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SAN FRANCISCO — Draymond Green faced the marrow-level dread of going down two games to none in the NBA Finals by arriving for Sunday’s Game 2 determined to be annoying as hell for as long as it took. Over the course of the contest’s 48 minutes, he argued with the officials — and nearly every Boston Celtics player — and threw his body around the court with a barely controlled fury.
Put it this way: The man got a well-deserved technical foul midway through the first quarter on a play in which the call went his way. Yes, Green set the tone for the Golden State Warriors‘ 107-88 blowout win that evened the series at Chase Center, and that tone was a roar.
Green promised after Game 1 that everything would be different. He said the Celtics needed to “feel” him more, and he went out and unleashed a sensory experience comparable to standing under a waterfall. Jaylen Brown was his primary defensive assignment, and Brown went 5-for-17 from the field, but that was just the start of it. There were countless possessions in which Green, perhaps the smartest defender in the league’s history, ended up guarding three or four different Celtics. He seemed to turn up everywhere he was needed.
Asked when he knew the Warriors would be getting the extra-spicy version of Green for Game 2, Stephen Curry said, “About five minutes after Game 1.”
Green was so wildly into the game there was a very real chance he’d be sent out of it. After the early technical foul, nothing changed. He continued to talk nonstop to anyone who would listen and many who would have preferred not to but weren’t offered the choice. He continued to hold every entanglement with Celtics players — there were many — just a second or two longer than recommended. There was one with Brown that caused the referees to don the headsets and take a closer look to see if Green’s night might be over. It wasn’t, for reasons the Celtics failed to understand, but Green appeared unconcerned.
“For me to sit back and say, ‘Oh, I’m going to push it to this edge and try to pull back,’ that don’t work,” Green said. “I’ve got to be me. So the first tech — it is what it is. That’s not going to stop me from being aggressive or doing what I do on the basketball court. Just got to live with the results.”
And he seemed to know exactly where the line was, maybe because — as the Celtics would argue — he was the one who drew it.
At one point in the third quarter, Marcus Smart — Boston’s Draymond Lite — spoke to referee Zach Zarba regarding a matter that had nothing to do with Green; but there was Green, chest to chest with both of them. Green was not going to let anything go, not on this night, and he remained steadfast in his determination to keep the waters roiling.
Green was nothing if not active. When Jordan Poole was given a technical foul for tripping Derrick White — a call that was quickly rescinded — Green leaned on the scorer’s table and watched the officials view the replay while providing referee Tony Brothers with a running commentary. Green is the Warriors’ public defender, obligated to take every case that comes his way.
“We knew we had to keep our foot on the gas pedal and not let up,” Green said. “We did that.”
Green’s stat line was pedestrian — nine points, five rebounds, seven assists — but he chewed up the scenery all night. He hounded and engulfed Brown into submission. He stripped Al Horford of the ball in the first quarter on a drive to the lane so forcefully it appeared to break Horford’s spirit.
“Some of that stuff doesn’t always show up in the stat sheet,” Curry said. “But you feel him in his presence, and the other team feels his presence and intensity, and that’s contagious for all of us.”
To describe Horford as passive would be a compliment. After his revelatory 26-point performance in Game 1 — on 9-of-12 shooting, including 6-of-8 on 3s — he didn’t take a shot in the first half and hit just one shot, a putback midway through the third quarter. His game was emblematic of the Celtics’ dreary performance. Horford passed to the corner after an offensive rebound found him right under the basket. He was a step or three slow on defense, as the Warriors eagerly engaged him in pick-and-roll situations. In general, Horford wandered around the court as if he had just spent the night at the airport.
Horford was understandably dismissive of the notion that Green’s antics might have infiltrated his psyche and those of his teammates: “No impact. I mean, he’s going to do what he does. We’re not worried about him.”
Green offered his take.
“I think everybody played with more force,” Green said. “It wasn’t just me. It was across the board. If I just pick up my force and no one else does, it doesn’t work.”
Green sat in the interview room after Game 1 and ran down the Celtics’ shooting stats. Horford, White and Smart all put up games that Green clearly didn’t see as sustainable. Green repeatedly waved the stat sheet and shook his head. He could live with it, and it wouldn’t happen again. He would see to that.
“That’s my job,” Green said after his prediction came true in Game 2. “Just like Steph Curry sets the tone on the offensive side of the ball, it’s my job to set the tone on the defensive side of the ball.
“I have to continue to do that in this series. It’s only going to get tougher. I have to take it up another couple notches.”
It’s hard to tell if that was a promise, a threat or an absolute impossibility. Ultimately, that’s for the Celtics to decide. Starting with less than five minutes left in the third quarter, during a stretch that saw the Celtics go from down by six points to down 29, Boston looked content to head home with the series tied. Coach Ime Udoka cleared his bench with 10 minutes left in the game.
The Celtics were ready to leave San Francisco — and, for the moment, Draymond Green — behind.