NBA playoffs: Draymond Green's force is needed in Lakers-Warriors series
SAN FRANCISCO — Nike used to have these great shoe lines, very separate and very clear — the “Force” line and the “Flight” line.
When you saw the “Force” symbol, you knew it had something to do with Charles Barkley or David Robinson. With the “Flight” line, in the early days, you’d think of Scottie Pippen.
Force meant power. Flight meant something a little more swift.
So whenever Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr talks about anything with force, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson don’t exactly come to mind.
Draymond Green does.
The Warriors dropped Game 1 to the Los Angeles Lakers — or, more succinctly, Anthony Davis put the force into his work in 44 minutes Tuesday. While Kevon Looney was a full-grown man again, with another 20-rebound game, it didn’t hurt as much as it did against Sacramento. Davis deterred all comers into the paint and spooked shooters whenever he was near their zip code.
There wasn’t a response in kind during the series opener, in large part due to the Warriors' not going to a smaller lineup until their frenetic comeback in the last five minutes. Green missed some layups and was a bit out of sorts due to early foul trouble, finishing with 6 points, 4 rebounds and 7 assists.
They can look at this in one of two ways: Davis’ performance was some sort of anomaly because most of his offensive damage was done in the first quarter, and he shot 2-for-9 in the second half, particularly after four days’ rest.
Or they need to go small with more shooting on the floor to try to move Davis out of the paint, making a more permanent change because Davis is capable of dominating yet again.
Either way, Green is on the front line, for myriad reasons. His season has been well-documented, from his training camp punch of Jordan Poole that went viral to his stomp to Domantas Sabonis after Sabonis got ahold of his leg in Game 2 of their first-round series.
Green has always been defiant and loud, and there have been enough instances when teammates and coaches have had to speak up for him. But he’s also a ferocious competitor who’s unique and so critical to this dynasty that it can’t be ignored.
When he’s present, impactful and engaged, the Warriors are almost unbeatable, still, after all these years. If he’s anything less, they’re vulnerable. What works in Golden State’s favor is that defiance — loving to prove people wrong.
It has fueled Green to this point, and it’s even more prevalent because of the opponent.
“I mean, of course, anytime you have an opportunity on a big stage to show people, number one, what you’re capable of — for people that doubt you, to silence the doubters,” Green told Yahoo Sports recently. “And most importantly also to give the people that love and ride for you something to stand on and ride for, you know, I think is important as well.”
Whenever he has one of those bounce-back, disruptive games in which he gums up your game plan and backup plan, it’s a reminder that Green is a piece that cannot be replaced. And his teammates know his value.
“These are guys that I want to battle with. For 11 years,” Green said. “They trust in me and believe in me, just like I trust and believe in them that when our backs are against the wall, we’re gonna put our backs up against the wall, and we’re gonna fight our way up.
“I know one person, two people that has the most confidence in me, and that’s Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.”
He also mentioned Poole, Looney and Andrew Wiggins in that equation. From the start of this, though, it’s Curry and Thompson who have been riding with Green since their first playoff series together 10 years ago and through everything since.
Green says he has rebuilt the trust with his teammates.
“It always has to be rebuilt, but this took a little extra,” he said. “Understanding silence and understanding to speak. You know, I took a little bit extra, but I think we’re getting there.”
The next step in that could be a little uncomfortable because this series requires that aforementioned force — against Davis and LeBron James, with whom Green has a personal relationship.
He has been openly complimentary of James, on his podcast and elsewhere. They’ve been photographed at weddings and other places, showing genuine warmth after some contentious years.
“None of that s*** matters in the playoffs. Personal relationships are personal relationships,” Green said. “But you’re part of a team and all fighting for one common goal. If you’re in the way of that, you’re in the way of that. All that goes to the side.”
At his best — and even at his worst — Green is a ruthless competitor. When that was brought up to him, he cut it off quickly.
“By the way, they’re ruthless competitors,” he said. “And guess what? That s*** won’t change. If you’re on the wrong side of that, that’s just what it is.”
If someone has to be hit with a hard playoff foul or being a little too close for comfort, Green is the one who has to apply the pressure. And considering that Davis has turned into Exhibit A, that means Green’s force will be expected — not just in Game 2 but for the rest of the series.
The Warriors can’t win without it, and Green can’t play without it — a mess that can also be a message to his employers, with possible free agency looming in the summer.
You get the feeling that Green likes where he is and isn’t so eager to test the free-agent waters, knowing that this is probably his last chance in an already-decorated career.
Signature games, such as the ones he has delivered more than a few times in the playoffs, also show what the Warriors have to look forward to, as opposed to a vestige of the past.
“I try to make decisions easier,” Green said. “I don’t go out here like I need to show [Warriors owner] Joe [Lacob], show [general manager] Bob [Myers], what I’m capable of. But at the end of the day, we want to also make them feel comfortable with decisions they make as well.
“You don’t want to leave them in a situation where it’s like, ‘Oh, man, this is our guy, and he’s been here so long, so we have to do this.’ You want to leave them a situation where it’s been earned and deserved. So that’s my job.”
His job is force.