SAN FRANCISCO — When he was compared to all-time greats Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O’Neal, his coach didn’t bat an eye. His teammate, LeBron James, said that his No. 3 jersey would one day hang in the rafters of Crypto.com Arena — or whatever it’s called by that time. Talking-head shows spent 48 hours debating whether he was the best player in the series, ahead of Steph Curry.
It’s safe to say that Draymond Green was sick of hearing about the great Anthony Davis.
After admitting that he “played like s—” in Game 1, when Davis put up a monster line of 30 points and 23 rebounds, Green made it his personal mission to make life miserable for Davis in Thursday night’s Game 2, and was an instrumental factor in Golden State’s near-perfect 127-100 victory to even the series.
“[Warriors assistant] Chris DeMarco showed me some film yesterday, and said, I don’t know who this guy is defensively,” Green said after the Game 2 win. “He showed me myself in the fourth quarter and he said, ‘This is I guy I know. So show up that way tomorrow.'”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr wouldn’t give details before the game, but he said he and his staff had noticed some adjustments they could make to help limit Davis, and they were certainly noticeable. The first was starting JaMychal Green in place of Kevon Looney, who has been a titan for Golden State this postseason but allowed Davis to shoot 8-for-11 when they were matched up in Game 1. The lineup change had obvious offensive benefits, forcing the Lakers to guard four shooters instead of three, but it also allowed Draymond Green to be Davis’ primary defender early and often. According to Second Spectrum data, via The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, Draymond went from guarding Davis 34 percent of the time in Game 1 to 62 percent in Game 2.
Davis had just two points in the first quarter, and finished with 11 points on 11 field goal attempts. He took just one free throw, after going 8 for 8 in Game 1.
“Draymond was brilliant,” Kerr said after the game. “This is the guy who we have to have. He’s our engine and we decided to put him on Davis tonight from the start. I thought he got us off to a good start defensively just with his aggressiveness.”
To Kerr’s point, it was clear from the jump that Green wasn’t about to let Davis get 30 and 20 again. He was physical, tactical and used his long arms and active hands to disrupt Davis’ forays into the lane. The Warriors also provided help much earlier, forcing Davis to be a playmaker — not his strong suit, despite dishing out five assists in Game 1. Davis had four assists in Game 2, but also committed four turnovers as Green hassled him to the point of frustration.
Every once in a while, on a very special occasion, Green remembers that there’s no explicit NBA rule that prohibits him from scoring. It happened in Game 5 against Sacramento, when he logged over 20 points in a playoff game for the first time in five years. It happened again on Thursday, when Green — who pledged to be more aggressive on both ends in Game 2 — seized every open lane, both in transition and in the half-court, to force the Lakers to guard him. So many times when he’s left unguarded with the ball, Green immediately looks to go into dribble hand-off action with a shooter. On Thursday, he went straight to the rim.
That was particularly effective against Davis, who, with no Looney to guard, had Green as his primary matchup. If Green caught the ball at the free throw line and he saw daylight, he attacked with the intention to score, even knocking down a “Dray Nowitzki” mid-range jumper. That forced Davis to at least have to respect Green as a scorer, which opened up passing and finishing lanes for Golden State. Green finished with 11 points on 10 field goal attempts — seven in the first half alone — to go along with his usual collection of 11 rebounds, nine assists and a steal.
“He’s our Swiss Army knife, and when he’s getting downhill and he’s finishing at the rim and he’s hitting the open man, we are at our best,” said Klay Thompson, who led the Warriors with 30 points in Game 2. “So we’ll look forward to this continued effort by Draymond. Just like Steph, we go as Dray goes.”
Since Game 2 was played on May the Fourth, we’d be remiss not to mention the force that Green played with. It’s become a buzzword for the Warriors over the past couple seasons — they uttered it 47 times in two weeks during last season’s NBA Finals — and Green is the ring leader of the force brigade. His physicality on defense and commitment to pushing the pace are contagious, sparking the Warriors to play like the Warriors we’ve all come to know over the past decade.
“He’s the horse for the team that gets us going. We feed off his energy. He just did a great job tonight,” JaMychal Green said of Draymond. “Last game I went to him after the game and told him, ‘You got to be more aggressive. Don’t forget who you are. You in the league for a reason.’ And he showed that tonight.”
Green was brilliant on both sides of the ball in Game 2, which led to Golden State having a win in hand by the time the third quarter ended. The conundrum, of course, is how the Warriors continue to limit Davis as the series continues, starting with Saturday’s Game 3 in Los Angeles. Even Green admitted that you can play perfect defense against Davis and still give up buckets — he’s just that good — but it’s all about sticking to the game plan, being aggressive and putting themselves in position to be successful, then living with the results.
“When you have a bounce-back game like we had tonight, and to win as decisively as we did, knowing it’s going to be a whole lot tougher in Game 3 in L.A., it’s a big morale boost to give yourself life and belief that our game can carry on the road,” Curry said after the win. “So, excited about the opportunity and the challenge ahead.”