Green's will helps Warriors find way
LOS ANGELES -- "Guarantee you I got a text from her telling me about the free throws I missed," Draymond Green said in the locker room.
He was talking about his mother, who jokingly tweeted about spanking her son over two errant foul shots late in the game. Green had also drained two huge free throws earlier in the fourth, but mom isn't prone to letting things slide.
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Over social media, she's equal parts optimistic and fiery. She's inclined to remind pundits that where her boy is from, "we breed confidence." The parallels between her and her son aren't difficult to find, just like how the parallels between Green and a surprisingly confident Warriors squad abound.
Logically, you should have counted them out before the game and at points during it. They lack a starting center and a couple of assistant coaches, and their superstar played badly. But despite showing up to a knife fight with spoons, the Golden State Warriors emerged alive -- and with a 1-0 series advantage over the Los Angeles Clippers with a 109-105 win.
This outcome is especially surprising given the Warriors' miserable 0-of-8 shooting start to the game, a sequence that hinted at a Clippers blowout victory, if not a series sweep. Golden State's recovery was a mix of execution and determination.
You could spot the effort on a play that almost ended disastrously for the Warriors. Green raced back to halt a Clippers fast break in the second quarter, only to see his knee buckle under the strain of guarding a Matt Barnes Eurostep. Green was escorted to the locker room with an ominous sounding "knee injury."
If the Warriors weren't doomed by Andrew Bogut's rib injury, they were certainly finished now. Golden State was already desperate against the formidable Jordan-Griffin frontline, going small, shrinking each subsequent unit like a Russian nesting doll. The creative lineups demanded Green's rebounding, passing and defense.
Fortunately for Golden State, Green came back late in the third quarter. Within two minutes, he was racing back to stop another Los Angeles transition try, when Jamal Crawford and Darren Collison had Green in a pickle on a 2-for-1 break.
Unfazed by the earlier injury scare, Green juked towards Crawford, who passed the ball to a streaking Collison. Green whipped around, and with full extension, sent Collison's layup screaming off the backboard.
When asked if he'd broken up any 2-on-1s in that way this season, Green laughed, "Not that I remember," adding "That was a pretty decent play."
Green summarized and repeated, "Coach always tell us, never give up on a play." Through one game, the Warriors aren't giving up on plays. Stephen Curry had 14 points and seven turnovers, but Golden State was able to win this one by creating offense after Curry got trapped on pick-and-rolls.
Preparation and expectation factored into how Golden State was able to carve up the Los Angeles interior after the ball left Curry's hands. Per the hard Curry traps, Green explained, "We've played this team four times and they've done it every single time. We've pretty much had a year to prepare for it. An entire year. An entire season. So guys have to continue to step up and make plays. Once they trap him it takes the defender out, now you're playing 4 on 3."
The Clippers wanted anyone else to beat them, and on Saturday, the collective Warriors did just that. David Lee attacked decisively, driving and dishing off the 4-on-3 opportunities. "I thought we did a good job with interior passing and getting a lot of easy buckets in the paint through that," Lee said. "So they just tried to keep going at it."
The Golden State bigs were unselfish with the ball, roping passes around Glen Davis' widebody. In total, the Warriors' bigs combined for 10 assists.
Green dished out four of those assists in his 22 minutes of play and it's not coincidental that his team was a plus-17 in those minutes. He's carved out his place in the league by pursuing the little things in a big way, setting massive screens, aggressively blitzing opponents in pick-and-roll defense. He was pressuring Chris Paul on the turnover that effectively ended the game. Though perhaps it should have been a foul, fortune has tended to favor the uncommonly bold play of this second-year second rounder.
"If I was a first-round pick, it doesn't fit my story," Green said when asked about his career arc.
He perceives himself as a fighter who overcame doubt at every turn, very much in line with how his coach portrays this current iteration of the underdog Warriors. Green feels he owes a lot to Jackson, who kept calling his number despite a massive rookie shooting slump.
"He saw the good in me over the bad, the times I struggled shooting the ball and couldn't buy a basket," Green said. "He continued to believe in me and whatever it was I was doing good. Most importantly he never lost confidence in me."
The emboldened former No. 35 pick is sufficiently symbolic of an underdog that exudes confidence while expending effort, but he has the added virtue of playing well. The Warriors need him to continue to do so if they are to pull off this upset.
This was a mess of a game, and it might not be indicative of how the series proceeds. Andre Iguodala and Blake Griffin both fouled out. Paul missed two massive free throws. Perhaps Griffin and DeAndre Jordan trample a depleted Warriors frontcourt in future games. Perhaps Klay Thompson isn't able to guard Paul as effectively as he did on Saturday.
Regardless of what happens going forward, the Warriors have already been rewarded for striving against what looks like long odds. They didn't give up on the plays, and it's the Clippers who now must play catchup.