Naysayers who would like to diminish the impact of Draymond Green label the All-Star as a role player, a star who supplements Golden State’s superstars.
Not only is that wrong, if you watched Game 1 of the Warriors’ first-round playoff matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers, you’d see why in many ways Green might be the most irreplaceable of the Warriors’ stars.
Green made the Oracle Arena fans erupt often with a forceful defensive effort in the Warriors’ 121-109 victory Sunday afternoon.
The memorable moments Sunday weren’t deep 3-pointers or fancy passing, but rather two of Green’s blocked shots that came at the rim that jarred the Blazers and caused fans to celebrate.
Green met Portland center Noah Vonleh at the rim in transition for a block on what had the makings of a thunderous dunk in the third quarter. Then in the fourth quarter, Portland star and Oakland native Damian Lillard tested Green at the basket and was denied.
Both plays sent the home crowd into a frenzy and Green into a series of muscle poses which made sense, considering he’d essentially bullied the Blazers.
“When you block it at the rim, it’s a little different,” Green said. “Because that’s one of those plays where you’re within a half-inch to a centimeter of being dunked on. So when you actually come up with the block, you know, it’s a bit more exciting.”
The Warriors needed every bit of energy and excitement Green could conjure to fend off Portland, which played the Warriors tough until a 15-2 fourth-quarter run put the game away.
CJ McCollum (41 points) and Lillard (34 points) were superb, but while the Warriors could turn to their bench for a spark in the fourth, it was a struggle for anyone off Portland’s bench to make an impact.
The Blazers’ reserves accounted for just nine points.
Green finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists, five blocks and three steals. Kevin Durant (32 points) and Stephen Curry (29 points) carried the scoring load for Green, who did a little bit of everything on Sunday.
“Draymond was amazing,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “ ... He played a game that I’m not sure anybody else in the league is capable of, honestly. Who else can do what Draymond just did (Sunday)? He’s so unique and so important to us. He was phenomenal.”
Green’s emotions are infectious, even for the opposition.
Lillard said he’s not a trash talker, but having to go against Green got him talking on Sunday.
“I think the league has softened up a lot, and it’s not like that,” Lillard said. “So you’ve got to have a rough guy like him out there. I think it’s necessary. I think their team depends on him to be that dog out there and to be that person.”
Even with all that, the game was tied at 88 after three quarters. The Warriors’ defense cranked up in the fourth, led by Green and reserves like David West and Ian Clark, who helped get Golden State out to a 103-90 lead with 7:19 to play.
Looking ahead, the Blazers know they can’t rely on Lillard and McCollum to score 75 each game for any chance of upsetting the Warriors.
And they know that means dealing with Green. Blazers coach Terry Stotts said Green’s “strength” is his help defense.
“He’s quick reacting and the thing with him is that if you beat somebody off the dribble, he’s going to be there,” Stotts said. “And that’s where whoever the penetrator is. Damian, CJ, whoever it is, has to recognize that and the other guys have to be ready to make shots if it’s kicked out.”
If not, the series will not work out for Portland.
“Damian and CJ, if they get 80 between them, we still need to score 40 or 50 somewhere.”