Draymond Green Proving He's Warriors' Most Irreplaceable Player

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 19, 2019

PORTLAND, OREGON - MAY 18: Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors dribbles against CJ McCollum #3 of the Portland Trail Blazers during the second half in game three of the NBA Western Conference Finals at Moda Center on May 18, 2019 in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

As long as the Golden State Warriors keep winning without him, there'll be room for debate about Kevin Durant's value.

But in the wake of Draymond Green's top-down, front-to-back, mind-body-and-soul takeover during the Dubs' 110-99 Game 3 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday, there is no disputing his irreplaceability. 

"It was one of the best games I've ever seen Draymond play," Steve Kerr said during his postgame press conference

Green finished Saturday's contest with 20 points, 13 rebounds, 12 assists and four steals in 38 electrifying minutes. It was his seventh career playoff triple-double and third in this postseason alone. Though it's very often the case that Green's numbers don't tell the story of his impact, that was especially true in Game 3.

Yes, even with numbers as eye-popping as those.

Several of his most meaningful plays didn't culminate in him scoring. He triggered the end-to-end sequence that gave the Warriors their first lead of the night, starting with a tough contest on a Damian Lillard drive and then making a full-court sprint that produced a Kevon Looney layup.

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The end-to-end stretch finished an 18-6 run that gave the Warriors the lead after they trailed by as many as 18 points in the first half.

When Jordan Bell missed a breakaway dunk that could have sent him spiraling, Green was in his ear, preventing the nosedive with some positivity.

Though saying so might rob Bell of a bit too much agency, it's hard to divorce Green's pep talk from the way Bell bounced back from his blunder. The second-year big man remained in the game after his botched slam and converted his next dunk attempt (using two hands to remove any doubt) and turned in a clutch block to preserve the Warriors' 82-79 lead at the third-quarter buzzer.

Green wasn't just pushing the pace. He was pushing his teammates, goading them on with his words and his play. If his upbeat chatter wasn't enough, it seemed as though he decided to play so hard that anyone performing at a lower level of intensity would look lazy by comparison.

He chose the right night, as this was the type of game the Warriors could have been excused for letting slip away. They were up 2-0 and, perhaps rightfully so, didn't have reason to feel threatened by a Blazers team that was showing fatigue even before Green ran them into the ground. Had Golden State lost on Saturday, it still could have secured a Game 4 win and gone home to ice the series.

But now the Blazers are on the cliff's edge because Green shoved them onto that precipice.

Sure, Stephen Curry seized control in the fourth quarter, flinging daggers en route to 36 points on 11-of-26 shooting. But without Green practically forcing the rest of the Warriors to keep hold of a rope that was rapidly slipping from their grasp early on, it's hard to know if Curry's late surge would have mattered—or if he'd have even been on the floor if this game had continued down the path it was on when Portland held that 18-point lead in the second quarter.

Maybe that feels like a stretch, crediting Green for Curry's closing blitz, but his was one of those infectious efforts that touched every corner of the game. Green's relentless pace-pushing kept the Warriors within striking distance during that otherwise lackluster first half, and when he slammed the pedal down even harder after the break, it broke the Blazers.

It also earned Green plenty of plaudits, like this:

And this:

And this:

A cursory look through coverage of this dynasty will yield a dozen instances of some Warriors figure—Kerr, Curry, you name it—calling Green the team's heart and soul. But that sells him short in the anatomy department. He's the guts and brains, too. The player who intuits what his team needs and figures out how to deliver it.

"When we have Steph, Klay [Thompson], KD, DeMarcus [Cousins], I don't need to play like that," Green said in his postgame presser on NBA TV. "I take it upon myself to be the guy to give that up."

Unless you count his 12 dimes, Green gave nothing up on Saturday. Instead, he took the series.

So with the Warriors having effectively ended this thing (unless a wiped-out Blazers team becomes the first to ever erase a 3-0 deficit in a seven-game engagement), we can look ahead and ask the usual questions.

When will Kevin Durant be back, and in what form?

Will KD's re-integration into a team that has rediscovered some three-year-old magic without him prove difficult?

How can Golden State stop Giannis Antetokounmpo or Kawhi Leonard (but, come on, it'll be Giannis)?

Those answers will be difficult to come by, and there's only so much Green can do to grease the skids for Durant's return. But maybe the more important thing to consider in all this is that Green, the guy whose public spat with Durant in November nearly pulled the team apart, is the one currently holding everything together.


Stats courtesy of Basketball-ReferenceNBA.com and Cleaning the Glass unless otherwise indicated.