Green: 'We're not done yet'
Draymond Green caught Stephen Curry by surprise a few weeks ago when the rookie challenged him to a 3-point shooting contest after practice.
It didn't go well for Green -- Curry won easily -- but it didn't stop him from coming back for more. Five straight days he challenged Curry, and five straight days the NBA's best 3-point shooter came out on top.
"Some of them were close, some of them weren’t. I was having fun with it, though," Curry said. "He genuinely believed he was going to win. And I genuinely believed I was going to blow him out in every spot."
The story didn't come as a surprise to Green's coach at Michigan State, Tom Izzo.
"That sounds about right," Izzo said. "When (former NBA dunk contest champion and Warrior) Jason Richardson was back on campus, Draymond wanted to challenge him to a dunk contest. He thinks he can beat everyone at anything, even if it's not realistic."
As Green played arguably the best game of his career in Golden State's series-clinching Game 6 victory against Denver on Thursday (16 points, 10 rebounds, 24 minutes), Izzo couldn't help but find parallels between Green's rookie year with the Warriors and his freshman year at Michigan State. In both seasons, Green struggled to earn minutes early on, but eventually worked his way into a position where he was counted on in important situations.
Izzo likened Thursday's win to Michigan State's win against overall No. 1 Louisville in the Elite 8 in the 2009 NCAA Tournament. Green played a career-high 24 minutes in that game and while he pulled down 10 rebounds, Izzo said his real worth doesn't show up in the box score.
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"Winning has always been the most important thing to him," Izzo said. "Against Louisville, against everyone, he just made winning plays."
So when Green was on the floor in crunch time against Denver, Izzo could only smile.
Winning has followed Green everywhere he's been. His high school team won a state title and finished ranked No. 4 in the USA Today national high school rankings, he went to two Final Fours in college and, now, he's on to the Western Conference semifinals in his first NBA season.
Not the biggest (6-7, 230) or the fastest, Green was a tough prospect for NBA scouts and general managers to evaluate. Even after four seasons in college, he was still viewed as a tough guy to peg.
Is he a three? Is he a four? How will his game translate to the NBA?
Those are the questions Izzo fielded from scouts and GMs.
"I told them I don't know," Izzo said. "I told them he's a winner. He's a winner. He's a winner." After taking Harrison Barnes with the No. 7 overall pick and Festus Ezeli at No. 30, Golden State took a flier on Green with the fifth pick of the second round (No. 35 overall). For an organization trying to change its culture, Green was exactly the type of player it coveted in that spot.
Now Izzo said, GMs around the league are kicking themselves.
"I've talked to general managers who didn't draft him and now wish they did," Izzo said. "They just couldn't get over what position he'd play. I still don't know what position he plays, he just does his job." And that fits Green just fine.
"I never got caught up in what position I would be," he said. "I was always more about winning and doing whatever I needed to do to make that happen."
In that respect, Green couldn't have ended up in a better position. None the of the other seven teams left in the NBA playoffs team have utilized rookies like the Warriors. Of the rookies on the other remaining teams, New York's 36-year-old European import Pablo Prigioni is the only to have played, and averaged, more minutes than Green this postseason.
The uniqueness of their situation isn't lost on the Warriors first-year players.
"We talk about it. Like, 'Wow, we're in the playoffs in our rookie year,'" Green said. "When myself Festus and Harrison got drafted, the one thing we all had in common from the beginning was that we were talking about winning."
For the Warriors veterans, that was a breath of fresh air, and from day one it was seamless transition as far as integrating them into the team.
Green's status as a second-round pick could have hampered his ability to take on a leadership role this early, but he's done that too.
"He's one of the more vocal rookies I've seen as far as when we're in the locker room or we're in time outs, he's not afraid to speak up," Warriors All-Star forward David Lee said. "That's something as captains we're very cool with because he's a guy that has something constructive to say. He makes winning plays and he's a winner."
Again, no surprise to Izzo.
"In all my years of coaching, he's one of the two best leaders I ever coached," said Izzo, with the other being Mateen Cleaves.
Izzo and Green maintain a tight relationship: "The greatest player-coach relationship I could have asked for," Izzo said. They talked just before Game 6 and Izzo plans on making it to a game or two for Golden State's upcoming series against San Antonio, which begins on Monday.
Warriors coach Mark Jackson has too come to appreciate Green for what he is.
After Green struggled in Game 5 against Denver (three points, no rebounds), he walked on the bus and said, "Coach, I got you."
"I’m looking like, ‘What does he mean?” Jackson said. "He says, ‘I got zero rebounds tonight. I played bad. I’ve got you in Game 6.'"
"And I looked at my coaching staff, we just shook our heads. That’s a special mentality. You’ve got veterans that’ll give you an excuse. He owned the moment and he’s a guy that played big time for us (the next game)."