OAKLAND — All eyes are on Draymond Green in these NBA Finals.
The 6-foot-7 Golden State Warriors forward has been his team’s MVP through these playoffs. Now the Cleveland Cavaliers roll into town for the title round, serving as a reminder of when Green was suspended last season to leave the Dubs unable cap their 73-win season with another ring.
Green had his best performance of the season in Game 7 last year, when the Cleveland Cavaliers broke the hearts of roughly 19,596 fans in Oracle Arena. On the box score at least, that dominance didn’t carry over into the opener of this year’s championship round — which the Warriors won 113-91 — as he started 0-for-5 from the field.
“Shots won’t always fall,” Green said. “I put a lot of work in. I want to continue to shoot the basketball, and I know they will fall eventually. But as long as I can make an impact on the game somehow, that’s all I ever really care about.”
Golden State didn’t miss a beat after two early fouls forced Green to the bench midway through the first quarter. Instead of falling into bad habits on defense, the Dubs extended a lead over the Cavs that they wouldn’t give back.
And by the time Green checked back in at the beginning of the second, he was back to his normal self: Denying Kevin Love’s several attempts at the rim and starting the break with a pinpoint outlet pass that turned into one of many breakaway dunks for Kevin Durant.
Therein lies the beauty of this team: Green doesn’t have to produce on the offensive end for the Warriors to dominate. He can fulfill his role as the inevitable Defensive Player of the Year and leave the scoring to the MVPs.
All they need to do is focus on the “possession game” — the biggest focus of Steve Kerr’s coaching staff all season — which means committing fewer turnovers and winning the battle on the offensive boards.
On those two fronts, the Warriors were undeniable: The Cavs gave possession away 20 times while Golden State set a franchise record for fewest turnovers in a postseason game with four. At the same time, the Dubs had one fewer rebound than Cleveland, despite playing a smaller lineup.
Green went out and grabbed a team-high 11 boards, which limited Tristan Thompson to his worst game of the postseason (0 points, 4 rebounds). More than that, Green created extra possessions, like in the third quarter, when he dove on the floor over the outstretched arms of some Cavaliers who weren’t ready for the intensified effort.
Acting head coach Mike Brown credited that play for being the “catalyst” that sparked the Warriors’ decisive run.
“We was victims of ourselves, for one. We had 20 turnovers,” LeBron James explained after the game. “And there’s no way you’re going to win a ball game having 20 turnovers against this team and on the road.”