Barber: Draymond Green leads Warriors to 114-111 win over Trail Blazers

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OAKLAND — Draymond Green’s fifth foul came with 7:42 left in the game.

This wasn’t fabulous news for the Warriors, who trailed the Portland Trail Blazers 99-94 at the time — a deficit that would become 100-94 a moment later when Damian Lillard hit the free throw that Green’s fifth foul awarded him. It was bad news because Green, more than any other Warrior, was spearheading a comeback in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals.

The Blazers had led by as many 17 points. This game was their counterpunch. They had looked overmatched in Game 1 on Tuesday, or perhaps just exhausted after closing out a Game 7 in Denver just two days earlier. You knew the Trail Blazers would make a statement in Game 2, and they did.

And the Warriors? They did what they periodically do. They eased off the throttle.

In Game 1, Golden State had scored 17 fast-break points to Portland’s 2. In the first half of this one, it was the Trail Blazers who held a 13-2 edge in that statistic. They had more energy than the Warriors, and more aggression. The Blazers were blazing.

The tide turned in the third quarter, and it was Green who moved the waters. It was a group effort, of course.

But Green was in the eye of every little hurricane. He was the one grabbing rebounds and pushing the pace. He was the one attacking on defense, making the Trail Blazers settle for tough shots.

But he was fouling, too. He picked up No. 4 with 5:06 left in the third quarter and the Warriors down 71-70, and immediately shot Steve Kerr a look that said, “I am not coming out of this game.”

But less than a minute later, Kerr indeed pulled his point-guard-slash-power-forward-slash-assistant-coach from the floor. During that timeout, Green engaged in an animated discussion with veteran backup Shaun Livingston. My guess: He wasn’t thrilled with going to the bench, and had to vent to someone who wasn’t his boss.

“I mean, I don’t think anyone ever wants to come out when you pick up a foul that may take you out of the game,” Green said later. “Especially in a situation like this, where, you know, we’re on our home court fighting, try to go to Portland with a 2-0 lead.”

With Green leading the charge, the Warriors had mounted a 22-10 run in the third quarter. He sat out the rest of the period, and remained perched on a courtside chair when the fourth quarter began.

Green finally reentered the game with 8:04 to play, and managed to go exactly 22 seconds without fouling, until he caught a piece of Lillard’s arm near the basket. No way Kerr was going to subtract Green this time. The Warriors were already in a hole. It seemed unlikely they could make up ground without their drill sergeant.

“Just play,” Green said. “If I’m going to be out there and play timid, then I may as well go sit on the bench, you know?”

The rest is postseason history. The Warriors and Blazers went back and forth throughout a riveting, up-tempo fourth quarter and Golden State pulled out a 114-111 win. This was a game the underdog Trail Blazers desperately needed, and the Warriors had denied them.

And Green was fantastic. He finished the game with 16 points (hitting 8 of 12 shots), 10 rebounds, seven assists and five blocked shots. And as is usually the case with this athlete, the numbers don’t begin to tell the story.

Green forced the action at both ends of the court. He always does. He distributes from the top of the arc on offense, and he patrols the paint on defense, guarding the opposing big man while bouncing out to offer help on smaller players.

“His ability to get the rebound and push the ball and make the right decision is incredible,” Klay Thompson said of Green. “You’ve seen it. He’s a point guard out there in a power forward’s body, and when he goes, we go.”

But could Draymond be Draymond with those five fouls?

NBA players generally know when to be aggressive and when to back off. Green may be an exception, because he has only one speed. It can be a detriment. He gets suspended from time to time (including one crucial moment in the 2016 NBA Finals) because he can’t stop himself from barking at officials when he thinks he has been wronged. And his physical play leads to whistles. He fouled out as recently as Game 5 of the previous series, against Houston, the game in which Kevin Durant got hurt.

Thursday, though, Green somehow played like a monster for the final 7½ minutes without stepping over the line. With a little over 3 minutes left, he bounced a beautiful pass to Andre Iguodala for a layup that brought Golden State to within 108-105. The Warriors’ next points came on a lob pass from Green to Kevon Looney that barely cleared a defender’s hand. As the clocked ticked inside of 1 minute, Green sprinkled another lob to Looney, this one giving the Warriors a 112-111 lead.

“If I miss one of those, I know Draymond is going to be on me,” Looney said, accurately.

But the impressive part was Green’s defense. You could forgive him for being a little passive with those fouls. He wasn’t. He challenged shots inside, and repeatedly ventured outside to deny open shots. Green blocked an attempt by C.J. McCollum, Portland’s crafty guard, with 2:42 left, defended McCollum at the 3-point line on a miss with 1:45 remaining and contested McCollum’s running floater at the 0:32 mark.

“I play aggressive on the defensive side of the ball,” Green said. “So I can’t take that away, because everyone on our team is used to me playing aggressive on that side. So if I stopped that, they don’t know what to do because they are used to me playing a certain way. So I just gotta play and just try not to reach. You know, if I just move my feet and don’t reach, live with the results.”

The Trail Blazers, for their part, were going right at Green.

“I’m pretty confident that’s going to work out in our favor as a team,” Stephen Curry said. “… Doesn’t happen that often, but when it does and you see that, the fire in his eyes light up, gets us all going.”

These were risky defensive plays for a guy with five fouls. Green made it work. Fittingly, he scored the final points of the night, on a driving bank shot with 12 seconds left.

The fire had lit in Draymond Green’s eyes, and the Warriors are up 2-0 in the West finals.

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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