SAN FRANCISCO — Draymond Green flipped his TV minutes into the Warriors’ easy Game 3 win over the Kings last Thursday.
“Where’s Steph?” He yelled at an employee as he poked his head into the Warriors’ locker room about 20 minutes after the final buzzer. Draymond quickly finds Curry in the practice room, coming off a blowout win. Then the two leaders of this team put their heads together and immediately began planning for Game 4.
Draymond had an idea after watching the game: Why replace anything from the starting lineup that rocked the Kings in Game 3 with Draymond suspended? Why force anyone else to the bench to make room for him in Game 4?
And he wanted to run all over Curry in a hurry. (Beyond the strategy talk, Draymond was more than willing to celebrate Curry’s great performance in Game 3.) The result: Steve Kerr, who was thinking the same way, didn’t start Draymond in Game 4 on Sunday, replacing Draymond at times. Kevon Looney, like he did in Game 3, kept more shooters on the floor and the Warriors beat the Kings 126-125 to even the series at 2-2.
Looney played well, which is zero surprise. Jordan Poole, who was pushed out of the starting lineup in case Draymond goes back in, played well. Draymond started the second half with Looney (and Poole out) and that’s when the Warriors took control of the game. The victory was exactly what the Warriors needed to put the Kings on their heels in Game 5 in Sacramento on Wednesday, even though the Warriors nearly gave it back in the final minute when Curry called a timeout after spending it all.
Here’s why it’s an immediate part of the Warriors story: Draymond’s volunteering for a seat on the bench, Curry agreed to come off the bench for the first four games after Andre Iguodala lost his starting spot at the start of the Kerr era. He was injured in last year’s series in Denver and has been out of the lineup for the rest of his looney yo-yoing career.
Warriors have always done this in this era. Decide what you need to do to win the next game. Then do it. The informal Curry-Draymond summit is another example of how they act when they absolutely have to.
“It’s nothing new,” Curry told me after his strategy session postgame news conference. “We always have those conversations. In the playoffs, it’s a little bit fun trying to figure out the chess pieces of a certain series. But (before) Game 4 in 2015 at Memphis Barbecue Spot, we always have those conversations.
Immediately after the Warriors lost Game 3 to the Grizzlies and trailed the series 2-1, Curry was referring to his imaginary mind-clearing dinner at the Blues City Cafe with Draymond, David Lee and Festus Ezeli. After that, the Warriors swept the next three games to win their first title of the era.
No one knows how the Warriors will fare in the rest of the series or the postseason, but if Curry is a Blues City legend, something important happened when he and Draymond met after Game 3. Draymond and Curry, so it’s important to every part of the Warriors universe.
Draymond’s battle with the league office, the Warriors falling 2-0, then getting blown out at home in Game 3, the understanding that a loss in this series could be the beginning of the end of this dynasty. group. So Draymond had to come back to the arena to meet Curry. Two future Hall of Famers had to keep it up.
“I don’t think a decision was made at that point, but he seemed relatively excited about what he saw in terms of the changes we could make tonight,” Curry said. “I think it was hard for him to bottle up that energy; I know he missed coming out. But it also gave him a different opportunity within the series that helped him.
After Draymond and Curry decided it was probably a good idea, Draymond went into Kerr’s office that night and told him it would be fine if Kerr wanted to keep Draymond out of Sunday’s starting lineup. Kerr agreed. And action was taken.
“I thought it was the right thing to do, and I thought Steph was the right thing to do,” Draymond said Sunday. “I mean, I think No. 1, and that’s what we’ve always been. You have guys on this team who are serious about winning and the team, and if you’re a guy who isn’t, you stick out like a sore thumb because that’s the culture here.
“So, for me, it’s a very easy thing. We won (Game 3) very easily. You’re going to walk in the door saying, ‘Fellas, I’m back, here’s my spot.’ , you know, when I sat down and watched that game, I thought it was great, I thought it was clear as day, I thought I could see it from a mile away. Literally, a mile away.
What was Kerr thinking when Draymond made the recommendation?
“It doesn’t surprise me because I know at his core Draymond wants to win,” Kerr said. “All of his passion and passion and everything he engages with the league or the opponent or the officials comes from a place of competitive desire. He’s one of the biggest competitors I’ve been around. He’s one of the smartest players I’ve been around.
“It didn’t surprise me because he recognized the same thing I did, which made it a lot easier. He came in and suggested it, which made it a lot easier, and then we go from there. … We always collaborate. The decisions we make are working with our key players. … Steph came off the bench. – Four games against Denver last year. (Andrew Wiggins) came off the bench in Game 1. You do what you gotta do, and I thought Draymond had a great second half, and he really outdid himself.
In the second half, Draymond was also tasked with guarding De’Aaron Fox, the Kings’ best player in the series. After scoring 21 points on 9-of-16 shooting in the first half, Fox made just 5 of 15 shots in the second half. Draymond didn’t completely stop Fox, but no one is going to. It’s a different look, Kerr said, and he knows Draymond will love the challenge.
Now the Warriors have to decide how to handle this in Game 5 and beyond. Kerr will likely put Draymond back in the starting lineup for the rest of the postseason, but the Warriors are 0-2 in the series with Draymond in the starting lineup and are now 2-0 with Poole playing the spot. . (Of course, both losses were in Sacramento and both wins were at Chase Center.)
My guess: It will be Draymond and Looney starting Game 5 together, with Poole on the bench, but maybe quick replacements if things start to go badly for the Warriors.
Kerr, naturally, won’t say what he’ll do in Game 5. And Draymond said he’ll be fine with whatever Kerr decides — he said he played 31 minutes (with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists) in the game. 4, anyway.
“If that’s what the coach thinks, that’s what works, absolutely,” Draymond said. “I’ll have to go watch film and see how it all plays out during this game. But if it’s OK, that’s OK, I’m not worried. I’ll play the same amount of minutes as I normally do, it doesn’t matter. That’s my mindset.”
Along those lines, Draymond was whistled (along with Fox) for a first-quarter technical foul for barking a little 55 seconds into his first check-in. It was his first action since he was ejected in Game 2 for a flagrant foul and then suspended.
Was the speeding technical glitch a message to everyone watching? Well, yes.
“I’m still here. … Still here, no technicality is going to move me from my square,” Draymond said. “You know, Fox felt the need to stand up for his guy. I respect that. I respect that 100 percent. But I’m still here and nothing has changed me. It has been like this for 33 years. I pray that I can be this way for 33 more people, and it’s not just basketball. It comes to an end. But what I am, everything else is.
If Draymond misses a game again, which he has already said will almost certainly happen, he will watch the game carefully. After that he runs off to talk to Curry and the others. Then he will say what he thinks. He will come up with a strategy. That includes him starting the next game. It may not exist. And it’s usually smart. This is usually what Steve Kerr does. And most likely, the Warriors will win.
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(Photo: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)