The Boston Celtics and This NBA Finals have presented challenges to Draymond Green and the Warriors. The challenge of slowing Jayson Tatum and making him play in a crowd. The challenge of Robert Williams protecting the rim. The list goes on and on, and those challenges have led to some rough games for Green.
But don’t tell Green this compares to the mental challenge of facing LeBron James and his Cavaliers teams.
“Well, it doesn’t compare to mentally playing against LeBron James, who I think is arguably the smartest guy to ever play this game. Not one of, he is arguably the smartest guy to set foot on a basketball court,” Green said on the practice day before Game 6. “To say that it compares to that, it’s disrespectful to LeBron and it’s a lie to you.
“Now in saying that, it is a challenge mentally because these guys are super athletic. They are super young and fast and strong, and all the things that we know and have heard throughout the course of this series. They are those things. And then obviously they are super talented, and so when you are facing that, you have to try to out-think a guy. If a guy is faster than me, how can I beat him to a spot? I have to anticipate and I have to think. I have to try to understand what he’s trying to get to. So I think that’s been huge in this series from a mental standpoint and just trying to understand and be a step ahead of them.”
Every Finals is a chess match on some level. It’s about matchups, exploiting the other team’s weaknesses while covering up your own. Some adjustments can change a series, such as Steve Kerr’s decision in 2015 to put Andre Iguodala as the primary defender on LeBron. Sure, LeBron still got his, but with a shorthanded Cavs team at that point (no Kyrie Irving or Kevin Love due to injury), it changed the rest of the matchups and played to the Warriors’ strengths.
Green continued to talk about the unique challenges LeBron presents in a series.
“[This is] not as much of a chess match as it is when you’re playing LeBron, who is dissecting every play in that computer of his, like in real time,” Green said. “Like that’s just a skill that not many people possess. Not many people can come and sit here and find a random stretch from seven minutes to four minutes in the second quarter and give you every play like to the T and not miss a beat. There’s not many people that can do that.
“Now in saying that, they do have a guy over there in Marcus Smart who is extremely smart, who it’s like a chess match going up against him. He is kind of the brain of that team. I think every team you kind of have that guy, that’s the brain of that team, and they have that in Marcus Smart, a guy who I have a tremendous amount of respect for and his basketball IQ. So it’s a challenge for sure. Ime [Udoka, Celtics coach] is extremely smart. We know his pedigree.
“So the challenge is there, but you can’t put it up there against LeBron’s. Like I said, he’s probably the smartest guy we’ve ever seen play basketball.”