Ahead of Game 5 against the Los Angeles Lakers, Warriors player development coach Jacob Rubin had told Green his presence hadn’t been felt so far this series the way it should be. Not the way Rubin knew it could be.
“That’s coming out aggressive on both ends of the floor. That’s verbally so everyone hears you on the floor. I felt a little disrespected when he said it,” Green said. “I knew it was on me to come out and set the tone for our guys. … Season is on the line, backs against the wall. You got to come out and give it all you got. That was my mindset.”
Green came out as Golden State’s engine in the Warriors’ 121-106 win.
He finished with 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting, 10 rebounds and three steals. This was his second 20-point game this postseason, along with Game 5 against the Sacramento Kings in the first round. It’s the first time since 2017 that Green has had multiple 20-point games in a postseason. Before the playoffs, he hadn’t scored 20 points since Christmas Day in 2019.
“I think you just expect it in a situation like this where you’re facing elimination,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Draymond is one of the great competitors I’ve ever been around. So you just expect him to bring it. I didn’t say anything to him. He doesn’t need any pep talks from me, that’s for sure.”
Green’s first play of the game was a defensive foul on Anthony Davis — a sign of the aggression and physicality he has been playing with on that end of the floor. Then, on the next possession, Green hit a 3-pointer, the Warriors’ first points of the night. That let them know he would be looking to score.
“I think there’s a stat somewhere … when [Green] scores a certain amount of points, we usually win,” Kerr said.
He was correct: Golden State is 43-10 in the regular season and playoffs when Green scores at least 20 points.
Kerr continued: “When he’s aggressive like that, looking to attack, it definitely adds another dimension to our team. I loved his approach to the game tonight. … He’s like, ‘I’m coming.'”
Perhaps the biggest luxury of Green’s assertiveness on offense was taking some of the onus off Stephen Curry, who has been facing a smothering Los Angeles defense all series.
Curry did finish with 27 points, but it was a steady accumulation over the four quarters. He never had a scoring outburst, as he so often does.
“Just how teams are keying in on Steph and Klay [Thompson], they’re really doing all they can, selling out those guys and trying to take them out of the game,” Green said. “We get paid a lot of money to do this, so you can’t just sit back and watch them. … You got to do something about it.”
Green also held the Lakers to 6-of-15 shooting when contesting shots and held Davis to 3-of-8 shooting as his primary defender.
It wasn’t just Green who took some of the burden off Curry’s and Thompson’s shoulders. Andrew Wiggins finished with 25 points on 10-of-18 shooting, seven rebounds and five assists.
With 9:32 to go in the fourth, Wiggins picked up LeBron James at center court. Wiggins managed to poke the ball away from James for a split second before he recovered. He then remained glued to James’ side all the way as James drove to the hoop.
James dished the ball to Davis below the hoop, but as Davis rose to score, Green met him up top for the block.
“This was the best game Wiggs has played since he’s been back,” Kerr said of Wiggins, who returned to the court April 15 for the Warriors’ first game of the playoffs after missing two months because of a family matter. “We ask so much of him defensively, and in any playoff series, he’s going to end up on the opponent’s best player. In this series, that’s obviously LeBron. And thank God we have Wiggs because he can play all night.”
Game 5 was Wiggins’ third-highest-scoring playoff game in his career, behind his 27- and 26-point games last postseason.
Led by Wiggins, the Warriors finally started to have success finishing drives against the Lakers. He scored 16 of his points in the paint.
In Games 1 through 4, the Warriors shot 19-of-52 on drives, or 37%. In Game 5, they went 9-of-17 on drives (53%). It was the first time they shot at least 50% on drives in a game in this series, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Before Wednesday’s game, Wiggins was averaging 14.8 points per game this series. Green was averaging 6.8. But they knew they needed to do more to keep their season alive — and that doesn’t change now that they’ve forced a Game 6.
“You just got to keep fighting and knowing that this team is going to come out and give us their best punch. You’ve got to take that punch and respond,” Green said. “If you respond, they will punch again and you will have to respond again. If you can do that, then the game tends to flip your way.”
With their Game 5 win, the Warriors improved to 8-2 when facing elimination under Kerr, including 7-0 against Western Conference opponents — the best win percentage by any team facing elimination since 2015.
As the series shifts back to L.A., they will have to fend it off yet again to push the series to a Game 7. And if they do that, the Warriors are confident they can overcome a 3-1 series deficit for the second time in franchise history.
“We trust and believe in ourselves,” Green said. “[But the Lakers are] not going to give it to us. They’re going to come out and play aggressive. They have great leaders over there, incredible winners. … They’re not just going to fold. It’s going to be on us to go in there and take it.”
He continued: “Our job isn’t done. We’re still facing elimination and we’ll be facing elimination for the rest of the series. So got to have the same mindset. Back against the wall, you got to come out fighting.”