If there was any doubt about who to name NBA Defensive Player of the Year this season, Draymond Green emphatically moved his name to the top of list Sunday against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Up until the end of the third quarter, it was a tight game. Portland took advantage of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum’s good shooting day – and 10 Warrior turnovers in the first half – to keep the score locked at 88 apiece despite Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry’s combined 22 points in the third.
That’s when Green took matters into his own hands.
Golden State started the fourth with a 13-2 run and forced six Portland turnovers throughout the quarter, largely due to Green’s two-way tenacity. Green contributed three blocks, two steals, and a contagious spark of energy that powered the entire Warrior lineup to push past the Blazers to a 121-109 final score.
Green finished the afternoon with 19 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists and five blocks, essentially nullifying Lillard and McCollum’s combined 74 points.
And this type of performance from Green is nothing new. This season alone, Green averaged eight rebounds, seven assists and two steals, consistently shutting down the league’s best scorers to help Golden State reach 67 wins. Although Green narrowly missed the triple-double Sunday against Portland, he does have a unique 12 rebounds-10 assists-10 steals triple-double under his belt from earlier in the year.
More than just contributing stellar defense himself, Green’s passionate style of play has a visible impact on his teammates as well. With Green setting the tone, David West turned off the faucet on McCollum’s 41-point night, while JaVale McGee added five rebounds and two big blocks of his own.
The offense certainly benefitted from Green as well. Durant scored a team-high 32 points, followed closely by Curry’s 29. Klay Thompson was plus 14 in efficiency despite only scoring 15 points. Green himself even shot 60 percent from the field and 3-4 on three’s.
It’s that kind of teammate impact that puts Green’s defense above the rest.
The Warriors should be especially excited by the way Green controlled his temper in a heated game like this one. Between the intense playoff atmosphere and the abundant trash talk exchanged among the players, it would be easy for an emotional player like Green to explode at any moment.
A prime opportunity came in the third quarter when Green was incorrectly called for an offensive foul, which became Golden State’s eleventh turnover.
Last season, Green would have screamed his way to a technical. This time, without agreeing with the call, Green remained composed and focused on the true task at hand. There’s no question that Green’s one-game suspension during the Finals last year affected the series outcome, and Green wasn’t about to go down that road again.
Green’s outstanding defense was the catalyst for the Warriors’ success in Game 1. Although Golden State is easily the superior team in this series, the fiery Blazer backcourt kept the team competitive until Green’s energy overpowered them in the fourth.
While there are many strong defenders in the NBA, Green’s ability to lift his team and drive them to play their best basketball alongside him is what makes him the clear choice for DPOY.
The decision may have been difficult during the regular season, but after last night’s performance from Green and the Warriors, there should be no contest.
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