OAKLAND: Draymond Green’s presence was everywhere. Except inside Oracle Arena, where it was needed most.
Green, the emotional catalyst of the Golden State Warriors, spent Monday night a few hundred yards away at the A’s game at the Oakland Coliseum instead of on the court with his team, throwing elbows with the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
Green, suspended Sunday by the NBA after accumulating too many flagrant fouls during the playoffs, left his team without its heart and soul.
“He’s their best defender,” said Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue after his team forced a Game 6 on Thursday with a 112-97 victory. “He is the best guy in the NBA as far as reading when to help, triple switches and kicking guys out of mismatches, knowing when to go, when not to go.
“He’s an underrated shot blocker and he can guard one through five, so that definitely hurt their defense. But I’m just proud of the way our guys played tonight.”
Coach Steve Kerr didn’t want to talk much about the emotional chasm Green’s absence opened with his team, but fans sure didn’t forget the fiery forward.
Dozens of gold-and-blue bedecked fans waved huge cardboard cutouts of Green’s face and others crafted signs that read sentiments including: “You can’t suspend our heart and soul.”
In the deafening Roaracle sound chamber, chants rang out saying “Free Draymond” and “LeBron’s a bitch,” a reference to supposed trash-talk Green and James exchanged in the tussle that led to Green’s suspension.
Some folks at the baseball stadium posted photos of Green in a suite and video of him walking to the restroom at the Coliseum.
Kerr acknowledged before the game that Green’s contributions would be hard to replace.
“We have to make up for his absence collectively,” Kerr said. “Obviously, there is not one person who can do all of that.”
Kerr did his best to find a successful combination, starting Andre Iguodala, who handled James last year, and subbing in six bench players in the first quarter seeking the perfect rotation that might stymie the Cavs like in Game 2, which the Warriors won 110-77.
But Cleveland wasn’t ready to go down that easy.
James and Irving each had 41 points, and James added 16 rebounds, to lead all scorers. Klay Thompson had 37 for Golden State .
“It’s too simple to say that,” Kerr answered when asked if Green’s absence was the key. “We weren’t very good defensively. We obviously knew we were without Draymond, so there’s no point in harping on that. … Both those guys played terrific games.”
James — booed by the 19,596 fans in Oracle virtually every time he touched the ball or appeared on the big screen —showed why he’s a champion and multiple-MVP winner. He had 25 points and had nine rebounds by halftime while taking the brunt of the jeering.
Even without James and Irving’s performance, the Warriors undeniably missed their passionate leader.
Green’s value can’t be understated. It’s in the numbers, and in the intangibles.
Stats-wise, through Game 4, Green led the team in minutes played (152), rebounds (37), assists (23) and steals (7), was second in blocks (5), third in scoring, behind Stephen Curry and Thompson.
But Green also provides the heart of the team, the expressive, wear-it-on-his-sleeve touchstone that fires up his team and Warriors’ fans.
“Obviously, we missed him tonight big-time,” Thompson said.
Kerr shut down suggestions that Green’s passion perhaps has gone over the line at times.
“We’re not talking about that tonight,” he said. “Draymond wasn’t here so we played without him. We didn’t play well enough to win. I’m not going into all that stuff.”
Despite Monday’s win, the road is steeply uphill for the Cavs — none of the other 32 teams that found itself in a 3-1 hole came back to win the NBA championship.
The Warriors find themselves in the same position as last year, up 3-2 going back to Cleveland, Kerr noted. The Warriors closed the Finals out in Ohio to win their first championship since 1975.
“So we go back to Cleveland and tee it up again,” Kerr said. “But I like our position a lot better than theirs.”