OAKLAND, Calif. — One impulsive and reckless moment upset the Warriors’ applecart a year ago, when they became the first team in NBA Finals history to lose after taking a 3-1 series lead.
It was Draymond Green’s collision with the Cavaliers’ LeBron James and subsequent decision to kick James in the midsection as he attempted to step over Green’s prone body. That led to a Game 5 suspension for Green, the Warriors lost on their home floor and they ultimately lost their grip on a second straight Lawrence O’Brien Trophy.
Fast-forward one year later to Game 5 on Monday night at Oracle Arena, with the Warriors holding a 3-1 lead over the Cavs and hoping to clinch their second title in three seasons. Green was in the starting lineup, but before Game 5, he insisted he wasn’t really focused on gaining redemption.
“I don’t think too much about it,” Green said of missing Game 5 a year ago. “It’s just the next game in line. Close-out games are the hardest ones, so I’m just excited about the opportunity.
“The intensity level rises. When a team’s back is against the wall, they’re going to come out and give everything they’ve got. It’s natural for you to look up and see the finish line right there, and you tend to focus on that instead of the task at hand. We understand that, and we’re looking forward to trying to play our best game of the series.”
When the Finals began, Green grew testy about questions wondering if he could control his emotions better than last year. Emotion and trash talk are part of his game, along with rebounding and defense, and the Warriors say they prosper when Green is stoking their fire.
Asked if he considers himself the emotional heart of the Warriors, Green said: “I think that’s my job. That’s one of the reasons I’m here. I’m the emotional leader of this team. It’s not like I put effort into that, like, ‘Oh, man, I need to do this and such and such.’ I just be me, and everybody goes up in flames about it.”
In fact, Green spent a good portion of his post-practice interview Sunday putting out a brushfire revolving around a technical foul he was thought to have received in the first half of Game 4 that was rescinded when he picked up a technical in the second half. When the apparent second one was called and the Quicken Loans Arena sound system played “Hit the Road Jack” in anticipation of an automatic ejection, the officiating crew corrected its mistake, crediting the first-half technical to Warriors coach Steve Kerr.
After the Cavs won to stay alive, Green criticized the Cleveland crowd as “not too sharp” for thinking he was ejected, and a Bay Area reporter asked Green if he regrets some of the things he says.
“Absolutely not,” he responded. “When I say something, I’ve thought about what I’m going to say before I say it. I’m a lot smarter than people think.”
Pressed about “bashing” Cleveland fans, Green said, “Well, they boo me and they thought I had a tech I didn’t have, so that wasn’t sharp.”
Told the first technical was credited to him in the boxscore, Green smiled and said: “I knew I didn’t, so maybe I’m just a little sharper than the others. They played ‘Hit the Road Jack,’ and I didn’t hit the road.”
Emotions figured to be even higher in Game 5 as the Warriors sought to rectify their mistakes from a year ago and make up for the title that got away.
“I expect us to come out guns blazing,” Green said, fanning the Warriors’ flames. “You get punched in the face, you want to respond.”