After the Warriors lost Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Draymond Green said, “It’s on me to play better.” He bounced back in a Game 2 victory but played “like s***” in a Game 3 loss and once again said, “I’ll be better.” He got off the mat in a Game 4 win, though that’s a low standard, and he still got benched in the fourth quarter. “Yes, Draymond still has to play better, and I will,” he said.
Finally, Green can stop talking about playing better.
He was legitimately good in Golden State’s Game 5 victory over the Celtics last night.
“I felt more like myself,” Green said.
Green had eight points, eight rebounds and six assists. But as usual, traditional stats don’t cover his impact.
He played forceful defense all over the court and in a variety of matchups. Often covering Jaylen Brown, Green showed a much better sense of when he can and can’t help off his man. The Warriors allowed just 84 points per 100 possessions with Green on the floor.
Green’s crisp passing also helped Golden State stay afloat offensively on a night Stephen Curry went cold. Boston defended Curry more aggressively, giving Green more opportunities to make a play in advantage situations.
This wasn’t peak Draymond. At 32, Green has declined athletically. He can’t leap to protect the rim like he used to. In part because he’s not as swarming defensively (nor are his teammates, due in part to his diminished rim protection), Green isn’t pushing the Warriors into transition as frequently. Physical issues have sabotaged his 3-point shot, and he clanked both attempts from beyond the arc last night.
But Green is smart as ever. His defensive positioning was superb, and he has the length and strength to make a difference. It’s not as if he’s suddenly immobile.
Green didn’t carry on with the referees or Celtics as much, either. He’s at his best when toeing the line, but he went overboard earlier in the series. He was under control last night.
Of course, a more-subdued Green is far from subdued. He still showed plenty of fury toward the officials and opponent. He even fouled out after demonstrably calling for Golden State coach Steve Kerr to challenge a call that ultimately stood.
By that point, the Warriors — thanks in part to outscoring Boston by 11 in Green’s 35 minutes — were up comfortably late. Green had earned a chance to relax and think about what he’d say in his post-game press conference and podcast.
The “I’ll be better” was no longer necessary.