Jan. 9 was the last time Draymond Green played for the Golden State Warriors this season. He had missed the previous two games, and took the court that day for a total of seven seconds just so he could be alongside Klay Thompson who played in his first game since the 2019 NBA Finals.
At that time, the Warriors were tied with the Phoenix Suns for the best record in the NBA at 30-9 and far ahead of the team in the Western Conference with the third-best record, the Memphis Grizzlies. Last night the Warriors lost their fourth consecutive game and fell a half game behind the Grizzlies in the standings. The loss was to the struggling, and listless at times last week, Los Angeles Lakers. LeBron James was spectacular for the Lakers with 56 points on 61 percent from the field, but it was a team effort down the stretch that sealed the Lakers 124-116 win — their first since before the all-star break.
There were consecutive threes by Austin Reaves and the newly acquired D.J. Augustin, and it was Carmelo Anthony that dropped the curtain on the game with an offensive rebound and layup that gave the Lakers the lead for good, and a 3-pointer with 34 seconds remaining to put the game out of reach. The Warriors, arguably the best defensive team in the NBA over the last 10 years, could not get a stop. They’ve allowed up more than 110 points in every defeat during this four-game losing streak, and giving up 124 to the mostly-painful-to-watch Lakers offense, all of which is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that without Green, the Warriors have no chance in the postseason.
The injury that he was sidelined with on that Jan. 9 game is not even exactly why he remains sidelined two months later. He was on the injury report for that game due to calf tightness, but on Jan. 16 it was changed to a back injury. It’s his left L5-S1 disc that was causing the calf tightness, and he was supposed to be out for “at least two weeks.” One week into March, there is still no timetable for his return.
It’s not often in the NBA that a player who averages 7.9 points per game and shoots less than 60 percent from the free throw line is the difference between championship contention and an early playoff exit, but that’s absolutely the case for the Warriors. Even with Thompson being in the lineup for 19 of the Warriors last 26 games, without Green they have lost 11 of those games, including eight of their last 10.
While Green’s playmaking on offense has been sorely missed, the Warriors’ total offensive output has been similar to what it was with him on the court. It’s their defense that has been in a steady downward spiral during Green’s absence. On Jan. 9, they had the best defensive rating in the NBA at 101.9 points per 100 possessions. They’ve only managed a 110.4 defensive rating while he has been out.
It’s a reminder that as dynamic as the Warriors can be on offense, the reason that they advanced to five consecutive NBA Finals and won three championships is their defense. It was once Steve Kerr inserted Green into the starting lineup during the 2014-15 season when the team really began to show its true potential. His ability to guard multiple positions and basketball IQ makes the Warriors’ defense amoeba-like. Their defensive rotations flow smoothly and easy shots are few and far between for opposing teams when Green is on the court.
With Green not on the court the Warriors can’t rely on their defense in the same way and they turn into a team that relies on jump shooting. Regardless of how great of a shooter Curry and Thompson are, those jumpers aren’t going to fall every single night. With consistently the best defense in the NBA, the Warriors don’t need their shooters to be on fire the moment they run out of the tunnel, they just need them to heat up at the right time.
It was supposed to be a done deal that Green would be back before the postseason, but with only 18 games remaining in the regular season and still no firm time table on his return, there is every reason to be concerned about what he’ll be able to offer the Warriors in the playoffs, if anything at all.
Because if he is not a force for the Warriors, especially on defense, then just like last year’s playoffs, and the last two months, he’ll have plenty of time to work on his burgeoning broadcasting career.