After spending Friday night in outer space, circling his feelings while his teammates were rallying to win Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, Draymond Green is scheduled to return from orbit Sunday evening.
Scheduled to, as in expected to. As in making his reentry to planet earth in time to give the Warriors the emotional stamina needed to prevail in Game 3.
With the Warriors up 2-0 in the best-of-seven series, the Mavericks surely approach Game 3 as they would a Game 7. A loss leaves them dangling from the postseason ledge. A win avoids a sweep and positions them to make it a competitive series.
The Mavs will be spirited, maybe even desperate.
American Airlines Center in Dallas holds more than 20,000 and is home to the longest consecutive-sellouts streak in NBA history, 20 years and running. Only three teams had a better regular-season home record than the Mavs (29-12), who won all three games at AAC in the conference semifinals against the top-seeded Suns.
“They’re a great team in general,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr acknowledged Saturday, “but especially at home.”
The big brick building will be about as welcoming to the visiting team as a den of ravenous lions.
Which is why it’s crucial for the Warriors that Draymond brings a positive presence. He tends to thrive in hostile environments, partly because he relishes the role of villain. After his bizarro performance in Game 2, a return to the team is critical.
No one among the Warriors understands postseason dynamics better than Draymond. They were decisive winners in Game 1 and knew to expect the Mavericks to be sharper and more focused while also cranking up their urgency.
The goal for the Warriors was to stay on task while matching the intensity. That’s a Draymond specialty, and he reacted by taking a solo flight into the unknown.
“Draymond is always emotional and passionate and competitive,” Kerr said. “It’s what makes him special. It’s what makes him who he is. But, like anybody, too much of something can be bad. And he was a little bit overly emotional, overly engaged. And he knows it.”
On the way to fouling out in 28 minutes, Green earned a technical foul early in the second quarter and spent the rest of the game beefing with officials, on several occasions flirting with being T’d up a second time, warranting automatic ejection.
Draymond’s sixth foul was so uncharacteristically egregious – a reaching for a steal with almost no chance – that after he plopped onto the bench, teammate Andre Iguodala, in street clothes, couldn’t hide his expressions of bewilderment and disapproval.
Draymond finished with six points, six rebounds, five assists – and six fouls. He was a team-worst minus-19.
The Warriors were trailing by 11 when Green picked up his fifth foul with 6:01 remaining in the third quarter.
Over the next 12 minutes, as he watched from the bench, his teammates took their first lead, outscoring Dallas 34-15 and riding that momentum to victory.
This was that rare night, particularly in the postseason, on which the Warriors were significantly more effective without Draymond.
“He’s been so good throughout the playoffs that he was probably due to have a sub-par game,” Kerr said. “He had one.
“The great thing with Draymond is he always bounces back. He’s such a winner. He’s so smart that he understands immediately after a game what happened, what he has to do better, what we can do better. I expect him to have a great game.”
History indicates Kerr’s faith is well placed. When Draymond stinks it up, he typically responds with an inspirational effort. Sometimes it’s evident in statistics, but most often in other ways. He slides back into his leadership role and delivers a reminder of his immense value to the Warriors.
If that guy shows up Sunday night and reconnects with his teammates, the Warriors probably have more than enough to silence the arena and walk into the night needing one more victory to reach the NBA Finals.