Draymond Green’s curse (well, other than the invisible backpack) is that no matter how good he gets at basketball, the most immediately and undeniably impressive basketball feats, the truly unmistakable displays of superhuman ability, will never be available to him. He will never pour on the hailstorm of audacious deep threes to wipe some sorry opponent off the map; he’s not remotely a good or fluid enough shooter for that. He will never shred some hapless doofus’s ankles with a crossover and then step over that guy’s crumpled corpse for a stylish bucket; he doesn’t have the handles or quickness for it. He does not have The Block in him; he’s not fast enough, can’t explode up out of a sprint like that, and those are just facts about him.
Do not think that you are reading a paean to The Skills That Don’t Show Up In The Box Score, here. Or to, like, the heightened sophistication required to appreciate Draymond Green’s greatness. I wanted to begin this blog by talking about what Draymond can’t do, because mostly he is infuriating and insufferable and this allows me to feel better about praising him. In the final minute of last night’s Game 5—long portions of which he spent seemingly doing everything he could to get himself ejected—he made two good-ass basketball plays, one on offense and one on defense, that neatly encapsulate his unique, weird skill-set, without which the Warriors might well be on summer vacation right now. And since neither one of them looked like all that much—and since the discussion about Game 5 so far this morning understandably has revolved around basically everything except the events of the final minute of the tight, closely contested game—let’s take a moment to give him some credit.
Klay Thompson hit the go-ahead basket, of course, a three-pointer with just less than a minute to play in regulation. He pump-faked a desperately closing Kawhi Leonard into outer space, took a calm dribble to his left, and drained the shot. It was an ice-cold play from a dude whose shooting has been profoundly important to the Warriors in this series. But look at the fucking rocket of a pass Green throws, to get the ball to him well ahead of Leonard’s closeout:
Possibly Klay still would have gotten the shot off and nailed it even if Green hadn’t had the presence of mind to put all that extra velocity on the pass, there, and the skill to do it accurately and quickly. But it’s also possible that a pass thrown at a more normal speed—or even a pass thrown at that fastball speed, but from a guy who needed a lengthier windup to put all that extra mustard on it, or a hot pass that found the end of Thompson’s extended arm instead of zipping straight to his chest—gives Leonard, one of the NBA’s most extraordinary defenders and deadliest ball-thieves, time to keep his feet on the closeout, instead of leaping from a mile away. That has happened dozens of times in this series alone, virtually always with bad results for the Warriors: Leonard arrives in time and under control, endless arms extended into shooting and passing space, and the ball just dies, no matter how fluidly it was zipping around before.
Instead, Green makes a point to deliver an absolute goddamn laser of a pass, giving Thompson enough time and space to size Leonard up and pump-fake him out of the way, and giving Leonard no time at all to make an under-control defensive effort. Again, it’s not The Block, or Steph’s 30-footer to beat Oklahoma City; it’s not the kind of clearly decisive display of individual greatness that leaves no doubt. But it’s an example of Green having just that much more extra basketball awareness than the vast majority of other players would, in a huge moment where it made a real difference.
The other play is a little more obvious: On the final possession of the game, with the Raptors desperately swinging the ball to Kyle Lowry in the corner for a look at a championship-winning three, Green left Marc Gasol under the rim, flew out at Lowry, and gave a flying contest to the shot attempt. At first it looked like Lowry just choked and threw the ball behind the backboard, but on closer inspection, it became clear that Green had gotten his fingertips on the shot.
Again: This doesn’t look like much; for that matter, maybe you can argue that it isn’t. But I’m impressed by how heady Green is, here. Watch how decisively he shifts his position on Gasol as Fred VanVleet dribbles by Shaun Livingston, to get himself closer to the corner, how he actively puts himself in a place where he can both deny a pass to Gasol and fly out at Lowry when the time comes, how he’s breaking toward Lowry by the time the ball leaves VanVleet’s hands. He knows where everyone is on the floor, and he knows what VanVleet can see with Livingston on his right hip; he’s not just reacting to the action but anticipating and shaping it, taking Gasol away as an option in a way that both makes Lowry the obvious choice and gives him the best chance of countering it. This is a broken play—the Raptors wanted Kawhi Leonard creating a shot from the top of the key, before a well-timed double-team forced the ball out of his hands—in an insanely tense moment with the fate of Golden State’s dynasty on the line, and there was Draymond Green, processing friggin’ decision trees and making the right calls at warp speed. The result isn’t just a contested look, but a blocked three-pointer—not because he’s got Zion Williamson’s hops or Anthony Davis’s arms, because he’s just goddamn ridiculously smart.
Anyway, it pains me to credit one of the NBA’s true pains in the ass for this stuff. In Game 6 he will karate-chop Serge Ibaka’s nutsack into the stands and I will feel like a real horse’s ass for ever having complimented him, but he earned it.