SAN FRANCISCO — Draymond Green flipped off his TV just minutes before the Warriors’ easy Game 3 win over the Kings last Thursday, left his house, fought ring traffic and arrived at Chase Center with one thing on his mind.
“Where’s Steve?” he shouted to a staffer as he stabbed his head in the Warriors’ locker room about 20 minutes after the final buzzer. Draymond soon found Curry in the training room, finishing with a blast victory. The two captains of that team then put their heads together and immediately began planning Game 4.
Draymond had an idea after watching the game: Why would anything change from the starting lineup that rocked the Kings in Game 3 with Draymond suspended? Why force everyone else to bench to make room for them in Game 4?
And urgently wanted to run everything past Carrie. (Aside from talking strategy, Draymond also wanted to celebrate Curry’s stellar performance in Game 3) The result: Steve Kerr, who was thinking along the same lines, didn’t start Draymond in Game 4 on Sunday and at times Draymond alternated with Kevon Looney, who kept More shooters on the ground, as in Game 3, and the Warriors hold on to defeat the Kings, 126-125, to even the series, 2-2.
Looney played well, which is no surprise. Jordan Paul, who would have been left out of the starting lineup if Draymond had returned, played well. And Draymond started the second half alongside Looney (and with Poole out), which is when the Warriors dominated this game. Although the Warriors nearly brought it back in the last minute on a blunder when Curry called a timeout after the Warriors had each served (Kerr took the blame for not telling his players the timeout count), this victory was exactly what the Warriors needed to put the Kings on their heels heading into Game 5. Wednesday in Sacramento.
Here’s why it’s an instant part of Warriors lore: Draymond volunteered to get a seat on the bench following Andre Iguodala who lost his spot at the start of the Kerr era, and Curry agreed to come off the bench in the first four games of last year’s Denver series when he was returning from injury and out. Kevon Looney from the squad his entire career.
This is how warriors have always done things in this era. Find out the best thing to do to win the next match. So do it. And the informal Curry-Draymond summit meeting was another example of how they work through things when they absolutely have to.
“This is nothing new,” Curry told me after a post-game press conference for a strategy session. “We always have that kind of conversation. In the playoffs, it’s a little more fun because you’re trying to figure out the chess pieces for a certain series. But back at the Memphis barbecue in 2015 (before) Game 4, we always have those conversations.”
Curry is, of course, referring to his legendary mind-relaxing dinner at the Blues City Café with Draymond, David Lee and Festus Eiseli right after the Warriors lost Game 3 to the Grizzlies and trailed the series 2-1. After that, the Warriors swept the next three games and went on to win their first title in the era.
No one knows how the Warriors will do in the rest of this series or the rest of the postseason, but if Curry is conjuring up the City Blues legend, something significant happened when he and Draymond met after Game 3. Curry, so it’s important to every part of the Warriors universe.
There was a lot going on—Draymond’s battle with the league office, the Warriors fell 2-0 and then broke through at home in Game 3—and the understanding that a loss in this series could be the beginning of the end for this dynasty group. So Draymond had to go back to the arena to meet up with Curry. Two future Hall of Famers had to keep this going.
“I don’t think a decision was made at that point, but he seemed relatively excited about what he saw in terms of what adjustments we’d be able to make tonight,” Carey said. “I think mobilizing that energy was difficult for him; I know he missed being there. But it also gave him a different perspective within the series that helped him.”
After Draymond and Curry decided it might have been a good idea, Draymond went to Kerr’s office that night and told him he would be fine if Kerr wanted to keep Draymond out of the starting lineup on Sunday. Kerr agreed. And the move was done.
“I thought it was the right thing to do, and Steve thought it was the right thing to do,” said Draymond Sunday. “I mean, I think No. 1, that’s what we’ve always been. You have guys on this team who care about winning hard and about the team, and if you’re a guy who’s not that way, you’re sticking out the thumb because that’s the culture here.
“For me, it was so easy. We won (Game 3) so easily. You’ll walk in the door like, ‘Guys, I’m back, this is where I am.’ Sitting with me and watching that game, I thought that was the best, and I thought it was as clear as day, and I thought I could see that from a mile away. Literally, a mile away.”
What was Kerr thinking when Draymond made the proposal?
“It didn’t surprise me because I know at heart Draymond just wants to win,” Kerr said. “For all his feelings and his passion and the things he gets into with the league or the opposition or the officials, it all comes from a place of competitive desire. He’s one of the great competitors I’ve ever been with. He’s one of the smartest players I’ve ever had.
“It didn’t surprise me because he realized the same thing I did, which made it a lot easier. The fact that he came up and suggested it, that makes it a lot easier, and then we go from there. … We always collaborate. The decisions we make are collaborative with our key players. … it goes down.” Steve off the bench – four games last year against Denver. (Andrew Wiggins) came off the bench in the first game. You do everything you have to do, and I thought Draymond had a great second half, he really pushed himself.”
In the second half, Draymond also got the job of guarding De’Aaron Fox, who was by far the Kings’ MVP this series. After scoring 21 points on 9-of-16 shooting in the first half, Fox made just 5 of 15 shots in the second half. He didn’t stop Draymond Fox completely, but neither will. It was just a different look, Kerr said, and he knew Draymond would love a challenge.
Now the Warriors will have to decide how to handle this for Game 5 and beyond. It seems very likely that Kerr will put Draymond back in the starting lineup for the rest of the postseason, but the Warriors are 0-2 in this series with Draymond in the starting lineup and now 2-0 with Poole in that spot to start games. . (Of course, the two losses were in Sacramento and the two victories were in the Chase.)
My guess: Draymond and Looney will start together in Game 5, with Poole on the bench, but there could be quick substitutions if things start badly for the Warriors.
Naturally, Kerr won’t say what he’s going to do in Game 5, and Draymond said he’ll be fine with whatever Kerr decides — he added that he played 31 minutes (with 12 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists) in Game 4, anyway.
“If that’s what Coach thinks and that certainly works,” Draymond said. “I had to watch the movie and see how it all plays out throughout this game. But if it’s true, it’s true and I don’t care. I play the same amount of minutes I usually do and it doesn’t really matter. That’s kind of my mentality.”
Along these lines, Draymond was also whistled for a technical foul in the first quarter (along with Fox) for a bit of barking just 55 seconds after first checking in. It was his first action since being ejected in Game 2 for a foul on Flagrant 2 and subsequently suspended, when the league made a point of noting his “history of unsportsmanlike actions”.
Was the quick technical error a message to everyone watching it? Well that’s right.
“I’m still here. I’m still here, and no technology gets me out of my square,” said Draymond. “You know, Fox felt the need to defend his man. I respect her. I respect that 100 percent. But I’m still here, and nothing’s going to change me. It has been this way for 33 years. I pray that it will be like this for 33 more, and it won’t just be basketball. This ends. But I am what I am, and everything else is what it is.
And if Draymond ever had to miss a game again, which he had already said would almost certainly happen, he would watch the game with interest. He’ll race to talk to Carey and others after he’s done. Then he will say what he thinks. He will come up with a strategy. This may include starting the next match. Maybe not. They are usually smart. Usually this is exactly what Steve Kerr would do. And more often than not, the warriors will win.
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(Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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