OAKLAND – At the rim, Draymond Green was saying in review, in the aftermath of winning both mid-air duels, “It’s mano-a-mano, man-against-man. Who is going to win the battle? It’s just a different type of emotion.”
Perfect, then, because Green just happens to specialize in different types of emotions. He had historic numbers Sunday afternoon, opened the playoffs with a near triple-double in Oracle Arena, flexed and screamed and chest-thumped through emotional moments as the Golden State Warriors pulled away from the Portland Trail Blazers in the fourth quarter for a 121-109 victory. Those showdowns at the iron, though.
Portland’s Noah Vonleh attacked the basket a little more than halfway through the third quarter and lost the joust, Green’s hand pressed into the ball pressed into pressed into Vonleh’s hand to protect Golden State’s one-point lead.
Portland’s Damian Lillard attacked the basket at about the same stage of the fourth quarter and lost the game of chicken, that mano-a-mano Green described, one of many standout moments down the stretch for a Warriors defense that turned the 91-88 edge at the start of the period into the 12-point victory and 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven first-round series that continues Wednesday night in Oracle.
Good luck finding many better days for the two-time All-Star and contender for Kia Defensive Player of the Year. The win, of course. And the stats: 19 points while making six of 10 shots, 12 rebounds, nine assists, five blocks and three steals, a stack of stats no one had reached in playoff history since blocks and steals were first recorded in 1973-74. But Green also got the emotional high of the head-to-head, the confrontation competitors thirst for, the surge of airborne supremacy.
“Well, when you get that block at the apex of the rim, of the player’s elevation and he’s right at the rim, you get a block like that, it energized everybody,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “I thought our fans were fantastic. Our players were fired up, and Draymond made a couple of just huge plays there.”
Who is going to win the battle?
“When you block it at the rim,” Green began the explanation, “it’s a little different because that’s one of those plays where you’re within a half-inch to a centimeter of being dunked on. So when you actually come up with the block, it’s a little bit more excitement. When you’re coming across and you get a swat, that’s usually weak side. You come across the top and you get a swat on a guy.”
But at the rim, he continued, thats the man-against-man. Rejecting Lillard was especially meaningful in the fourth quarter of a Game 1 still in doubt, and with the additional visual of the star guard ending up splashed on the court near the baseline. On a day he would get 34 points, teaming with C.J. McCollum’s 41 in the backcourt that kept the Trail Blazers alive, Lillard would also get dropped.
“I heard the crowd,” Green said. “That’s about all I heard. Everything else, pretty much that’s it.”
That’s enough. Lillard, the Oakland native, was down for an instant, the Trail Blazers were down for the day and Green was having a dream day on the court, full of victories, defense and emotional surges.
“They were very aggressive,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “Obviously we didn’t shoot the ball well. We had six turnovers in the fourth. Draymond had an impact on the game at the rim and in the paint. They got more aggressive on the ball with the trapping pick-and-rolls a little bit more. In a quarter, if you have six turnovers and shoot 30 percent in the quarter, it’s going to be rough. It’s a credit to their defense, and we’ve got to be able to handle that a little bit better.”
The Warriors went from allowing 47.6 percent from the field in the first half to 39.2 in the second, including 29.2 in the decisive fourth, plus the six turnovers. They clamped down in full playoff mode, led by Green in several spots on the court but none more impactful than in mid-air and at the rim, where there was no question who won the battle.
Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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