The day after the Golden State Warriors lost Game 5 of the NBA Finals, torched by 41 points apiece from LeBron James and Kyrie Irving—the first time teammates went for 40-plus in a finals game—Draymond Green addressed the media. He missed the game, had to watch it in a suite next door in Oakland Coliseum during the A’s game, suspended due to flagrant foul points accrued. “I have strong belief that if I play Game 5, we win Game 5,” Green said. In that case, there is no Game 6.
But there is a Game 6, it’s happening tonight in Cleveland, and if the Warriors are to repeat as champions, it is Green who must lead them. There is a cushion still, with a possible Game 7 at Oracle Arena, but prolonging this series isn’t anything the Warriors should be interested in. Win tonight—on the 20th anniversary of the ‘96 Bulls title, no less—and end it. End the speculation, end the hot takes, end yet another LeBron James run.
Draymond Green is a minus-18 in 67 minutes playing alongside a center, but a plus-54 in 85 minutes playing as the center.
It won’t be easy. The Warriors get Green back, but they’ll be without starting center Andrew Bogut, who sprained his knee in the third quarter of Game 5. He won’t need surgery, but he also won’t be back until training camp. Steve Kerr has for the most part resisted playing small all series, injury may force him to reconsider.
Which means Green had better be ready for big minutes and even bigger responsibilities. It will be on him to slow LeBron, to direct the offense, to lead and cheerlead and do it all without hitting anybody below the belt. He can’t come in like he did in Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference Finals, when he not only kicked Steven Adams in the junk, but shot a combined 2-of-16, committed 10 turnovers, and was a minus-73. That’s...that’s not good.
He shook it off, though, and has been a net positive for the Warriors in the Finals—a plus-36 overall in 152 minutes. But parse it further, as NBA.com’s John Schumann did, and it looks even better. Draymond Green is a minus-18 in 67 minutes playing alongside a center, but a plus-54 in 85 minutes playing as the center. The Warriors posted a net rating of plus-30 in those 85 minutes. With Bogut out and Festus Ezeli averaging around seven minutes a game in the finals, it makes sense to play Green in the middle as much as possible. Having not played in nearly a week, he should be fresh.
Tonight isn’t just the 20th anniversary of the ‘96 Bulls championship, it’s a year to the day when these Warriors won their first title, also in Game 6, also in Cleveland, where the visiting locker room may still be slightly redolent of champagne. And as much as it would be a thrill to celebrate in front of home fans who have supported them for so long, that would have been best done in Game 5. Winning on the same day, in the same building, should be storybook ending enough.
It won’t be on Green alone. Steph Curry will need to find his shot, Klay Thompson will need to keep making his, and Andre Iguodala will need to continue to be the dynamic two-way player who earned MVP honors last year. If Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa can go nuclear off the bench the way they did in Game 1, that would help too. And of course someone will have to do something to rein in James and Irving, who will no doubt be pumped up by their home crowd. Everyone will have to contribute, it’s the Warriors way.
But it’s Green, long underestimated and overlooked, who will be counted upon as the key to most all of the above actually happening. He creates the space, he finds the shooters, he disrupts everything on defense. He gets in LeBron's face and in his head. The Warriors lost big at home without him, a game Green thought he could have turned, and this—a game that could end with his holding his second championship trophy and his first NBA Finals MVP—can serve as redemption for all. If he can leave the drama for his mama (literally!) and just be the Draymond Green who earned All-Star honors and heart-of-the-team status, this can all end tonight. Let someone else get stuck doing the explaining this time.