SAN FRANCISCO — When he was compared to all-time greats Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O’Neal, his coach didn’t turn a blind eye. Teammate LeBron James said his No. 3 jersey would one day be hanging in the rafters of the Crypto.com Arena — or whatever it was called back then. Talking head shows spent 48 hours debating whether he was the best player on the series ahead of Steph Curry.
It’s safe to say that Draymond Green was fed up with hearing about the great Anthony Davis.
After admitting he “played like an S—” in Game 1 when Davis put up a monster line of 30 points and 23 rebounds, Green made it his personal mission to give Davis a hard time in Game 2 Thursday night to make, and was also a contributing factor in Golden State’s near-perfect 127-100 win even for the series.
“[Warriors assistant] Chris DeMarco showed me a movie yesterday and said, “I don’t know who this guy is defensively,” Green said after the Game 2 win. “He showed me me in the fourth quarter and said, ‘That’s me, guy i know So come by like this tomorrow.'”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr declined to give details ahead of the game, but said he and his staff noticed some adjustments they could make to limit Davis and they certainly were noticeable. The first was to start JaMychal Green in place of Kevon Looney, who was a titan for Golden State this postseason but allowed Davis to shoot 8-on-11 when they met in Game 1. The roster change had obvious offensive advantages, forcing the Lakers to have four shooters covered instead of three, but it also allowed Draymond Green, Davis’ main defender, to be early and often. According to Second Spectrum data via Kevin O’Connor from The RingerDraymond went from guarding Davis in Game 1 at 34 percent to 62 percent in Game 2.
Davis had just two points in the first quarter and finished with 11 points on 11 field goal attempts. He only made one free throw after playing 8 for 8 in Game 1.
“Draymond was brilliant,” Kerr said after the game. “This is the guy we need to have. He’s our engine and we decided to put him on Davis from the start tonight. I thought he got us off to a good start defensively, just with his aggressiveness.”
It was clear to Kerr from the jump that Green wasn’t going to let Davis get 30 and 20 again. He was physical, tactical, and used his long arms and active hands to disrupt Davis’ forays into the lane. The Warriors also provided help much earlier, forcing Davis to be a playmaker — not his forte, despite dishing out five assists in Game 1. Davis had four assists in Game 2 but also made four turnovers when Green brought him to the point of frustration.
Every now and then, on very special occasions, Green reminds himself that there isn’t an explicit NBA rule prohibiting him from scoring. It happened in Game 5 against Sacramento, when he went over 20 points in a playoff game for the first time in five years. It happened again Thursday when Green – who vowed to be more aggressive on both ends in Game 2 – captured every open lane in both transition and half court to force the Lakers to guard him. So often when left unguarded with the ball, Green immediately attempts to go into a dribble hand-off action with a shooter. On Thursday we went straight to the rim.
This was particularly effective against Davis, who, without guarding Looney, had Green as his primary matchup. If Green caught the ball on the free-throw line and saw daylight, he attacked with the goal of scoring and even knocked down a midfield jumper from “Dray Nowitzki”. That forced Davis to at least respect Green as a scorer, which opened up Golden State pass and goal paths. Green finished the game with 11 points on 10 field goal attempts — seven in the first half alone — to add to his usual collection of 11 rebounds, nine assists and a steal.
“He’s our Swiss army knife and when it goes downhill and he ends on the edge and he hits the open man, we’re at our best,” said Klay Thompson, who led the Warriors in Game 2 by 30 points. “So we’re looking forward to this continued effort from Draymond. Just like Steph, we’re going as Dray is going.”
Since Game 2 was played on May 4th, we’d be remiss not to mention the vigor Green played with. It’s become a catchphrase for the Warriors over the past few seasons – theyduring last season’s NBA Finals – and Green is the ringleader of the squad. His physicality on defense and his dedication to picking up the pace are infectious, leading the Warriors to play like the Warriors we’ve all come to know over the past decade.
“He’s the horse for the team that gets us going. We draw on his energy. He just did a great job tonight,” said JaMychal Green of Draymond. “Last game I went up to him after the game and said to him: ‘You have to be more aggressive. Don’t forget who you are. You’re in the league for a reason.’ And he showed that tonight.”
Green was brilliant on both sides of the ball in Game 2, resulting in Golden State holding a win by the end of the third quarter. The mystery, of course, is how the Warriors will continue to restrict Davis as the streak continues, beginning with Game 3 on Saturday in Los Angeles. Even Green admitted you can play a perfect defense against Davis and still give up buckets – he’s just that good – but it’s about sticking to the game plan, being aggressive and putting yourself in a position to succeed to be, and then live with the results.
“When you have a bounce back game like tonight and you win as decisively as we did, knowing it’s going to be a lot tougher in Game 3 in LA, it’s a huge morale boost to take your own life and believe in ours Game can continue down the road,” Curry said after the win. “So excited for the opportunity and challenge that lies ahead.”