OAKLAND -- After the Golden State Warriors finally closed out the scrapping New Orleans Pelicans 97-87 in Game 2, Klay Thompson got the national TV interview. Draymond Green, whose defense was astounding on Monday night, talked for the local feed. It happened that way because that’s how we’ve always done things. If you scored the most points and your team won, you’re getting the biggest spotlight. It’s the formula because scoring a basket is obvious and preventing one is less obvious.
Though Thompson certainly deserves acclaim for a great shooting game, this particular space will mostly be reserved for crediting Green, fulcrum of a Golden State defense that held New Orleans to 37.8 percent shooting. Green’s overall defense on Monday night was brilliant, but most especially against Anthony Davis. Their battles echo those of the shorter Tony Allen throwing everything at Kevin Durant -- the undersized grinder going up against young Goliath.
In theory, this should have been too large a task for Green, who’s the size of a wing player. “It's tough, man,” he said after the game. “Most guys I give up length to who I guard, most them aren't as quick as me though.”
Guarding Davis is tricky, but not for obvious reasons. Green has mentioned that Davis lacks a “go-to move,” but this is hardly an insult. Davis is incredibly talented, but just learning tendencies. It means that defending Davis is highly unpredictable and difficult, like trying to corral a loose fire hose. “It's always tough because he's not the type that's really trying to back me down,” Green explains.
The only formula Green presents for quelling a player that long, that athletic and that skilled, is taking away the easy options and letting fatigue do its work. “You’re making him take tough shots. Eventually he [wears] down. And once he starts to wear down, those tough shots don't go in as easily.”
Davis made difficult shots to open this game, but eventually, the work required to get open took its toll. In the fourth quarter, Davis, who played 45 total minutes, went 0-of-5 against Green as the Pelicans’ offense sputtered. “It's a 48-minute marathon,” Green said. “It's not a 12-minute race. So, for 48 minutes you've got to continue to grind and grind and grind.”
To Green, a defensive performance like this is something akin to the slow ebb of crumbling the wall in Shawshank Prison. Every bit of defensive effort is an investment in ultimately, finally breaking the offensive player.
To provide every bit of defensive effort, Green needs to remain on the court. Though flanked by All-Stars, the former second-round pick has emerged as the guy Steve Kerr cannot bench. Kerr is struggling to find breathers for Green, and when he does find the time, Green isn’t exactly breathing easy.
Of Kerr briefly benching him, Green said, “He took me out, three minutes to go in the first quarter and I was over there hot. He came over, said, ‘Whatchu' [ticked] off about?' I said, 'You took me out the game! Anthony Davis still in the game! Why are you taking me out!'”
Kerr assured Green there was a method to the madness, and Green trusted his coach. This has been their relationship all season: A screaming, cursing back-and-forth, steeped in mutual respect. Though the Warriors fell further behind during Green’s breather, they eventually came back, and Green’s energy overtook the gassed Davis, who finished with 26 points on 9-for-22 shooting.
On the game, Green was a plus-24, despite making only four shots. Can a guy who made only four shots be the hero? To anyone who watched Monday night, the answer is obvious.