By C.J. Peterson
Special to S.F. Examiner
OAKLAND — As he left the floor midway through the fourth quarter, Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green was met by a standing ovation from Oracle Arena. Only seconds before, Green had helped force three New Orleans Pelicans turnovers, after being called for a blocking foul while attempting to draw a charge on Julius Randle.
It hasn’t been a smooth start for Green. After various ailments forced him to miss 12 games last season, a bothersome knee limited him to three games in the preseason. Over the first eight games of 2018-19, Green gradually regained his conditioning, and on Wednesday, against the second-highest scoring offense in the league, he finally looked like the player who won the 2016-17 NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
“I’m pretty sure he woke up this morning that way” said Warriors forward Kevin Durant. “The moment he wakes up on game day, he’s going to display that energy.”
As the bona fide defensive anchor for Golden State, Green assisted in the containment of a perennial MVP candidate Anthony Davis, as the Warriors opened a three-game homestand with a 131-121 win over New Orleans on Wednesday night.
“It feels way different. It’s more enjoyable,” Green said. “Last season, I think we went into the season with the wrong mindset.”
Green orchestrated Golden State’s defense attack for the majority of the night. While directing traffic, Green was also tasked with switching onto both front court and backcourt players throughout the game.
From holding his ground on the post against New Orleans’ bigs like Randle, Nikola Mirotic and E’Twaun Moore, Green was also forced to step out to the perimeter to defend the Pelicans’ guards. This included Jrue Holiday, who would lead New Orleans in scoring with 28 points.
Perhaps Green’s toughest assignment of the evening, though, was defending Davis, who made his return to game-action after missing his last two games with a right elbow strain. Green, Kevon Looney and Damian Jones held the five-time All-Star to just 6-of-16 shooting, and 17 points on the night, well below his season average of 27.3 points per game.
“I think we mixed in some good fires, some good double teams … we kept him off balance a little bit,” Green said. “Looney did a good job on him, DJ [Damian Jones], when he zoned in did a great job, too.”
For as stellar as Green was defensively, not everything went his way on Wednesday night. At the 9:43 mark of the fourth quarter, Green attempted to slide in front of a leaping Randle in front of the basket — and outside of the restricted area — to draw a charge.
Taking a knee to the crotch in the process, Green was subsequently called for a blocking foul, adding insult to injury. But rather than argue the call, Green channeled his anger and displeasure to raise his defensive intensity that much higher.
The result: Three New Orleans turnovers in their next five possessions, all of which forced in one way or another by Green. Golden State would convert said turnovers into five points, increasing a 10-point lead to 15.
“You just find energy in different things and how you direct your energy towards different things. That’s been kind of a point of emphasis for me this year,” Green said. “To waste all of my energy arguing with the referees about the call, it’s not going to change. So just turn the page to the next play and try to make something happen.”
Finishing the night with 16 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists, head coach Steve Kerr called Green the best player on the floor. For the three-time All-Star, Wednesday night’s performance was mostly about starting his campaign to reclaim his title as the most dominant defensive player in the NBA, after being snubbed from even a First-Team All-Defense nod last season.
“I need that bad,” Green said in regards to achieving the DPOY nod this season. “I made Second-Team All-Defense last year. I’m pissed off about that still. I’ll be pissed about that until I right that … Second Team All-Defense; that’s disrespectful.”