2022 NBA Finals: Will Draymond Green be why the Warriors win another title, or why they’ll wilt?

BOSTON — Draymond Green is many fascinating things on and off the court, all of which combine into a potent mix capable of supercharging a championship team or making it so combustible that it can wreck those ambitions from the inside.

Green is a future Hall of Famer. An all-time great defensive player. A funny, candid, thoughtful voice on hoops, and its intersection with things much more important. A provocateur. A broadcaster and podcaster who’s effectively live streaming his own career and his team’s pursuit of basketball immortality. A bold — sometimes rash — competitor. A clutch closer who can also careen into self-destruction. A guy who loves calling out others, yet will bristle at even minor criticism.

Green has been one of the key touchstones to the Warriors greatest achievements, and to their most bitter disappointments.

That may be more true today than at any other point in his career, especially with his Golden State Warriors tied heading into Wednesday’s Game 3 of their NBA Finals series with the Boston Celtics.

Effective Draymond is a world-class winner, a player whose individual basketball impact and overall influence on his team are key to the Warriors greatness. Golden State has never lost a seven-game playoff series in which Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green have started each game.

The need for Green to be great, and available, feels even starker now, with Thompson looking diminished and Green’s own output in Games 1 and 2 directly connected to his team’s respective loss and win so for far against Boston.

Take Game 2: Green’s defense on Jaylen Brown helped turn off the Boston star’s hot start, which was key in short circuiting a Celtics team that had been looking to put the series away early. Green’s mind games can also prove critical, and they also toe that fine line between just right and too much. 

But that’s Green in a nutshell. He’s a star so critical to his team’s greatness that he must perfectly calibrate his unique competitive fire and how it expresses itself to be hero rather than heel. His approach is one that straddles all the lines — between dirty and dogged, between awesome and downright annoying, between limiting an opposing star or limiting his own presence because he went too far. Between winning and losing.

The most glaring example of Way-Too-Far Draymond was on full display during the  2016 NBA Finals. The Warriors were favored that June to cement their epic 73-9 regular season and the mantle of the league’s greatest team of all-time with a championship over LeBron James and his 57-25 Cleveland Cavaliers.

But Green crossed that line in that series, striking LeBron where (and when) he should not have. Late in Game 4, with Golden State less than three minutes from taking a  3-1 series lead, Green’s actions led to him being suspended from a potential closeout game on the Warriors home floor. Instead, the incident provided enough of a momentum for the Cavs to rally all the way back, helping LeBron’s legacy by providing the oxygen to simultaneously fuel the greatest comeback — and collapse — in NBA Finals history.

Green toed that line again Sunday, earning himself an early technical foul and then, as if he was daring the officials to give him another, flirted with ejection time after time. A play with Brown in particular, in which they both fell to the ground after Green fouled his three-point attempt, and then kept his feet on the Celtics star, pulled some collective gasps from the Chase Center crowd.

The tension was palpable as the play — and, yet again, the very idea of Effective Draymond vs. Way-Too-Far-Draymond — went under review.

Warriors fans had seen this show before, and it’s one they would rather not relive: Their team is on a title track, with Draymond at its heart, and then that same star goes too far and costs the club dearly.

He wasn’t ejected, and his nine points, five rebounds, seven assists, one steal and one block — plus his exquisite defense — helped the Warriors win.

But had he gone a little further on that play or several that followed or had the right official been around on the wrong day, disaster could have struck Golden State. Again.

That is one example of many. There’s the Flagrant-2 that Green unleashed on Memphis’ Brandon Clarke earlier in this postseason. That didn’t lead to a suspension, but probably should have. Green’s toes were over the line that night, yet he came out ahead.

Green’s moves off the floor

As his stardom and thoughtfulness have rightfully given him an unprecedented platform in real time, Green’s tough talk and willingness to say whatever the hell he wants has invited a new level of scrutiny and expectation — for him, sure, but also his teammates. 

It’s one thing for Green to get to say to the media that Flagrant-2 was nothing. It’s another to chastise Charles Barkley, in the NBA’s most influential space, for not understanding the inherent blamelessness of one Draymond Green. That Memphis responded with a dangerous play that took Gary Payton II out of a chunk of the postseason is surely related.

Green’s podcast and appearances on the NBA On TNT are great for those outlets, for us fans, for Draymond Green. The jury is still out on whether they benefit the Golden State Warriors.

Ask LeBron James about summoning massive expectations and angst and inviting the ire of the rest of the league. Those things were critical in the Heat failing to win an NBA title the first year of Miami’s Big Three era.

Green is one of my absolute favorite players in the game, and his rebel-may-die approach on and off the court is captivating. Authenticity is rare, and rarer still when combined with actual greatness. But sometimes the rebel not caring has real consequences — say like in 2016, or perhaps at some point in this series.

Go too far on the court, as he almost did in Game 2, and missing gametime could be enough to turn things the Celtics way. Go too far off it, and the Celtics may find that extra motivation and anger in deciding it’s time to shut up the overconfident superstar, just as many wanted to with LeBron & Co. back in 2010.

Pressure is real, and too so are the forces that Green has the potential to unleash.

They say not to let your mouth write checks your body can’t cash. In Draymond’s case, whether it’s the line he flirts with while playing or the lines he drops when he’s not, he should be cautious not to write checks that his team won’t be able to cash.

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