It's exceedingly rare that any Golden State Warriors player shows up for a postgame press conference still in his uniform. Usually, they first take a shower, check their phones and maybe catch up with some family members meandering about the locker room entrance.
Not so on Monday night for Draymond Green, who only slipped a pair of shower shoes over his socks. Still clad in his sweat-soaked jersey, which sported a speck of someone's blood above the Warriors logo, Green met the media looking like he could still play an overtime or two.
But his defense against the Atlanta Hawks had rendered that scenario unnecessary. With two spectacular stops in the final minute, Green saved yet another a win, 105-100, for the Warriors, who are now a league-best 16-2 and riding a 12-game win streak into Thursday's showdown with James Harden and the high-scoring Houston Rockets.
For weeks now, Golden State head coach Steve Kerr has been trumpeting Green's defensive bona fides at every available opportunity, not so subtly campaigning on his behalf for the Defensive Player of the Year Award. (Green has placed second for that bit of hardware two years running, finishing runner-up both times to Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs.)
"That was amazing," Kerr said Monday of Green's end-of-game heroics. "I don't know if I've seen a sequence like that from one guy. The whole team was defending well, and we covered up shooters and switched well, but those two plays ended up with one-on-one plays against Draymond, and he blocks both shots off the other guys.
"Just an incredible defensive sequence. Draymond is amazing. He literally can guard anybody in the league from Dwight Howard to [Dennis] Schroder and everybody else in between."
Green himself has made no secret that he feels he's the NBA's best defensive player. If anything, his much-publicized suspension for Game 5 of last June's NBA Finals may have only further secured that belief in the minds of so many.
The Warriors, then and now, are simply a different defensive team without Green on the floor, scattered and less confident. It's the difference between treading water in the pool versus gunning for an Olympic-record time.
But Kevin Durant's celebrated arrival meant losing Andrew Bogut, Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli—three excellent defenders who could either protect the rim (Ezeli), defend larger players in the post (Barnes) or both (Bogut).
The idea that Golden State would now have to concentrate on outscoring its opponents rather than reinvent a defense that was No. 1 in efficiency just two seasons ago didn't sit well with the All-Star and Olympic gold medalist.
"I wouldn't necessarily say I have something to prove for [DPOY], more so because people have counted our defense out with Bogut leaving, and that kind of pisses me off," Green said after the win over Atlanta. "I've never been the guy to pride myself on [awards], but it'd be cool to win, absolutely. My goal coming into this season is to win a championship, and in order for us to win a championship, we have to defend.
"The world says we traded our defense away when we got [Durant]. I disagree. I think our defense actually has the upside to be better with our length that we have, the speed, the athleticism. So that pissed me off more than anything...I take that personally, so that pushes me more than anything else."
There's a little hyperbole baked into Green's thinking, but he's not far off. The Warriors are more reliant on length and positioning now, and the physicality that left with Bogut won't be replaced by his successor, Zaza Pachulia, or anyone else on this roster.
But Golden State's defense is getting the job done. Assistant coach Ron Adams has this team sitting eighth in defensive rating, allowing 101.5 points per 100 possessions. The Warriors are first in blocks per game and second in steals. Their defensive rebounding rate is still lousy—only the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks are worse—but Kerr can live with that for now.
Another factor pulling down the Warriors' metrics is the team's poor play in late-game garbage time, when the outcome is essentially decided and starters for both teams are bolted to the bench. To wit, Golden State has the third-best defensive rating in the first half of all games, while its fourth-quarter defensive rating falls all the way to No. 21.
Which brings us back to Green. When the Warriors have played tight fourth quarters with decisive moments, Green has played like a star.
Back on Oct. 30 against the Phoenix Suns, Devin Booker got separation from Stephen Curry so Green left his man, Tyson Chandler, to help defend the rim. Instead of allowing Booker to bank in a floater, Green blocked his shot and tried to slam the ball off him and out of bounds. Chandler dived to save the ball, only to have it roll toward Klay Thompson.
Then, with the Suns only down five, Green not only blocked Eric Bledsoe's layup attempt without committing a foul, but he forced a jump ball, which he then won with ease. Golden State also won, 106-100.
Two weeks later on Nov. 13, Green switched onto Booker, forcing the second-year Suns star to pass inside to rookie Marquese Chriss, who opted for a tough 13-foot turnaround over Thompson. After then going the other way, Green saved a pass from going over the midcourt line and ran a pick-and-roll with Curry for an easy slam to seal the eventual 133-120 victory.
On Nov. 19, with the Milwaukee Bucks down two late, Tony Snell was not exactly hiding the fact he wanted his inbounds pass to reach Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was posted up on Green. Not only did Green push Antetokounmpo out a couple of feet by the time the pass was lobbed, but he also got enough positioning to lean in over the top (without fouling) and deflect the ball to Thompson, thus securing a 124-121 win.
This was one of Green's less-heralded plays on Monday night against the Hawks. It didn't happen in the fourth, but it was no less important. Green did enough to distract Kent Bazemore in transition that he blew the layup and then committed a needless foul by slapping the ball out of Pachulia's hands.
How frustrated was Bazemore? After that sequence, the Hawks' $70 million combo guard had more fouls committed (three) than points scored (two) for the rest of the game.
Atlanta still had chances to win late, only down four with under a minute to play, but Green stalked Schroder on this possession like a predator through the high grass. He allowed just enough separation so that the refs wouldn't feel obliged to call a foul, even while using his left arm for leverage. The result was a double-block wherein the ball bounced off Schroder's head and out of bounds to give a critical possession back to Golden State.
With the score still 104-100, Bazemore split through Curry and Durant on the perimeter, only to meet up with a waiting Green, who blocked him and forced the ball out of bounds off his feet. The Hawks never scored again.
A lot of what Green does in these clips is not even directly reflected in the box score, at least not in his realm of the stat sheet. Sure, he gets a block or steal here and there. But his numbers against Atlanta? Four points, three rebounds and seven assists in 39 minutes.
Point is, there are so many dimensions to how Green can disrupt an opposing offense, and you have to watch to see them all. He's a player who, in all ways, demands your undivided attention—a deflection here, a jump ball there, a forced turnover late in the game. His defense alone was instrumental in at least the four wins outlined above. Not even 20 games into the season, that could have mammoth implications come playoff time.
"At the end of the day, you've always got to get stops to close the game out, and when you can be in the middle of all of it and try to create some conflict for the other team, it's a pretty good feeling," Green said after beating Atlanta.
If he keeps up this intensity, neither Green nor his coach will have to lobby hard for that elusive Defensive Player of the Year Award come June 26.
Warriors Insider Notebook
The Warriors captured their 12th straight victory with the win over Atlanta and continued one of the longest win streaks in franchise history.
The current march matches the dozen they won during the spring of 2015. The only streaks to top these are the 16 in a row recorded across November and December of 2014 and, of course, the 28 straight built on the back of last season's 24-0 start.
In other words, the four longest winning streaks for the Warriors—who have been around for 70 years and are one of the NBA's charter franchises—have all occurred since Kerr became head coach.
The Warriors are also the ninth team in NBA history to have a double-digit win streak during four consecutive seasons. Only the Seattle SuperSonics (five, 1992-97), Boston Celtics (five, 1970-75) and San Antonio Spurs (six, 2010-16) have posted longer multiyear streaks.
"Who cares who shoots?"
That was Durant's semi-rhetorical response on Monday night when asked how the offense seems so seamlessly spread out.
And so far, so good for Kerr's star players. With Curry, Durant and Thompson all averaging above 20 points per game, the Warriors would be the first NBA team to have a trio of 20-point scorers since, well, the Warriors of 2007-08, when Monta Ellis, Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson all joined the club.
Golden State may have snapped its franchise-record 10-game streak of 30 assists or more, but they still have a run of games with 25-plus assists still active.
After only chipping in 24 dimes on opening night against the Spurs, the Warriors have hit at least 25 during every game since.
That 17-game streak is now second all-time in Warriors' history and just three away from the top mark set across the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons.
Erik Malinowski is the Golden State Warriors lead writer for B/R. Quotes are obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. You can follow him on Twitter at @erikmal. All stats via NBA.com/Stats and Basketball-Reference.com and are accurate through Nov. 29, 2016.
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