OAKLAND – Sensing the troops needed to unite ever more tightly in the absence of Stephen Curry, Draymond Green held court. This is significant because when Draymond holds court, even the walls lean in.
So, naturally, as they approached Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals against Portland on Sunday, the Warriors heard him out. Green’s message was simple, an amped-up echo of that put forth earlier by coach Steve Kerr.
Green urged his teammates to focus on defense and only defense. If we play defense, Green stressed, we will get where we need to go.
“I didn't hear it,” Kerr said, “but I guarantee you Draymond said it (laughter) at some point.”
Green was prophetic, and also masterful in his personal application on defense and much, much more as the Warriors sprinted to a dominating 118-106 victory over the Trail Blazers before a roaring throng at Oracle Arena.
“When Steph's out there, we can go toe-to-toe with anybody from offense and probably have the advantage,” Green explained. “But when he's not out there, you've got to get it done on the defensive end. So if it's anything, I was just telling the guys, ‘come out, and don't worry about any offense.’”
[INSTANT REPLAY: Klay, Warriors cruise past Blazers in Game 1]
Green was splendid defending multiple positions, and it translated to remarkable offense. He posted his first triple-double of the playoffs, finishing with 23 points, and adding game-highs in rebounds (13) and assists (11). He had only two turnovers.
“With his play-making ability, his defensive ability,” center Andrew Bogut marveled, “he's probably the best all-around player in the league at this point.”
Green surely was the best player on the floor in Game 1, and the Warriors followed his lead. He was smart. He also was chatty. His two first-quarter blocks, along with a pair by Bogut, made the Blazers think long and hard before entering the paint.
Green also controlled much of the game from the point position, as indicated by his assists-to-turnovers difference.
“He's just not taking too many unnecessary risks,” Kerr said. “He's making simple plays, and when he does that, you look at a scoring line or a stat line like tonight, he's always going to rebound and get assists. Just a matter of making the right decisions and that's what he's been doing. I think he's been phenomenal.”
Green, who had an atrocious Game 3 at Houston – most notably seven turnovers, including one in the final seconds – has made a few adjustments and is in a very good place.
“Mentally I'm just making the simple play,” he said. “I still had a couple turnovers tonight that I shouldn't have had, just making the simple play. Coming down, if it's not there, just move the ball on. Not trying to make something, too much happen, that we don't have to do.”
With Green and Bogut patrolling the paint and Klay Thompson (37 points, 18 in the first quarter) playing well at both ends, the Warriors took a 37-17 lead after one quarter. Stifling the Blazers across the board, holding them to 23.8-percent shooting (5-of-21), the Warriors set a blistering tone. And after softening in the second quarter, they recovered in the third, boosting their lead to 26 while limiting Portland to 33.3 percent from the field.
Portland’s most impressive stretch came in the fourth quarter, when the game was out of reach.
The Warriors were so superb on defense, fueling the offense to a 15-0 first-half advantage in fast-break points, that they paid no price for being outscored 89-81 over the final three quarters.
“I just told the guys that we got to come out with a defensive mindset and that's pretty much it,” Green said. “We can pretty much just stay solid and get good stuff on the offensive end, but against this team, we just got to come out with a defensive mind-set when Steph's not out there.”
The Warriors heeded Green’s message and it gave them 1-0 lead in this best-of-seven series. They showed, yet again, that when they are exceedingly difficult to beat when they emphasize defense.
That statement often comes off the lips of Kerr. Green simply provided a reminder.