Every member of the Warriors enters this postseason with a detailed outline of his duties. Emphasis and importance will varies but the purpose is the same, to help the team overachieve.
No player’s postseason goal sheet runs is longer or deeper than that of Draymond Green. Not even that of Stephen Curry.
Nobody, not even Steph, welcomes these conditions more, particularly considering the hopelessness Draymond endured last season.
“For better or worse,” Curry said Tuesday, “he was on an island.”
Klay Thompson had torn his ACL in the 2019 NBA Finals. Kevin Durant, upon becoming a free agent, signed with the Brooklyn Nets. Andre Iguodala was traded. Shaun Livingston retired. Zaza Pachulia went to the Pistons. Injuries limited Kevon Looney to a total of 262 minutes and Curry to 139.
“It didn’t matter what Draymond did last year; we were going to really struggle,” coach Steve Kerr said. “So, it was a frustrating season for him.
“This year, there was hope right away. Even in spite of Klay’s [torn Achilles’ tendon], which cast such a pall over us in training camp, we still had returning players who could help Draymond carry the load. In particular, Steph. What I’ve seen is Draymond has returned to his high level of play. His confidence, his competitiveness, it’s all there. He looks like the same guy that I’ve known for the last seven years.”
The first five of those years ended in the NBA Finals, where Draymond’s activity made him a pivotal player. Outside of northern Ohio, you’d have to search far and wide in hopes of finding a basketball fan that believes the Warriors would have lost the NBA Finals in 2016, even if he had not been suspended for Game 5.
Having warned skeptics during the preseason that he still has plenty of greatness, Green, 31, is back where he shines brightest. Where he embraces carrying the heaviest load.
Curry’s role is to keep scoring from all three levels, creating opportunities for his teammates to score, while also playing reliable defense without fouling. He has been doing this all season and if it continues, he will have done his part.
Draymond’s role is more expansive. At 6-foot-6, 230 pounds, he is to – take a deep breath – alert and embolden teammates in the locker room, be the loudest voice on the floor during practices and games, synthesize the offense and orchestrate the defense and still have enough energy to defend the best big man, grab a dozen or so rebounds, some of which are to be used for the sole purpose of immediately galloping into transition.
And, also, it’s beneficial if he can make a few shots while also using screens and various manipulations to help Steph get clean looks.
Clean looks are rare against the Lakers, who finished the season with the league’s No. 1 defensive rating (106.8), but Draymond’s role is to produce ways to find them.
“We anticipate they’re going to throw the kitchen sink at Steph: multiple defenders, different matchups, some blitzes, shadowing,” Kerr said. “Steph has seen everything. Draymond is probably the key guy in terms of when they do throw stuff at Steph, Draymond has an answer, with all of his screening and dribble handoffs and that sort of thing.”
Kerr’s postseason expectations for Green are high because he knows the history. Though Iguodala was named Finals MVP in 2015 and Durant won the award in 2017 and 2018, Draymond made steady work of wrecking offenses and dismantling defenses. He is tied for fourth in career postseason triple-doubles with 10 – more than Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett combined.
Yet there have been games when Green’s numbers loudly defied the fact that his value cannot be not accurately defined by statistics, most notably Game 6 of The Finals in 2016, when he delivered 32 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists.
“You see, when games matter, what type of Draymond comes out,” Curry said. “It’s not just what he says. It’s what he does out there on the floor. I know he’s been patiently waiting an opportunity to be back on the stage that we’re used to, playing games that matter.
“We’re in that position now. We’re playing games with consequences.”
The play-in tournament comes eight weeks before the NBA Finals and roughly eight light years away in significance. Two losses this week, and the Warriors are done until next season.
This is the test Draymond has, and it’s unwise to bet against him. He vowed to bounce back from a forgettable 2019-20, and he has. Now it’s time to see how high he can take that bounce.