OAKLAND — When Stephen Curry returned to the Golden State Warriors lineup on Dec. 1 against the Detroit Pistons, the two-time defending NBA champions began to finally look like themselves after going 5-6 without their All-Star point guard. But something else still seemed to be missing.
During that same time span, Curry’s fellow All-Star and former Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green was also sidelined, resulting in a muddied, often predictable offensive attack.
On Monday night, Green made his return to the floor at Oracle Arena, allowing the Warriors to rediscover their electric, gritty and joyful style of basketball in a 116-108 win over the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves.
“We just played with a faster pace. That’s the main thing” said Warriors head coach Steve Kerr. “Within the first few minutes, we looked different…. He gives us a different dimension and we’re happy to have him back.”
Before the game on Monday, Kerr mentioned that while Green would be in the starting lineup for the first time since Nov. 17 against the Dallas Mavericks, he would be on a minutes restriction. The plan, according to Kerr, was to play Green in spurts to get him acclimated from a conditioning standpoint.
Green’s first spurt came in the form of a six-minute stint to begin the first quarter. His impact was felt almost immediately as the Warriors first basket came off of a Curry three, courtesy of a Green assist.
Green also got the Warriors out in transition early in the first quarter, helping Golden State build a 13-0 lead four minutes into the game.
“He got a couple of rebounds and pushed the ball,” Kerr said. “Everybody else was like ‘Oh yeah, we’ve got to run, Draymond’s got the ball,’ and he was out ahead of the play a couple of times.”
While Green jump-started the pace of the game for Golden State, he also provided a shot of adrenaline for the Oracle crowd with circus-style passing.
With four seconds remaining in the second half, Curry threw a lob to Green under the basket. But instead of finishing with an easy layup, Green rocketed a pass to an anticipating Klay Thompson for a buzzer-beating three.
“Realistically, I was gassed. I had no energy to go for the layup and I saw Klay open so I just threw the ball,” Green said after the game with a wide smile on his face. “The road of less miles traveled. One more dribble probably would have taken me out.”
Clearly, Kerr’s concern about Green’s conditioning was well-founded, but in typical Green fashion, the three-time NBA champion found enough energy to continue his stat-sheet-stuffing night in the second half.
Along with assisting Curry — who would finish with a game-high 38 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the 3-point line — and Thompson, Green was also able to get some of the Warriors role players going.
One of Green’s beneficiaries was Alfonzo McKinnie, who made an appearance in his second straight game after missing nine consecutive games with a foot injury, not unlike Green.
“It was great, we were all excited and you can tell he was excited. He’s a key piece to this team,” McKinnie said. “Just him being out there boosts everyone’s energy.”
Of McKinnie’s three baskets, two came directly from Green’s passes. The first was an uncontested layup from a Green bullet pass, and the other, a corner 3-pointer off of a Thompson assist, which was generated by a Green entry pass.
In 29-and-a-half minutes played, Green finished the night with seven points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. Most importantly, the Warriors secured their nineteenth win of the season and their fourth straight.
While Green said he was ecstatic to get back out of the floor, playing the game wasn’t what he missed most during his absence.
“I think House of Highlights posted a video of Russell [Westbrook] and Patrick Beverley arguing back and forth. And all the way at the bottom, Gilbert Arenas commented and said, ‘This is what we all miss when we leave the game.’” Green said. “That’s what I missed while I was out: The trash talk back and forth with other guys, going at a referee, challenging teammates, being in a fight. That’s why we play this game.”