OAKLAND, Calif. — Anybody watching the Golden State Warriors during the playoffs will see — and certainly hear — Draymond Green getting into it with opponents, teammates and even his own coaches.
In Game 2 against the New Orleans Pelicans, Green got a lot of attention from fans in the arena and on social media for barking back at Warriors coach Steve Kerr after being taken out with 3:55 remaining in the first quarter. Green wanted to stay in to defend Anthony Davis; Kerr wanted to give Green a break.
Don’t misinterpret the verbal exchange. Something similar happens in almost every game Green plays, and Kerr is all for it.
“It’s great. I love it. I love the edge. I love the passion,” Kerr said Tuesday, a day off for both teams. “We both know that we’re in the same fight together, and maybe two different perspectives, but with the same goal. It’s healthy, but it’s fun.”
Sweet-shooting guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have soaked up most of the attention this season after powering the Warriors to the NBA’s best record. But Kerr knows every championship contender needs a grinder like Green in the playoffs, when the game becomes more physical and every play is paramount.
“We’re a pretty quiet group, and I love that he’s loud,” Kerr said.
In just three seasons, Green has gone from an overlooked second-round pick to a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. The versatile forward is the vocal leader of the NBA’s No. 1 defense, and the way he shut down Davis in the fourth quarter Monday night put the Warriors up 2-0 in the first-round playoff series.
Green is averaging 14.5 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in the first two games of the series, which resumes Thursday night in New Orleans. But his contributions go beyond the box score.
“He just always finds a way to be in the mix. There is no teaching that,” Curry said.
Green’s game is generated by the same method that helped him win two state titles at Saginaw High School in Michigan, reach two Final Fours at Michigan State, and take home Big Ten Player of the Year honors as a senior.
He just outworks people — and lets them hear about it.
“That’s kind of how I am. It could be in practice. And if I’m like really going, I’ll just start talking junk to anybody,” Green said. “And all I need to do is get one. If I get one person to respond to me, I’ll get going quick. And I’ll start talking to everybody.
“I’ll start talking to the team. If I’m on blue, I’ll start talking to white. If they don’t respond, I’ll start talking junk to blue — the same team. If they don’t respond, I’ll talk to coaches and video guys, whoever. All I need is one person. It gets me going. I don’t know what it is.”
Green had a close relationship with former Warriors coach Mark Jackson in his first two seasons. Jackson, an ordained minister who never cussed, had a more laid-back approach with players.
Green credits Kerr’s fiery attitude for bringing out the best in him, comparing the bond to the one he built with Tom Izzo at Michigan State. He pinpoints an exchange during a home game earlier this season as a turning point in the relationship.
“He said something to me on the court, and I started yelling back,” Green said. “I’m like, ‘Whoa.’ He said something else, and I caught myself the first time, and I start yelling back again. So now I walk to the bench and I’m like, ‘My bad.’ And he’s like, ‘No, I love that fire.’ And then I started to notice he would do stuff to get me amped up. I’m like, ‘OK, kind of treading down that Tom Izzo road again.’”
Sometimes Green’s emotions can be misinterpreted.
During pre-draft interviews, he said he was asked about TV cameras catching him yelling at Izzo on the sidelines. Green said that’s just how they communicated.
The same goes for teammates. Warriors center Andrew Bogut said he learned early on not to get Green talking in practice but to feed off the energy he brings in games.
“He hustles. He’s a dog,” Bogut said.
In his first two years, Green provided key minutes off the bench, but mostly as a situational defender. It wasn’t until two-time All-Star power forward David Lee missed 24 of the first 25 games at the start of the season with a strained left hamstring that Green got a chance to win the starting job.
“I thought Draymond would start to emerge,” Kerr said. “But I had no idea he was this good.”