew chief Ben Taylor. His answers were spectacularly terse. Asked why Green was assessed the second tech, Taylor said it was “for profanity that was deemed to be directed at the official.”
I then asked if the Warriors’ explanation, that Green was addressing Wiseman, was conveyed to the crew, to which he said, “Yes, it was.”
Asked if the officiating crew considered rescinding the call upon hearing the attempt to clarify, Taylor said, “No, we did not.”
An attempted follow-up question was not allowed.
“Draymond and I were out of sync,” Wiseman said. “Mistakes happen. I don’t know why the ref did that. He may have thought that Draymond was talking to another player, but he was talking to me.”
The Warriors did plenty wrong to earn this loss. They were whistled for 26 fouls, giving the Knicks 41 free throws. They were outshot 46.3 percent to 38.4, outrebounded 55-46 and trounced 19-7 on fast-break points by a team that does not rely on speed.
“Draymond is one of our best and most impactful players, so it hurt us,” coach Steve Kerr said. “But we were playing very poorly to that point anyway.”
There is no denying, though, that Golden State’s best moments came in the second quarter. After being outscored 40-31 in the first, they had outscored New York 24-20 in the second before Green was bounced. The offense was coming to life, the defense tightening up. There was a warming vibe on the bench. Green influences all of these factors.
With Draymond playing sporadically, and often not well, last season, there were whispers that his career was hurtling toward sunset. That he was an old 30. That his body was feeling the effects of so many extended seasons during which he spent so much time bumping and banging into much bigger opponents.
And it’s fair to say that Green might not be able to hijack games with the regularity he did three or four years ago.
But it was evident that without him, the Warriors are less than the sum of their parts. He’s the conduit, the hub that brings everything together and allows his teammates – from Curry to Nico Mannion – to get the most out of themselves.
Without Draymond, the Warriors can win some games but won’t always have the stuff to compete with truly determined teams. When he left, the air came out. Not the first time, probably not the last time, even though he’ll be 31 in six weeks.