OAKLAND — When Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green was asked during his post-game press conference about TNT commentator Charles Barkley’s assertion that he’d like to punch Green in the face, he said, “I think a lot of guys talk on TV … The fact of the matter is, if you feel that strongly about it, then punch me out when you see me.”
“You ain’t going to punch me when you see me, then stop talking about it, period,” Green continued. Then, he dropped the mic. Literally.
It was that kind of night for the Warriors’ resident pot-stirrer, who got into verbal sparring matches with New Orleans forward Nikola Mirotic and point guard Rajon Rondo on his way to an 18-point, 12-assist, nine-rebound night in Golden State’s 121-116 Western Conference Semifinals win on Tuesday.
“I don’t think he got under anyone’s skin; he’s a good player,” said Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry. “He gets under your skin because he almost has a triple-double. Our guys know who he is and what he’s about, so you just continue to play … Where he’s effective is, he ends up with almost a triple-double, so that’s what you worry about. You don’t worry about the things that he’s saying.”
Anthony Davis, who struggled dealing with Green’s physicality and got tied up with him in the third quarter, leading to a double technical, mumbled that Green is such a good rebounder because “he’s the only big who plays … somebody’s got to rebound.”
While Stephen Curry’s return on Tuesday from a sprained MCL provided the headlines for the win, it was Green — as he so often does — who did the dirty work as Golden State took 2-0 series advantage.
“I live for playoff basketball,” Green said. “It’s my favorite time of year.”
Green started slow, going just 0-for-2 with a double dribble turnover and a kicked ball over the first 17:16. By halftime, though, was the only starter not on the wrong side of the plus-minus ledger. He had more assists — seven — than the next two Warriors combined. After that 0-for-2 start, he went 7-for-9 from the floor.
In the second quarter, Green had stood tall in the lane to alter a 19-foot jumper by Rondo with 8:12 to go in the first half, leading to a Shaun Livingston run-out, and eventually a Thompson 20-footer to give the Warriors a 40-38 lead.
A drop-back pass from Curry at the top of the key led to a Green dunk, giving Golden State a 53-52 lead, and a one-handed jam from Green with 30 seconds to go in the first half tied things up at 55-55.
“I just had to bring some force,” Green said. “We were playing soft that first quarter.”
As Green walked off the court at halftime, following Klay Thompson’s buzzer-beating three off the glass, he and Rondo shared a few words. The two got close enough that Rondo’s face was in the crook of Green’s neck, eventually having to be separated.
When asked about Rondo earlier in the day, at the Warriors’ practice facility, Green had been complimentary.
“That’s what basketball is missing,” he said. “They try to force all the guys with edge, out.”
Less than two minutes into the second half, Green assisted on a Nick Young 26-footer to give the Warriors a 63-55 lead — the biggest of the night for either team, up to that point.
With 4:33 left in the third, Green and Kevin Durant bodied up one another in mid-air as Durant went for a defensive rebound. Underneath was Davis, and as Green came down, the two got tangled up. As Green tried to extricate himself, the two only got more entwined, and both were called for technical fouls.
A flagrant foul by Solomon Hill on Andre Iguodala on the other end resulted in a split pair at the line, and then Green hit a 16-footer to give the Warriors a 76-70 lead.
With three fouls, though, Green had to sit for the final 3:44 of the third quarter, and the Pelicans hung around, trailing by just two headed into the fourth quarter.
Eighteen seconds into the final stanza, Green stepped up and hit his first three-pointer of the night on the left wing. Two possessions later, after his fourth personal foul, he went back to the same spot and hit another, bringing Oracle Arena to its feet and giving the Warriors the ead in a game that was tied 11 times, and saw 13 lead changes.
“Those two threes he hit to start the fourth quarter were probably the two biggest shots in the game,” said head coach Steve Kerr. “We were kind of struggling, and the ball found its way to Draymond, so those were big shots. Draymond’s been just phenomenal throughout the playoffs. He’s been saving himself for the playoffs … You can tell the difference in the intensity from a lot of our guys, but Draymond, in particular.”
After the second three, Green raised his arms to the crowd as the Warriors took a 94-86 lead with 11 minutes to go.
“He yells and screams and intimidates,” Kerr said. “All of the above. He does it all.”