OAKLAND — After setting a hard screen for Klay Thompson, Draymond Green rolled to the paint with just over four minutes left in Game 2 of the Golden State Warriors’ Western Conference Semifinal series against the Houston Rockets.
Thompson, now free, didn’t take a shot, but rather hit a bounce pass to Green for a two-handed jam. As Green roared to the crowd, putting the Warriors up by 12 in what would end up being a 115-109 win, the crowd roared back.
In a physical, free-flowing game — in short, the kind of game Green tends to dominate — and after three days of hearing about the officiating, about how they escaped with a win because of bad (or unmade) calls, the Warriors came out with energy, focus and intensity. Behind a stat-stuffing effort from Green and all five Warriors starters scoring in double figures, Golden State took a commanding 2-0 series lead over the Rockets.
“He’s an All-Star for a reason,” Houston head coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He’s really good. Kind of a point guard at the center or forward position. He plays well. He’s a heck of a player.”
There was little of the acrimony, complaining to and lobbying officials that was seen in Game 1, and in the early goings, both teams played a physical brand of basketball dominated by Green’s frenetic energy.
In the span of the first six minutes, both Curry (dislocated his finger blocking a lob from Chris Paul to Clint Capela) and James Harden went down and had to exit the game, but the Warriors had already built a nine-point lead thanks to seven early turnovers from the Rockets, and were able to somewhat withstand the loss of Curry.
Houston had a bit more trouble after an inadvertent finger to Harden’s eye on the part of Green forced the reigning MVP to leave the court with 6:27 to go in the first with a laceration in his left eyelid. Green followed Harden, apologizing, and Kevin Durant patted his former Oklahoma City teammate on the chest.
“I made a mistake and hit him in the eye,” Green said. “It’s not about hurting anybody out there. So many times, people forget, when a guy have an injury, you live with that every day … It’s not just about this game … At the end of the day, it’s bigger than basketball when it comes to injuries.”
“He’s checking on his ‘me,’” said Chris Paul.
“I mean, what do you want me to say?” Harden said. “He asked me if I was alright. I was like, ‘Yeah.’”
Once both teams got back to work, Golden State pushed the lead to as many as 12, and led 29-20 after one quarter.
By the time Harden returned to the bench with just under 10 minutes left in the second quarter, though, Golden State had failed to take full advantage, and saw its lead shrink to just four, as Curry missed four straight from beyond the arc.
With an offensive rebound by Alfonzo McKinnie leading to a Durant jumper, a McKinnie dunk and a Klay Thompson three, Golden State expanded its lead to 38-31 as Harden re-entered with 7:09 to go before the half.
Golden State answered by returning the starting Hamptons Five to the floor, and Green continued to find a way to impact all facets of the game, despite only scoring seven points in the first 21 minutes of play.
Green — who re-made his body in-season by hiring a personal chef and a nutritionist, cutting out snaks and alcohol — showed just what dropping 23 pounds in six weeks can do.
“The last three or four games, in terms of his decisiveness, energy and effort, plugging holes on defense, finding his lanes on the offensive end to drive, to finish when he’s open, the confidence that’s pouring out of him is contagious for us,” Curry said. “It allows us to continue to build momentum throughout the course of the game.”
Green maintained order and continued to lock down Capela while pulling down seven rebounds and dish out five assists (including a couple hockey assists) during that 21-minute span, adding two steals before the half was over. This postseason, he’d averaged eight rebounds, eight assists and 1.7 steals per game, averaging 36.1 minutes. After growing the lead to 14, Golden State went into the locker room with a 58-49 lead.
“They’re never out of games because of the 3-point shooting,” Durant said. “Guys that can penetrate, get to the free throw line, they can stop the clock, speed the game up with their style of play. No lead is safe against this team. We know that … I like how we stayed poised.”
Golden State was only able to turn the Rockets over three times in the third, but swelled the lead to 15 as they held Houston to just 7-of-19 from the field, with Harden going 0-for-4.
“Can’t see nothing,” Harden said, squinting into the lights of the post-game interview room, both eyes red. “Barely can see.”
As the Rockets went on an 8-0 run to close the third quarter, Green and Nene got tangled up under the basket and glared at one another, earning double technicals. Green sat. It was Green’s fourth tech of the playoffs. Three more, and he will be suspended for one game. With Golden State’s lead cut to just three with just over seven minutes to go in regulation, Green re-entered.
After Curry hit a hesitation three from the right wing, he found Green in the paint on his next trip down, and Green quickly lobbed the ball up for an Iguodala dunk, pushing the lead to 98-90.
“He’s grown so comfortable playing that high screen with Steph, with the amount of attention Steph gets, sometimes Draymond gets that ball in the pocket and it’s four-on-three,” Kerr said. With the lineup, with Andre out there, with two shooters on the wings, it puts a lot of stress on the defense. Draymond has great touch on that lob pass. It’s fun to see when they connect like that.”
After the jam off the feed from Thompson, Green hit a lay-up with just under two minutes to go, giving him 15 points. He pumped his right arm and barked to the crowd. He finished with 12 rebounds, seven assists and two steals. He accounted for five of the Warriors’ 18 offensive rebounds, compared to 10 for the Rockets. Green also helped hold Harden to just 9-of-19 from the floor, and played a part in Golden State’s disciplined defense: Harden only got to the free throw line nine times.