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Draymond Green is the incredible X factor of the NBA Finals

The Celtics answered many questions in game 3, while the Warriors may have created more, including what version of Green works best for them.

2022 NBA Finals - Game Three Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Knowing that I only had one day between Games 3 and 4 of the NBA Finals, I wrote down some of the possible story lines people were discussing leading up to Game 3. On my pre-game sheet, I had the following:

  1. Draymond Green: Would his comments after Game 2 about earning “deferential treatment” from the refs lead to increased scrutiny from the officiating crew? Would that increased scrutiny lead him to ease up, or would he play his normal, confrontational game that walks the line between disrupting the opponent and his own team? Could he avoid the latter while still accomplishing the former?
  2. Would the Celtics’ players other than the two stars (Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown) step up when back at home? The “others” had played one good game and one weak game on the road.
  3. Would Klay Thompson play well after two poor games to start the Finals?
  4. Would Golden State continue to win the offensive rebound/turnover battle?

It turns out that fourth question decided Game 4, which means we will start with a Fun With Box Scores coach’s analysis.

Many of the stats were fairly equal in Game 3. The teams’ shooting was remarkably equal. Boston shot 48% overall, Golden State 46%. Boston shot 37% from three, as did Golden State. Boston made 4 more free throws but shot a lower percentage.

So how did the Celtics easily win 116-100? More opportunities to score.

The Warriors had 16 turnovers, the Celtics only had 12. That meant 4 extra opportunities for the Celtics to score. More importantly, the Celtics had 15 offensive rebounds on their 46 missed shots — meaning that on one-third of the shots the Celtics missed, they got the ball right back. The Warriors had only 6 offensive boards on 42 missed shots, only 14%. (Despite playing only 17 minutes, Kevon Looney had half of the Warriors offensive rebounds. He also tied for the most total with 7, which meant he might have been able to prevent some of the Celtics’ offensive rebounds. Perhaps Looney should have played more than 17 minutes?) Combining the teams’ turnovers with their offensive rebounds, the Celtics had 13 extra opportunities to score. As a result, the Celtics did get more shots than the Warriors — 11 more field goal attempts and 9 more free throws. Those extra opportunities to score largely explain the final 16 point spread.

Now to the first talking point I listed above, concerning Draymond Green. Both teams acknowledged his physicality and energy keyed the Warriors’ win in Game 2. This also led to many asking whether he could throttle back the obnoxious elements to avoid getting tossed while remaining effective. No one asked the question that would have been more timely: What happens to the Warriors if Draymond just sucks, or in his own words after the game, “played like s***”? And even that is an understatement; he had a historically bad performance. Courtesy of Micah Adams on Twitter:

I believe that Draymond is like the Incredible Hulk. He can be mild-mannered Bruce Banner, a perfectly nice fellow, but not qualified to play extended minutes in an NBA Finals game. Or he can be the Hulk. Perhaps Draymond spent too much time reading the speculation that the NBA officials would be watching his every move and kept his internal Hulk fully under wraps. For the Warriors to come back and win, they need will full-on Hulk Draymond, with all the plusses and minuses that go with it.

Talking Point No. 2 concerned the Celtics non-stars. How would they play back on the home court? Marcus Smart had the best of the group with 24 points, 7 boards and 5 assists. He also posted up Steph Curry several times, knowing that Curry couldn’t stop him down low — and didn’t want to pick up another foul while trying to do so. Derrick White and Al Horford both played decent games, while Robert Williams blocked four shots in his 20 minutes. I think he might be the best young shot blocker since Serge Ibaka a decade ago. Both make the rim a no-fly zone.

Talking Point No. 3 concerned Curry’s other Splash Brother, Klay Thompson. He was certainly much better than in the first two games, and there was a stretch in which he resembled “that guy”. That being said, Klay wound up shooting only 5 for 13 from three and 2 of 4 from two, and one of those was a dunk that I could have made — if, you know, I could dunk. (I can certainly go 5 for 13 from three.) Along with Draymond becoming the Incredible Hulk, with the good and bad that goes with it, the Warriors need a vintage Klay game soon. And vintage Klay is better than 5 for 13 from three.

Other thoughts

  • When I was coaching, we often talked about the importance of spacing. Without proper spacing, a team cannot reverse the ball to the weak side, and one defender can cover two shooters. On this play in the third quarter, the Celtics could have had one defender cover four Warriors players.
  • The Celtics won by 16 points, and it could have been worse. The Warriors had a 7-point possession, with a Curry three, a flagrant foul on Horford’s closeout for a free throw and the ball, which led to an Otto Porter Jr. three. Seven points: something many of have never seen on one possession. Earlier, the Warrriors had 8 points in 37 seconds: A Klay three, Celtics turnover for a dunk, another Celtics turnover followed by a three. Absent those 15 points in 60 seconds of game time, the Warriors lose by 31 points.
  • Let’s finish with Mark Jackson. You have to love him. Or not. When Curry picked up his second foul early in the first quarter, Jackson said that he would leave him in because “most coaches over-react in this situation. Let him play!” I agree — but wait. Curry got his third foul with four minutes left in the first half with the Warriors down 9 and in danger of the game slipping away. Jackson over-reacted like the coaches he criticized in the first quarter, pontificating, “This is dangerous to keep him in the game right now.” Jeff Van Gundy correctly pointed out that it would be much more dangerous to take Curry out. Steve Kerr agreed with Van Gundy, Curry played the rest of the half without fouling, and the Warriors stayed alive going into half-time. Curry wound up with four fouls in the game.

Van Gundy also uttered another truth which should worry Warriors’ fans. He pointed out that the Warriors were both much smaller than the Celtics AND less athletic. That is a tough combination. The only way a smaller and less athletic team can win a series is by having the best player. The Warriors do have the best player, but they also need several of their small, less-athletic players step up. If they don’t, Steph Curry will not be Finals MVP, even though he has been the best player in the first three games of these Finals.