The Warriors' biggest problem: Draymond Green isn't backing up his talk in these Finals
OAKLAND, Calif. — Draymond Green knows exactly what he's doing.
It might seem like the NBA's preeminent heel — to steal a wrestling term — is a loquacious, off-the-cuff orator (and agitator), but he confirmed something Sunday that those who know and have been around the former second-round draft pick have known for years.
"When I say something, I've thought about [it] before I say it," Green said. "I never look at something and say, no, I shouldn't have said that. Because I'm a lot smarter than people think."
And because of that, Green has no regrets about going after Cleveland fans after Game 4, saying that they weren't "the sharpest people."
"I just gave my thoughts," Green said. “They boo me and thought I had a tech I didn’t have, so that wasn’t sharp. I knew I didn’t, so maybe I’m just a little sharper than others."
And then he expounded — because that's what Draymond Green does:
"They played ‘Hit the Road Jack’ and I didn’t have to hit the road, so I didn’t think that was that sharp. Maybe you thought that was sharp."
Green's mouth is a gift to the NBA. There are few athletes in the history of the sport who can hold a room like him and in this contrarian modern world, villains sell better than heroes. The man is going to make a lot of money as a commentator when he's done playing.
But the genius of Green is that no matter how much trash he talks and no matter how many fan bases he "bashes," he's been able to back it up on the court.
The Warriors might be up 3-1, but Green hasn't backed up much in these NBA Finals.
Green is one of the most important players in the NBA — his influence on the Warriors is almost incalculable. He's the Warriors' quarterback on both sides of the court, showing preternatural ability to guard all five positions on defense and be one of the Warriors' chief playmakers on offense, where he's oftentimes a de-facto point guard.
But in these NBA Finals, he hasn't looked like the engine that drives Golden State. All in all, he's been pretty poor.
That incendiary shooting from the first three rounds of the playoffs — that's nowhere to be found: Green is shooting 35.6 percent from the field and 25 percent from beyond the arc in the Finals. The Cavs leave him more and more open each game — trusting that he won't hurt them with his shot. So far, that strategy has been rewarded.
Green is still rebounding, but his assists are down. As a true forward, he averaged seven assists per game in the regular season, a number he maintained in the first three rounds of the playoffs. But in these Finals, he's averaging fewer than five per game, and he's turning the ball over almost as often (three per contest).
But more concerning for the Warriors was Green's defense in Game 4. Green was all over the place in that closeout game. The Warriors have given Green the liberty to play a tremendous amount of "free safety" — he can freelance on the defensive side and allow his incredible defensive instincts to take over — but that backfired in Game 4. Green's roaming lacked it's typical purpose and vigor and the Cavs — one of the greatest shooting teams in NBA history (it's easy to forget that fact when they play Golden State) — torched the Warriors' defense.
Green has been plagued by foul troubles in the first four games as well, and that has unquestionably affected Mike Brown and now Steve Kerr's rotations. In all, the Warriors have only played the "Death Lineup" — now known as the Hamptons Five — for 12 minutes in this series. That's 23 possessions, total. Even though Kerr said Sunday that it's a lineup he's not keen to play for extended periods of time — "it's hard to play small-ball for 40 minutes" — 23 possessions is not nearly enough time on the court for what it arguably the best lineup in the NBA.
Before the series, I wrote that the most important key to victory for the Cavs was to take Draymond Green out of the contest. So far in these Finals, the Cavs have effectively done that. It speaks to Golden State's exceptionalness that they're up 3-1.
Green isn't going to change — love him or hate him, when it comes to his public persona, this is who he is. But the Warriors need him to get back to backing up his mouth with his play. The Warriors might be up 3-1, but we know that's no longer a safe lead in the NBA Finals, and the formula that put the Warriors in this position likely isn't sustainable for three more games.
Green can talk the talk, and the league and its fans are better off for it — but in these Finals, he needs to start walking the walk, too.