It’s exceedingly rare that any Golden State Warriors player shows up for a postgame press conference still in his uniform. Usually, they first take a shower, check their phones and maybe catch up with some family members meandering about the locker room entrance.
Not so on Monday night for Draymond Green, who only slipped a pair of shower shoes over his socks. Still clad in his sweat-soaked jersey, which sported a speck of someone’s blood above the Warriors logo, Green met the media looking like he could still play an overtime or two.
But his defense against the Atlanta Hawks had rendered that scenario unnecessary. With not one, but two spectacular stops in the final minute, Green saved yet another a win, 105-100, for the Warriors, who are now a league-best 16-2 and riding a 12-game win streak into Thursday’s showdown with James Harden and the high-scoring Houston Rockets.
For weeks now, head coach Steve Kerr has been trumpeting Green’s defensive bona fides at every available opportunity, not so subtly campaigning on his behalf for the Defensive Player of the Year Award. (Green has placed second for that bit of hardware two years running, finishing runner-up both times to Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs.)
“That was amazing. I don’t know if I’ve seen a sequence like that from one guy,” Kerr said Monday of Green’s end-of-game heroics. “The whole team was defending well and we covered up shooters and switched well, but those two plays ended up with one-on-one plays against Draymond and he blocks both shots off the other guys.”
“Just an incredible defensive sequence,” Kerr added. “Draymond is amazing. He literally can guard anybody in the league from Dwight Howard to [Dennis] Schroder and everybody else in between.”
Green himself has made no secret that he feels he’s the NBA’s best defensive player. If anything, his much-publicized suspension for Game 5 of last June’s NBA Finals may have only further secured that belief in the minds of so many.
The Warriors, then and now, are simply a different defensive team without Green on the floor, scattered and less confident. It’s the difference between treading water in the pool versus gunning for an Olympic record time.
But Kevin Durant’s celebrated arrival meant losing Andrew Bogut, Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli, three excellent defenders who could either protect the rim (Ezeli), defend larger players in the post (Barnes) or both (Bogut).
The idea that Golden State would now have to concentrate on outscoring its opponents rather than reinvent a defense that was No. 1 in efficiency just two seasons ago, didn’t sit well with the All-Star and Olympic gold medalist.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say I have something to prove for [DPOY], more so because people have counted our defense out with Bogut leaving and that kind of pisses me off,” Green said after the win over Atlanta. “I’ve never been the guy to pride myself on [awards], but it’d be cool to win, absolutely. My goal coming into this season is to win a championship, and in order for us to win a championship, we have to defend.”
“The world says we traded our defense away when we got [Durant],” Green added. “I disagree. I think our defense actually has the upside to be better with our length that we have, the speed, the athleticism. So that pissed me off more than anything… I take that personally so that pushes me more than anything else.”
There’s a little hyperbole baked into Green’s thinking, but he’s not far off. The Warriors are more reliant on length and positioning now, and the physicality that left with Bogut won’t be replaced by his successor, Zaza Pachulia, or anyone else on this roster.
But Golden State’s defense is getting the job done. Assistant coach Ron Adams has this team sitting eighth in Defensive Rating, allowing 101.5 points per 100 possessions. They’re first in blocks per game and second in steals. Their defensive rebounding rate is still lousy—only the Boston Celtics and New York …