OAKLAND –- The Cleveland Cavaliers came into the NBA Finals with a clear defensive game plan that essentially insults Warriors forward Draymond Green.
The strategy: Lay off him and spend your defensive energy on his teammates, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson in particular.
This did not go well for the Cavs in Game 1 and was downright disastrous in Game 2 Sunday night.
Given plenty of room to shoot or pass, Green as a frequent ball-handler did plenty of both and was largely responsible for a 110-77 demolition of the Eastern Conference champions before an ecstatic sellout crowd (19,596) at Oracle Arena.
“He’s always going to make the right play, every time, and he did tonight,” Thompson said. “He had an amazing game.”
Green poured in a game-high 28 points, draining 5-of-8 from 3-point distance, adding seven rebounds and a team-high-trying five assists. He committed one turnover, posting a plus-20 in 34 minutes of playing time.
“The way they’re playing defense against our guards, Draymond’s going to be open all day,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “He’s a good 3-point shooter. We like it when he gets that shot in rhythm and he knocked them down tonight.”
Green scored 12 points in the second quarter and 12 more in the third, when the Warriors generated a double-digit lead they never lost.
On a team with Curry and Thompson, Green was responsible for one-third of the Warriors’ 15 treys. Curry and Thompson each fired in four, despite being the focus of the Cavs’ defense.
It was Green, though, that lit most every run the Warriors managed.
“Guys get the ball into the paint and (the Cavs) are collapsing down, and I was spotting it up,” Green said. “And they found me in a great spot to knock shots down.
“So I was really just taking what the defense gives me. And if that’s the shot they’re going to give me, and I know the amount of work I put in, to step up with confidence and try to knock it down.”
One shot in particular stood out, Green’s last trey, a 3-point bomb from the top of the circle in the face of Cavs forward Richard Jefferson. Curry, watching from the bench, “fainted” in disbelief.
“The one step-back one, that’s when I kind of lost my mind,” Curry said.
Green conceded it was his wisest shot, even if it went through the hoop.
“I’m sure you’re talking about the one where I danced at the top a little bit and shot the 3,” he said. “Awful shot. Pathetic. But the ball stopped moving, players stopped moving, so I thought, ‘All right, well, I’m going to get some shot up.’ And it happened to go in.”
Most of Green’s shots went in, as he was 11-of-20 from the field. Yet that step-back 3-ball, which gave the Warriors a 74-57 lead with 2:36 left in the third quarter will be remembered for its daring.
“The only one I didn’t love,” Kerr said of Green’s shot selection, “was the one off the dribble from the top of the key that he made. The other ones were all great.”
The Cavs are challenging Green, and he is responding. He delivered 16 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in Game 1, and followed up with another gem that may have been even more impressive.
“Give credit where credit is due,” Cavs star LeBron James said. “The guy made shots, not only when we left him open and contested late, but he made shots in our face.
“We know he’s a key for their team; we all know that, an All-Star for their team. And he made some big plays both offensively and defensively. We know what he does defensively for that team, so game ball to him.”
Cleveland may have to rethink their strategy. Or maybe not. They should know, however, the Green eats insults as appetizers.