The opening game of the 2022 NBA Finals did not go as planned for the Golden State Warriors, especially for their four-time NBA All-Star Draymond Green.
In their 120-108 Game 1 loss to the Boston Celtics, the 32-year-old veteran made only two of his 12 field goal attempts and missed all three free throws that he took to finish with only four points. As usual, the rest of his statline was decent–11 rebounds, five assists, two steals, and three turnovers–but in the end, it was not enough to compensate for his lack of poor shooting among many other things.
The 6’6 forward’s scoring has severely regressed over time and it is something that he has clearly acknowledged based on the way he positions himself on offense. In this year’s playoffs, his 6.7 shot attempts per game and 60.5% free throw shooting percentage are well-below his career postseason averages of 9.5 and 72.6%, respectively.
Boston dared Green to shoot, as many teams have in recent years, and their gamble paid off handsomely. His man, often Jayson Tatum or Marcus Smart, would liberally help off of him to interfere with Golden State’s drives to the basket or passing lanes.
Green was mostly standing stationarily beyond the three-point line where no sane defender would ever bother giving his shots from that area anything more than a token contest. More off-ball movement would be a quick fix for this though his recent problems go way beyond his shooting as seen down the stretch of Game 1.
With the Warriors still nursing a four-point lead, Green went to the bench for a quick break that lasted roughly a minute and a half. When he came back into the game, there was a little over five minutes remaining in the fourth period and Golden State was suddenly trailing albeit by a still-manageable three points.
Unfortunately, it was then that everything began to unravel for Green.
On Green’s first possession back in the game out of a timeout from their head coach Steve Kerr, Al Horford intercepted his pass intended for a cutting Kevon Looney. The Celtics picked up the loose ball and broke out in transition before finding a trailing Horford for an above the break three that increased their lead to six, 109-103.
During their next trip down the court, Green was seemingly immobilized close to the right elbow. This allowed his defender Tatum to drift away and disrupt Klay Thompson’s attempt to gather for a midrange jumper. Thompson managed to keep the ball, but it ended with Green bricking a three-pointer as the shot clock was winding down.
A couple of plays later, this time on defense, Green placed himself too deep under the basket as he sagged off Horford to cover the paint as Tatum drove to the basket.
While Green’s intentions were in the right place, Tatum spotted his poor positioning and found Horford for a midrange jumper from the baseline. He was caught rather flat-footed and was too late to contest the jumper from Boston’s Game 1 hero that extended their lead to eight points, 111-103.
Just when it felt like things could not get worse for Green, he proceeded to miss two free throws on the succeeding play. Smart then hit a three on the other end to increase their advantage to 11, 114-103.
Both teams failed to score on their next possessions and it was also a welcome reprieve from Green’s self-destructive play. It did not last for long as he committed a frustrating off-ball offensive foul when he tried to hold back Tatum from contesting Stephen Curry’s lay-up attempt.
This was followed by another three-pointer from Smart that extended the Celtics’ lead to 14, 117-103, with less than two minutes to play and effectively sealed the result of the match.
While the decline of Green’s unique athleticism that once allowed him to become the heart and soul of this team has contributed to his drop off, this chain of mistakes that he made was mental more than anything else.
The three-time champion has to come out more focused come Game 2 if the Warriors want to tie the series before it heads east to Boston for Games 3 and 4.
In the same way that Green was the key to unlocking their devastating small ball line-up that powered their first title run in 2015, he is once again the key ingredient to their success given the wide range of variance between his good and bad versions.
If the brash, playmaking, and All-Defense Draymond Green shows up in this series, then the Warriors should become competitive enough to challenge for their fourth title as a group. When he plays like this, he frees up Golden State’s shooters and more than makes up for their lapses on the defensive end. He continues to be the barometer of this team and they need him now more than ever.
However, if the Game 1 Draymond Green sticks around, the Warriors may have a problem keeping up with these spunky and physical Celtics.
The importance of Green to this Golden State team has often been overlooked, yet his importance has become even more glaring given his recent drop off. They need him to rediscover the form, even for only these next two weeks, that has made him one of the most unique players in NBA history.