As the Golden State Warriors try to navigate the beginning of the NBA Finals without star Kevin Durant, team leader Draymond Green acknowledged that his role within the framework of the team is dramatically different without Durant on the floor.
“It completely changes,” Green told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols in an interview that ran Thursday on The Jump. “I have to be more of a scoring threat when Kevin’s not out there. I have to — I really try to push the pace more when he’s not out there. When Kevin’s out there, we all have the luxury of just saying, ‘OK, that set didn’t work, we still got this guy to just throw a ball into it and get out of the way.’ That luxury isn’t there anymore, and also I think with Kevin being out, we’re trying to make up 37 points again.”
Before Durant injured his right calf against the Houston Rockets in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals on May 8, he averaged 34 points a game in the postseason. Durant’s availability for the Finals remains in question as he continues rehabbing the injury.
“We’re not going to make those 37 points again up just by walking the ball up the floor and thinking we’re going to have the same trust running the set as if Kevin is on the floor,” Green said. “So how do you make up those points? Get extra possessions, get the pace to where you want it to be, get some easy buckets. That’s how you make it up.”
In Durant’s absence, Green is playing arguably the best basketball of his career. In 16 postseason games so far this year, Green is averaging 13.6 points, 9.9 rebounds and 8.2 assists per game. Despite their success without Durant — they’ve won five consecutive games without him, including a four-game sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference finals — Green brushes off the idea that the Warriors are having more fun winning without the certainty that Durant brings to the game.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say more fun, but it’s just like anything in life,” Green said. “If you go into something with a little more uncertainty, when you come out of it, it feels a little better. Because you got over the doubt. Whatever doubt it was that you was facing, you got over that. When Kevin’s with us, I walk into the arena and I know how this game is gonna go. I know we’re gonna win and whatever else you wanna add in to that, I know already. When he’s not, I’m still extremely confident that we’re gonna win, I’m still extremely confident that we’re the best team walking in. But you gotta figure a little more out in order to win as opposed to when he out there. And so I think it gives you a little more joy initially when you finish that game.
“So you may have seen us over the course of the last few weeks celebrate the Houston series in the second round a little bit more than we would normally celebrate a second-round series win. You may have seen us celebrate sweeping Portland a little bit more than we would normally celebrate sweeping someone, because it’s a different feeling. You go into those games, and it’s like, ‘Yeah, we’re very confident that we’re gonna win,’ but it’s not as certain as it is when Kevin is with us.”
Green also doesn’t believe the Warriors should be concerned about the notion of whether they are including Durant enough in their day-to-day activities as he continues the rehab process.
“I personally don’t really put too much thought into making Kevin feel included, because this is his team,” Green said. “He’s a part of this … everything we’ve done here, he’s a part of. So I think there’s so much noise that comes about, like, ‘Oh, are they better or worse without Kevin?’ Can we stop the conversation? Because it’s idiotic. Do we play a different brand of basketball when Kevin’s not out there? Absolutely. But you’d be idiotic to think that we shouldn’t. We have to play a different brand of basketball, but the whole notion of, ‘Are they better or worse with or without,’ that’s where all the noise comes from.
“And so it’s like, ‘Oh, you all need to keep Kevin a part of it.’ Well, I disagree with that, because Kevin is a part of this. He’s been a part of this and everybody else creates the narrative of, ‘It’s us.’ And then, ‘It’s Kevin’ or ‘It’s the Warriors.’ And then, ‘It’s the Warriors with KD.’ No. It’s still the same team.”
To that point, Green reiterated that he and Durant have moved on from their verbal altercation in November at the end of an overtime loss to the LA Clippers at Staples Center.
“I think I just have looked at it from a different perspective,” Green said. “It wasn’t necessarily that him being a free agent bothered [me]. We all go through that in this profession. It was more so the fact of, ‘Are you with us or not?’ That bothered me. But what I’ll say is, after I had that moment, one thing Kevin told me is, ‘Dude, you have to block out all of that. You see me coming here and work every day. You see me give my all to this team. You see everything, every second of every day. The media is gonna say what they want, but you see everything, you know I’m here, you know I’m with you.’
“And it allowed me to focus on that. It allowed me to focus on what I see, what I can control and not what I can’t see per se and what I can’t control. And so I think that was just the point for me of where I had to look at it from a different standpoint. I had to stop listening to all the noise.”
In the short term, Green, who told Nichols he has lost almost 25 pounds over the past few months, said he is only focused on trying to win the organization’s third straight NBA championship. He knows Raptors star Kawhi Leonard is a very talented player, but he still doesn’t believe Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs could have beaten the Warriors in the 2017 Western Conference finals, even if Leonard had stayed healthy. Leonard injured his left ankle in Game 1 and did not play again after coming down on Warriors then-center Zaza Pachulia‘s foot.
“I don’t know,” Green said. “I mean, possibly, but I personally don’t think that Spurs team had a chance to beat us. But they were playing well in that game. It’s a seven-game series. But nonetheless, I’m sure he feels that in some way, shape or form, but he’s still got to go out and play the game, as do we.”