NBA Finals: Draymond Green must be better offensively for Warriors to win title

·5-min read

SAN FRANCISCO — Draymond Green hasn’t seen it everywhere, but he’s said it everywhere there’s a platform: His play wasn’t up to standard in Game 1, and if that repeats, his team will be in a dangerous position headed to Boston.

Green typed it on Twitter, said it aloud on his podcast and even if he didn’t, watching the film from Thursday night crystallized how important he is in this series. He doesn’t have to be a supersized version of himself; there isn’t any expectation of requiring the 32-point Game 7 performance from the Finals six years ago, but being better is necessary.

The Celtics are too good, too versatile defensively and too confident for the Warriors to win with less than Green’s best. When he’s on, he’s the great connector — a jolt of unexplainable electricity that gives everyone some extra juice.

When he’s not, it’s a slog on the court, and the Celtics would like nothing more than to play this series in the mud.

Green said all the right things, talking about accountability and leadership and not hiding from that. Social media, of course, can be a cesspool if one swims in those streams — and merciless for someone like Green because he doesn’t hold back his opinions.

For someone who lives to shut people up — think of every emotional yell following a purposeful wide-open three he hits — the better he plays, the more fuel he has.

All that’s left is for the performance to back up the rhetoric.

“No other scenario where I see playing out any different than him coming out with great energy, focus. Just making his impact felt on the court,” Stephen Curry said following Saturday’s practice at Chase Center. “I know he takes all that stuff personally in terms of his standard and what he knows he can do out there on the floor.

“You don’t win championships and be the team that we are if you don’t have that in your DNA at some point. So we got to go out and prove it, Draymond included.”

It wasn’t Curry laying down the gauntlet for his teammate as much as it was illustrating a simple truth. If the Celtics didn’t go otherworldly in the fourth quarter, the Warriors survive with Green playing the way he did — but it still wouldn’t leave great feelings in the aftermath.

Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green passes the ball against Boston Celtics' Al Horford and Jayson Tatum during Game 1 of the 2022 NBA Finals at Chase Center in San Francisco on June 2, 2022. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green passes the ball against Boston Celtics' Al Horford and Jayson Tatum during Game 1 of the 2022 NBA Finals at Chase Center in San Francisco on June 2, 2022. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

He has enormous responsibilities defensively, constantly sitting in help-side positions when Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are in attack spots while also keeping watch on Al Horford as a safety valve.

Doing one successfully leaves the other to chance, and Horford had a parade of open looks early that led to a late rhythma big reason for that fourth-quarter barrage.

“I think we have to play with more force on the defensive end,” Green said. “I think there were times in the game when they didn’t feel us, when you’re playing against a great team at this level at this point in the season, they have to feel you every possession.”

The irony wasn’t lost on anyone when Green pointed out giving up threes to Derrick White, Marcus Smart and Horford was a palatable strategy when that’s exactly what teams do to Golden State, or Green specifically.

The Celtics put Smart on Green in large part because they don’t fear him as a scorer, and use his propensity to facilitate to gum up the offense.

“The bottom line is we put Marcus on bigs throughout the season to switch on to their guards at times. That’s something in our back pocket that we feel comfortable doing,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “Helping off when it’s appropriate and try to make him be more of a scorer, and understanding it’s a tough one.”

A tough job made easier considering Green was 2-for-12 on Thursday, and whenever he’s one pass away from the ball the Celtics are quick to double, leaving Green wide open. It’s not quite disrespect, but they are daring Green to beat them.

“For me, I understand that ultimately, if I play well, we win,” Green said. “And if I don’t, we still can, but if I do, we win. So that falls on me.”

There are fewer paths for the Warriors to win if Green isn’t playing well. That isn’t just about his shooting but it includes it, along with having to contain Horford. He feels he was aggressive enough, bringing up his 12 shot attempts as evidence.

Green took 14 shots in the Game 6 clincher against Memphis and 12 was his season-high — back in October.

“I don’t think there’s many games where I shot 12 shots or more,” Green said. “So the notion of being aggressive would be a thing if you go 2-for-12, but if I was 6-for-12, everybody say, ‘Oh, man, he came out more aggressive, and that’s the Draymond the Warriors need.’ The fact that you’re 2-for-12, it’s just like, ‘Oh, you weren’t aggressive.’ ”

But when the Warriors have both Green and Kevon Looney on the floor, it makes it tougher for Curry and Klay Thompson to navigate space. After Curry’s explosive first quarter, he was 5-for-16 and Thompson 4-for-11.

Curry smoked some layups and Thompson continued his trend of great playoff games followed by regular ones, so their performances can’t be tied to Green.

But the strategy of playing off Green and Looney resulted in Curry seeing multiple sets of eyes, sometimes preventing him from being aggressive — a strategy that will only get more intense as the series progresses.

They’ll continue to leave Green open and live with the consequences.

“I’ll come out with that same aggression and just continue to shoot, and they’ll fall,” Green said. “But Thursday they didn't go in, and that happens sometimes.”

The next “sometimes” can’t be Sunday.