PORTLAND, Ore. -- Draymond Green, at his worst, is perhaps the NBA’s leading antagonist: a ref-berating, trash-talking, swaggering force who has been known to cross the line into the flagrant and profane.
But at his best, Green is a sight to behold, a three-time all-star power forward blessed with the ability to push the tempo and thread passes through traffic like a point guard, to disrupt lobs like a seven-foot center and to cover ground defensively like a middle linebacker.
The Portland Trail Blazers felt the full effect of Green’s breakneck style in Game 3 on Saturday, watching a 13-point halftime lead evaporate into a 110-99 loss that gave the Warriors a commanding 3-0 series lead in the Western Conference finals.
Green finished with 20 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists — a gaudy triple-double that still doesn’t quite capture his game-changing impact. The Warriors outscored the Blazers by 16 points with Green on the court, while Portland outscored Golden State by five points in the 10 minutes Green spent on the bench.
Since losing Kevin Durant to a calf injury of Game 5 of a second-round series against the Houston Rockets, the Warriors have repeatedly played with fire by digging themselves early holes. In Game 3, Warriors Coach Steve Kerr unveiled a confounding change to his starting lineup, tabbing Damian Jones to start at center even though he hadn’t appeared in a game since Dec. 1 due to a pectoral injury. That decision contributed to a quick 7-2 deficit, as Jones committed three fouls in the first four minutes and wasn’t heard from again.
As Kerr went deep into his bench during the second quarter, the Warriors’ offense sputtered. The champs have looked flat and lost at times without Durant, who has been a security blanket all postseason. That’s when Green stepped in, as if hitting the fast-forward button on his entire body. In hopes of preventing stagnant half-court possessions, Green flew up the court and attacked the basket far more often than usual. By the end of the night he had attempted nine free throws, his personal best for the season.
Green’s energy drew defensive attention, and he found open spots in Portland’s weakside defense with his passes. During a key third-quarter push, Green assisted on four baskets to four different teammates: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Jordan Bell and Kevon Looney.
“He was like a wrecking ball, destroying everything in his path,” Kerr said of Green. “He was playing with such pace and it just seemed like he never got tired. He only had two turnovers with all the offensive possessions [he used], he made great decisions. It was one of the best games I’ve ever seen Draymond play.”
Green’s roaming defense continued to bother the Blazers, whose star guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combined to shoot just 12 of 38 from the field. If Curry had electrified the Oracle Arena home crowd in a Game 2 comeback victory, Green’s flurry of activity largely silenced a raucous Moda Center that was hosting its first Western Conference finals game since 2000.
“When you’re playing against a set defense every time, it’s tough,” Green said. “I don’t push it for me necessarily to score every time. It’s just to get the defense on their heels. You can feel when our offense is getting bogged down and I like to push it more when the other team starts to make a run. It helps to change the momentum.”
Green added that the absences of Durant and DeMarcus Cousins have created more opportunities for him to handle the ball and to score, and forced him to maintain his composure with the officials.
“I’m sure it was disgusting to watch [me arguing all the time] because I felt disgusted playing that way,” he admitted. “My mom has been really big, my fiance has been really big about talking to me about staying locked in on the game.”
Golden State badly needed the pick-me-up, after Kerr’s starting lineup change backfired and Blazers Coach Terry Stotts’s paid double dividends. Stotts tweaked his rotation by promoting Meyers Leonard to the starting lineup in place of Enes Kanter. Leonard, a smooth-shooting center, scored 16 points and helped stretch Golden State’s defense by hitting three three-pointers. Kanter, more of a low-post brute, got to pound away in the paint without needing to chase Curry, who finished with a game-high 36 points, around the perimeter on defense.
As with Game 2, though, Portland wilted in the face of Golden State’s second-half pressure. Down 13 at halftime, the Warriors outscored the Blazers in the third quarter 29-13 and won the final period 28-20.
“[Leonard] had a terrific first half,” Stotts said. “I liked his spacing. [The lineup change] was designed to help our offense a little bit. It looked really good in the first half, not so much in the second half, but that’s not his fault.”
With the Game 3 win, the Warriors improved to 4-0 since Durant’s injury and are now win away from a fifth straight Finals trip. Only the Boston Celtics, who made 10 straight from 1957 to 1966, have achieved that feat.
In the closing minutes, Green turned his back to the paint during a free throw attempt so that he could stare down a courtside fan. He then grabbed the ball, pushed it up the court, and earned two more free throws, finishing what he had started.
The boos rained down as Green embraced Curry at the buzzer, a reminder that so much of the angst he generates can be traced to the long line of shattered dreams the Warriors have left in their wake.
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