Warriors

Warriors

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Ever since he entered the league, Warriors forward Draymond Green simultaneously has been the NBA's biggest conundrum and one of its best players. 

An undersized big man, Green doesn't necessarily look the part of an elite rebounder (which he is) or defender (which he is) or a player who can command a max salary slot in free agency next summer. But after an 18-point, 14-rebound, 11-assist closeout performance in Monday's 119-117 win over the Trail Blazers in the Western Conference finals, Green is making a pretty good case for it. 

However, walking out of Moda Center -- into his fifth straight NBA Finals appearance after his injury-riddled Warriors swept Portland -- Green wants to be recognized as something more when it's over. 

"I want to be remembered as a winner," Green told NBC Sports Bay Area. "If I leave this game and you ask somebody, 'What about Draymond?' and they say, 'Oh, he was a winner,' my mission is accomplished."

Over the last two weeks, Green's purpose has been to keep the battered Warriors' title hopes afloat. After Kevin Durant's injury wiped away a third of Golden State's postseason offensive output, Green had to turn his multifaceted game up a notch. Since Durant's injury, Green is averaging 14.8 points, 11.4 rebounds and 8.4 assists -- after he made a conscious choice.

 

"I just know I had to be more aggressive," Green said. "I knew I had to push the tempo. You're trying to make up 37 points a game. We're not going to make that up walking it up the floor and just passing the ball to somebody like we do with Kevin and say, 'Hey, go get a bucket' and pushing the tempo and giving everybody a chance to. Alfonzo McKinnie may not be able to catch it and rip through and stop on a dime and pull up, but he can slash to the hole if we push the pace."

As the Warriors know, Green's performance comes with a caveat. In an effort to get the most out of everyone around him, the former No. 35 draft pick will unapologetically pry, curse and grind teammates. No better example of that approach than five months ago, when, late in an overtime loss to the LA Clippers, Green cursed out Durant, calling him out during a nationally televised game.

In the fallout, Green was suspended, and a friendship with Durant -- who is expected to test free agency this summer -- was in need of repair. Months later, Green admits the moment was a rite of passage of sorts. 

"Me and Kevin been had a great relationship," Green said. "We had the moment we had in November, but I don't have any close friends that I haven't gotten into it with in a major way. I've gotten into with my brother — my blood brother — in a major way. That's just what it is, but tough times build character, and that's what I've done." 

No one knows the Green experience better than his coach, Steve Kerr. When Kerr was hired to lead the Warriors in 2014, Green, an alpha and by all accounts a basketball genius, would openly challenge his coach, causing strife between the two. 

"Over the years, we've had some knockdown, drag-out near fights because he's got a brilliant basketball mind, and he doesn't always agree with something I've said," Kerr told NBC Sports Bay Area. 

However, as Kerr found out, not backing down in a verbal spar is how you gain respect in Green's eyes. 

"They were important," Kerr said. "He needed to know that I wasn't afraid to coach him, and I needed to know that he would respond to me, and after every argument and after every fight we'd get into, there was always a mutual respect and a sort of meeting of the minds and we'd figure it out, and it works. 

"I don't think we've got into a single screaming match this year. It's got to be a record," Kerr jokingly said. "We've become collaborators more than before. We used to butt heads. It was productive but now we collaborate." 

 

Kerr is a basketball nomad who has seen it all. He's caught kick-out passes from Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan, and has been coached by Gregg Popovich and Phil Jackson. Through his travels, Kerr has been prepared to coach someone like Green. 

"The best coaches were the ones who coached and weren't afraid to rub people the wrong way as long as it wasn't personal," Kerr said. "Phil and Pop were the best at it, and the way you have to do it is with respect. As long as you treat someone with respect, you can go at them and challenge them, and they may not agree with you, but if you treated them with respect, then you can move forward, and that's the foundation I have with Draymond." 

Green's journey to postseason success hasn't been smooth this season. He missed 16 games in the regular season, nursing toe, knee and ankle injuries. He shot just 28 percent from 3-point range, averaging just 7.4 points per game and posting a career-low 106.0 defensive rating. Weeks before the playoffs, he had to lose over 20 pounds at the request of Warriors general manager  Bob Myers, which has made Green’s current run all the more impressive.

"It's been special," Green said. "Not many people can go through what the type of season that I've been through and still have the type of playoff run that I've had. ... Struggle builds character. And only the strong is gonna survive, so I love those challenges."

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Now, in the postseason, the Warriors swiss-army knife is averaging 13.6 points, 9.9 rebounds and 8.2 assists, helping anchor Golden State's defense in a virtuoso performance that's even leaving his coach speechless. 

"I don't know," Kerr said. "I've run out of things to say about Draymond. He's just a champion. He can't shoot, but he hits big shots. He's not tall enough, but he gets every rebound. He's not supposed to be doing this, he's the 35th pick in the draft or whatever. A guy who's just the ultimate winner."

Perhaps that's the way Green likes it. With the NBA Finals nine days away, the Warriors are going to need his mindset more than ever to win a third straight title. 

"Every time I step on the floor, if a shot needs to be made, I'm not afraid to take it," Green said. "When it's all said and done, I just want to be remembered as a winner. When I knot my shoe strings up and throw them on the telephone line, if they can say I was a winner, I did my job."