Late in Game 5 of the Western Conference semi-finals between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Golden State Warriors, the Grizzlies’ home crowd sure tried their damnedest to provoke the NBA’s No 1 pest. Some 18,000 fans twirled towels at the Warriors bench – and chanted along as the PA played Whoop That Trick, a local anthem. Given the deafening roar inside FedEx Forum, with the home team leading by 46, you’d be forgiven for thinking the Warriors were downcast. But in the middle of this madness Draymond Green was firmly in his element: bobbing to the beat, waving a towel and really whooping it up.
There’s been much debate about who’s the best remaining player in the NBA playoffs. But there is no doubt about who’s most exasperating. For the past decade the Warriors’ diminutive power forward has been a 6ft 6in thorn in the side of all who oppose him. In Wednesday night’s Western Conference finals opener against the Dallas Mavericks, Green was back to his familiar shenanigans – flexing on the floor after a tough finish at the rim, sprinting crosscourt to block a corner three, lobbying the refs and otherwise being irritating in the Warriors’ 112-87 victory at home. Green’s official contribution – 10 points, nine rebounds, three assists, two steals and that chef’s kiss closeout block on the Mavericks’ Dorian Finney-Smith – barely captures just what a pain in the ass he is to play against. If anything, these playoffs have served as a reminder of how much the 32-year-old former Michigan State standout sets the tone for the Warriors by being such a massive migraine.
In the conference semi-finals against Memphis, Green was nothing but a hound dog, trying all the time. Patience, that is. He was booted from Game 1 after clobbering Grizzlies big man Brandon Clarke. Minutes into Game 2, Green caught an elbow from Xavier Tillman while grappling for a loose ball. When the FedEx Forum crowd cheered Green flipped them the double bird. (“I could have had a concussion or anything,” whinged Green, who didn’t.) But he quickly returned, and landed the knockout blows as Golden State dispatched with Memphis in six games to snap a two-year hiatus from the conference finals – a break Green described as “miserable.”.
In Golden State’s first-round matchup with Denver, Green faced his stiffest challenge of the year: checking Nikola Jokić. During the regular season Green was sidelined with a lower-back injury for a personal-worst 29 games, including all four against Denver – leading to conjecture that Jokić (a two-time league MVP with a five-inch and 50lb advantage) would be too much to handle even for Green, a former defensive player of the year. Ultimately, Green didn’t completely shut down Jokić, but he did slow the Serbian down enough to prevent the Nuggets offense from operating smoothly and wipe them off the floor in five games. What’s more, Green joined LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Jason Kidd and Larry Bird as the only players in postseason history with 200 steals and 10 triple-doubles.
Afterward, Green embraced Jokić on court and thanked him for making him a better player. “It was an honor and pleasure to play against someone so skilled,” Green gushed to the press afterward. It was stunningly high praise from a redoubtable trash talker. Among other disses: Green goaded a Portland player for not shooting to protect a performance bonus, and famously clapped back at Paul Pierce during a Clippers game after the Hall of Famer slammed Green and Golden State for blowing a 3-1 lead to Cleveland in the 2016 finals. “You can’t get no farewell tour,” Green crowed. “They don’t love you like that. You thought you was Kobe.”
As a courtside correspondent during this year’s All-Star game, Green put down host city Cleveland as “not great” and refused to speak the name of Rudy Gobert, the Utah center who is Green’s prime competition for recognition as the NBA’s best defensive player. Green has gone at Drake and Nicki Minaj; barely a week ago Green called ex-center Kendrick Perkins an “ogre” for suggesting he’s scared to shoot and inveighed against ESPN loudmouth Chris Russo for telling him to shut up and play. (“America’s tired of Draymond Green,” Russo decried.) “I’m not one to really pull a race card very often,” Green said on his podcast, “but that definitely had a racist connotation.”
For years Green had a grudge going with Charles Barkley, who once delighted in jabbing the Warriors linchpin for his “triple single” performances. So it figured that after the Warriors’ breezy Game 1 triumph against Dallas, Green joined Barkley on set outside Chase Arena as a mob of Dubs fans chanted “Barkley sucks.” When the TNT analyst, who picked against the Warriors in this series, shot back by saying how much he hates the Bay Area, Green didn’t miss a beat. “The area hates you!” quipped Green, who’s already been tapped as Barkley’s on-air apparent. And of course he’s already doing too much and claiming his job is “to save the media industry.”
Green isn’t just a throwback to old-school saddle burrs like Dennis Rodman, Bill Laimbeer and Rick Fox; he’s a classic wrestling heel, constantly needling with his sharp tongue and sharper elbows. As a basketball talent, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Green holds himself in highest regard, unabashedly pronouncing himself “the best defender to ever play this game.” And while any talk that places Green in league with James, Bill Russell or David Robinson is bound to sound a touch reckless at this juncture, he is certainly the best defender remaining in the playoffs, whose versatility will be key to the Warriors’ game plan against Luka Dončić – arguably the best offensive player left in the postseason. And while they didn’t exclusively matchup against each other in Game 1, it’s only a matter of time before the player who doesn’t shoot and the player who doesn’t defend square up to swap barbs. And when that clash eventually comes, and the masses inevitably rush in to shout down basketball’s biggest troll, expect Green to keep that same energy.