OAKLAND — How do you stop a unicorn? Draymond Green has the answer.
Kristaps Porzingis, the 21 year old, 7-foot-3 forward with the skills of a guard, entered the New York Knicks’ game against the Golden State Warriors averaging 20.6 points on 16.3 shots per game. And with their other two leading scorers taking a night off, the Knicks needed a magical performance out of their young star.
Enter Green, who has made Porzingis’ life difficult every time he’s faced the Warriors. In two contests during his rookie year, the fourth pick of the draft averaged 8 points on 31.25 percent shooting. That’s subpar for a player with his kind of skills.
“Right after the game was over [last season],” Porzingis told the New York Post, “I was thinking about when was the next time we were going to play against them again, I’m ready for [Green],”
Naturally, that comment irked Green and he used it as motivation, he said after the game on Thursday. As a result, Porzingis finished with eight points on 4-of-13 shooting.
Explaining why his unicorn had an off night, Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek pointed to the extra attention the Warriors were able to focus on Porzingis with Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony both sidelined. (Earlier in the day, Kevin Durant took credit for coining the “unicorn” nickname for Porzingis.)
“Draymond, he takes those challenges and he’s got quick hands,” Hornacek said. “He’s strong, so KP can’t really back him down. They did a good job of eliminating any of his open shots. They made him earn the shots he made. Credit to them.”
Count the shutdown of one of the NBA’s most promising young stars as another step in Green’s quest to win the Defensive Player of the Year award. Green has made a practice of propping up enemies to subsequently knock them down, using it as motivation to reach new heights.
Earlier this season, Dubs head coach Steve Kerr compared Green’s mental preparation of building adversaries to just Michael Jordan. All it took to get him started against the Knicks was for his Nike rep, Adrian Stelly, to show Draymond the quotes from Porzingis about wanting to go at the DPOY hopeful.
“[The comments] made me want to go a little harder this game and guard him,” Green said. “So, it was good. I appreciate him for showing me that because I think I was in La-la Land before he showed me that and it just immediately pissed me off.”
“I like the passion, I like the dog that he has, I like that you want to see me again, but keep that to yourself,” Green continued. “Don’t let everybody know that you’re going after me. So I guess we’re going to go after each other and that’s fine. I think he’s a great player. I think he will continue to get better and better, but that made it real personal.”
It worked to earn the Warriors their 23rd win of the season in 27 tries. Even if Kerr wasn’t overly impressed with the effort as a whole.
The team exhibited “very little interest defensively,” he said. “We’re probably lucky we played a team without a couple of its best players. But we looked tired and disinterested out there.”
Kerr’s assessment was accurate for the team as a whole, but not Green individually. Every time Porzingis caught the ball, he was pestered and pushed out of his comfort zone, which led to a night that was notably devoid of the young player’s signature cool style.
“I just wasn’t in my rhythm really,” Porzingis said. “Maybe [I was] a little too anxious, wanting to do too much.”
The Knicks never really had a chance. They were playing without the firepower they’d need to beat the Super Dubs. Things were so stacked against them, one of their buses got stuck in traffic, and Hornacek didn’t get to Oracle Arena until shortly before game time.
And things generally don’t work out for teams when Green has his motivation machine pumping. Whether the catalyst for his excitement is real or imaginary is irrelevant.