OAKLAND — Two weeks into the regular season, Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green said that his goal was to earn the Defensive Player of the Year award for the second time in his career.
“I need that bad,” he said after a 131-121 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Nov. 1, 2018.
For Green, 55 games into the year, his play hasn’t met his expectations. But on Tuesday night against the Utah Jazz in a likely playoff preview, Green would put his DPOY campaign back on the tracks by anchoring Golden State’s defense in a 115-108 win at Oracle Arena.
“It’s so hard to find anybody like Draymond, who can cover all five positions,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “He was amazing.”
On Tuesday morning, just hours ahead of the game’s 7:30 p.m. tip-off, Golden State had announced that Green was listed as questionable to play against Utah due to knee soreness. Contrary to that initial assessment, Green did in fact suit up to play after going through warm ups without issue.
Almost immediately, Green’s presence would be felt as the Warriors held the Jazz to just 14 points on 26 percent shooting in the first quarter, and forced eight turnovers in the first 12 minutes.
While his box score numbers did not reflect his true defensive impact, Green’s ability to rotate allowed Golden State to play some of its most suffocating defense. The Warriors were even able to contain Jazz shooting guard Donovan Mitchell to just two points on 1-of-7 shooting in the first quarter.
“He was just being active, being himself,” Golden State guard Stephen Curry said. “It’s kind of one of those ‘Draymond-esque’ games where his stat line is what it is, but his impact on the game, if you’re actually watching: He’s everywhere.”
While the Warriors dominated the game in the early goings, the Jazz responded well, outscoring Golden State 70-56 in the second and third quarters, including a 40-point outburst in the latter.
During the stretch, Mitchell would find his rhythm for Utah, scoring seven of his eventual 25 points, including a pair of back-to-back threes.
While Warriors forward Kevin Durant, guard Klay Thompson and Curry, who finished with 28, 24 and 22 point respectively, took on the burden of offensive producers, Green was left to anchor the defense.
Helping hold Utah to 38 percent from the field in the fourth, Green picked up the defensive intensity, adding a second block to his stat sheet on a 3-point attempt from Jazz wing Jae Crowder.
Green was able to get a full hand on the shot and successfully save the ball from sailing out of bounds on the baseline. The effort play would result in a 20-foot jump shot from Durant, giving the Warriors their first lead since the one-minute mark of the third quarter.
“When you’re out there on the floor, you’ve got to play,” Green said. “That’s what I did. Had to get what I could get.”
Taking the lead with 6:21 left to play in the game, the Warriors would never look back as their offensive attack overwhelmed the Jazz in the final half of the fourth quarter.
With the win over Utah, the Warriors gave the NBA a taste of what a potential playoff matchup would look like between the two Western Conference front runners. Perhaps more importantly for Green, however, thanks to his play, his name has been forcefully re-inserted into the DPOY conversation.
“I try to be great every time I step on the floor,” he said. “I’m starting to feel better, I have my legs under me. Starting to move a lot better and my defense is starting to look way better.”