Draymond Green

Draymond Green puts his stamp on Warriors’ brilliant first half

Right after the Warriors won their 42nd game I drove down to the CSN Bay Area studios to record Yahoo SportsTalk Live. There was a lot of talk about the team, as one would expect as they head into the All-Star break with the league’s best record and Steve Kerr announcing after the game that Klay Thompson would start in the All-Star Game alongside Stephen Curry.

We (which on Wednesday night included Jim Kozimor, Marcus Thompson, John Lund and myself) talked about whether it’s time to worry about the Warriors’ recent sleepy stretch (which, if you count the three-point win over Boston as the starting point, was a stretch where Golden State won seven of their last 10 games). We also discussed whether they need to add a veteran, whether the Curry/Thompson backcourt is the best in the league, and our over/under picks (64.5 wins).

In my attempt to figure out my answer to that last Blitz question about their final regular season record (we get the questions beforehand — hopefully I’m not giving away any state secrets here), I scanned the Warriors’ remaining games. They have 21 of their final 31 against teams over .500. They face the Spurs, Grizzlies, Blazers, Mavericks, Clippers and Wizards twice apiece. They’ll play games against the Hawks, Raptors and Cavaliers. I also tried to account for the teams they’re trying to hold off in the Western Conference, injury/fatigue concerns …

In the seconds before it was my turn to answer the over/under question on live TV, all of these permutations vanished from my brain, and I thought about Draymond Green. It probably helped that after I threw on my suit before I ran out the door, Green’s mom “favorited” this tweet, thereby making it true.

Mary Babers-Green knows her son better than we ever will, but the more we get to know Green as a player and a person this year, it’s difficult to imagine him allowing the Warriors to fall short of any goal. As I said on the show (and my answer wasn’t good enough to get the point over MTII, but I’m going to repeat it anyway), it wouldn’t surprise me if Green somehow found out that the O/U 64.5 wins question was asked, and in response promised that he’d do whatever it took to make sure the Warriors got to 65-17, at the very minimum.

That’s a completely ridiculous notion on my part, but that’s the kind of power Green has over this team and the “first half” of this season. He wasn’t supposed to play in Minnesota. But two days after leaving the game in Philly with a sprained right ankle, and before a lengthy break he could’ve used to heal said ankle, Green started and played 36 minutes. And one could tell he was nowhere near 100% with the ankle early on, when his first three attempt was very, very short.

Green made 1-of-6 shots (o-for-2 on threes) and scored three points. He also led his team in rebounds with 13 and added five assists, two steals and a blocked shot on a Ricky Rubio layup attempt.

At the end of the game he was a blue demon (without playing for Coach K). He assisted on Golden State’s last two field goals of the contest and grabbed two huge defensive rebounds in the last 35 seconds. Then he made the play that inspired the tweet above.

With 2.7 seconds remaining and the Warriors up three, Green was guarding Rubio during Minnesota’s last-gasp inbounds play.

— Green watched as Andrew Wiggins looked for an open teammate, and Warriors nemesis Kevin Martin sprinted toward Wiggins’ side of the court.

— Green had already taken two steps toward Martin’s path before Wiggins even released the ball. Then he closed in with another step to help Thompson trap Martin, knowing his decision would leave Rubio all alone in the corner.

— Green appeared to be baiting Martin, who jumped with the ball in an attempt to get it to Rubio. Before Martin’s thought could travel from his brain to his arms, Green’s hand was already on the ball.

— Green knocked the ball loose from Martin’s grasp, and both players swiped in vain as it bounced out of bounds.

Draymond Green Kevin Martin

The original call (that Martin knocked touched it last, so it was Warriors ball) was overturned for some reason, but whatever. The play was so daring, so tactical yet vicious at the same time. It encapsulated the new reality for this incredibly-fun-to-watch club that also happens to play stifling defense, particularly at times when doing so is absolutely necessary.

Green — who reportedly told his team during Wednesday morning’s shootaround that their All-Star break started at 10:30 pm that night, no earlier — saw this game that his team left sitting on the table, and swallowed it whole in the final two minutes.

Green may not be an All-Star, but Steve Kerr’s decision to put him in Golden State’s starting lineup and keep him there may be the top reason (among many from which to choose) why the Warriors are so much better in 2014-15 than they were in 2013-14. The coaching change was huge. Thompson’s ascendance was somewhat unexpected and has helped immensely. The team is much deeper, thanks in part to individual improvements from players like Harrison Barnes and Marreese Speights. Curry is the best kind of leader: an incredibly productive, dynamic player who encourages those around him to share and enjoy everything they do.

But there’s a reason why this team almost never lets games against inferior teams slip away anymore, and it’s Green. And that’s why I wouldn’t bet against 65 wins, or even one, two or three more than that.

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