SAN FRANCISCO – The cooler returned to the Warriors on Tuesday. And, yes, it might seem odd to attach such a designation to Draymond Green, considering his richly earned reputation as a firebrand.
But even in his typically ferocious state, Green has a way of instilling serenity in his teammates. There usually is a method to his madness.
And there was Green, after missing two games, working his wizardry in the first and third quarters against the Portland Trail Blazers, massaging the Warriors out of a 23-point deficit and into an 18-point win at Chase Center.
Green’s contribution barely begins with a highly impactful stat line: 12 points, with team highs in rebounds (nine), assists (eight), steals (two) and blocks (two), along with a team-best plus-26 in plus/minus over 32 minutes. When the team got off to a lethargic start, particularly on defense, Green was there to deliver a timely message.
“That’s a great Draymond stat line,” Donte DiVincenzo said after the 123-105 victory. “And you don’t even look at the stat line, just his impact and communication out there, keeping everybody together. When we went down [41-27] in the first quarter, he gathered everybody together and talked about weathering the storm. ‘Guys are going to make shots, but let’s see if [Matisse] Thybulle and [Cam] Reddish and [Trendon] Watford can beat us the whole game. We can’t overreact.’
“That’s what he does an amazing job of, is making sure we don’t overreact. And just keeping everybody level and together.”
The cooler’s point was to stay focused on Blazers star Damian Lillard because he’s always more dangerous than his undecorated teammates.
And it worked. After Lillard scored 15 points in nine first-quarter minutes, he managed only 10 over his next 26 minutes. The Warriors went back to the game plan and followed it to a 75-40 advantage in the second half.
That doesn’t happen without Green’s presence and enforcement.
“Plus-26 says it better than I can say it,” coach Steve Kerr said of Green’s impact. “It was huge. Especially with the game plan. Draymond is as good as anybody I've ever seen executing the stuff we were doing tonight.”
“It basically becomes a zone on the backside of the play if you're going to double Dame at half court or blitz him. You have to have somebody like Draymond or Loon [Kevon Looney] on the backside – or both of them – to navigate what's happening, because it's basically four-on-three. I thought they executed beautifully there, and that’s why I left the starters out there for as long as I did to start the third quarter.”
The third quarter began with the Warriors trailing Portland by 17, 65-48. It ended with the Warriors holding an 87-82 lead. They outscored the Blazers 39-17 while limiting them to 29.2-percent shooting. Lillard was 2 of 7 from the field, his teammates 5 of 17.
There are reasons why overreaction invites peril, and Green wanted to ensure his teammates, particularly the youngsters, understood.
“If you’re overreacting, you get out of character,” he explained. “We’ve been down against this team before, 17 points, 20 points, you name it, and with the pace of the NBA today, you can come back from down 30, no problem, because you’re going to have enough possessions. So, it’s really about staying even keel, sticking to the gameplan.”
The game plan was, in essence, don’t lose to Lillard. The Blazers were without two starters, Jusuf Nurkic and No. 2 scorer Anfernee Simons. Lillard averaged 40 points per game in February. He scored 71 points in his previous game.
Lillard finished with 25, shooting 4 of 13 after the first quarter.
“They just turned up the pressure,” Lillard said. “They started to get more aggressive defensively. They went into that box-and-one, they stayed in the box-and-one, they pretty much stayed in the box-and-one the whole second half.”
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The box-and-one defense, with DiVincenzo chasing Lillard, only can be effective if Green, who turns 33 on Saturday and has been in the NBA since 2012, is on the court to bring order to what easily could devolve into chaos.
“That team scored 41 points in the first quarter,” Green said. “And we said at halftime like, ‘Alright we’ve got the defense under control. They scored 24 points in the second quarter, but let’s come out and let’s tie both ends together. Let’s use our defense to fuel our offense.’
“We got the matchups we wanted to get on the offensive end, and we were patient. When we get stops and not play against a set defense every time, totally different team.”
Though the Warriors won their two previous games without Green, who was sidelined with a bruised right knee, they indeed were a different team in the second half of his return to action.
The Draymond Effect was not immediate, but once it took hold it was visible and potent and altogether effectual. The Warriors will need more of it to finally escape the grip of mediocrity.