Draymond Green‘s casual saunter is quickly becoming the same as the one he displays after knocking down buckets by the boatload.
That was certainly the case Saturday, when Green recorded a season-high 29 points, 14 assists and 17 rebounds, outscoring the entire Nuggets lineup in the first quarter and leading the Warriors (31-2) to a 111-108 overtime win.
Denver (12-21) came into Oakland with just a dozen wins amid uncertainty regarding the future of head coach Mike Malone and the roster.
The Warriors aren’t playing high quality rosters. That’s not to take away from Green’s night, which was one for the ages and easily the most electric of this season. And, according to Green, the explosion wasn’t really expected:
“My shot actually felt awful. Which is kind of wierd. In the shootaround it felt awful. Pregame shooting felt awful. Hopefully I feel awful everyday.”
Green was needed on a night where Stephen Curry started as a game time decision after missing the previous two games with a bruised lower left leg and being considered day to day.
It’s no coincidence that Green stepped in to fill the void. Though Curry and Klay Thompson played, the $82 million man has improved to another level, and displayed it against the backdrop of a hobbled Golden State roster.
Green tied his season high with five three-pointers by halftime, and his first-quarter performance was better than any half he’s played, the previous best being 16 points.
Accounting for one-third of Golden State’s 63 first-half points, Green was pacing for a career night from the time he woke up, it seemed. And the game seemed effectively over once he made his first bucket.
Maybe even since before the team left Houston on New Year’s Eve, where Green decimated the Rockets with 16 assists and his fifth triple-double of the year. He would add his sixth Saturday night.
Interim head coach Luke Walton has become to know Green as one type of player, the best kind. He said:
“You come to expect whatever is needed. Some nights it’s his playmaking. Some nights it’s his toughness. Some nights that’s hitting a big shot. He can have four points and still be the best player on the floor. And the way that game was, we needed his scoring, rebounding, and his playmaking. And he did all of that.”
Denver mounted a resurgent run in late in the third quarter and into the fourth, led by Danilo Gallinari and Jameer Nelson. The winded Warriors were losing steam, and though forward Jason Thompson left his unofficial title of bench warming extraordinaire in the dust for spurts, it was evident Golden State wasn’t dominating anymore.
Thompson began shooting from the far corner, where the baseline meets the sideline about five feet behind where the basket protrudes. And as the Nuggets became more physical, Golden State couldn’t move the ball well enough to avoid turning it over.
It looked grim for the Warriors, who have preached that another championship trumps everything else, and that playing starters big minutes on a constant basis wasn’t going to happen. Nearing the 3-minute mark, Denver was within two points, adding to the conundrum.
And as Green air-balled from three-point range, Walton made a decision that could have decided the outcome: He left everyone in.
What the Warriors had been feeling, fatigue and pain, was what Denver’s key men were also enduring. The skill of Golden State’s roster, though, knocked in nine over the five-minute overtime period.
The Nuggets could only muster six.
The final minute was pivotal — up 110-108, Speights was fouled without the ball, putting Denver over the foul limit and Klay Thompson at the free throw line.
It seemed inevitable that Thompson would sink both. Worn down and coming off a tough road trip, Thompson only hit one, leaving the game within reach and 35 seconds on the clock.
But a driving attempt by Barton, which initially led to overtime, could not be duplicated. Game.
Walton could have sat a few key players, at least for a minute or two in the fourth quarter, but he opted to leave them in — realizing that the game was trending in the wrong direction.
It didn’t work, but the Warriors still found a way. Down more players than they had available, and against a team with a bad record but undeniable talent.
Just a few ticks into intermission, the Warriors announced Curry had suffered a left shin contusion after a 5-point first half and would not return.
The Warriors have tightly gripped the NBA standings, and aren’t letting go. Their roster, though, has the injuries to show for such effort, and is approaching a point where reserves are hard to come by.
Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli, James Michael McAdoo, Brandon Rush, Leandro Barbosa and Kevon Looney weren’t available Saturday night. That’s six spots on a 15-man NBA roster for players who are too beat up to play.
Looney’s absence this season was expected. When the Warriors drafted him with the final selection of the 2015 NBA draft, they knew his hip was an issue, and the 19-year-old forward underwent surgery in August to remedy some problems with the future in mind.
An injured Curry, along with key role players like Ezeli, Barnes and Barbosa, isn’t a recipe for success. Though winning without the four key hurt Warriors could provide proof that Walton is better than just lucky.
Which leads to another important issue for the Warriors: is Steve Kerr even remotely close to regaining his spot on the sideline? Walton said:
“It’s frustrating because it’s out of his control. When that day will be, I have no idea and I don’t think he knows. So we’ll just keep going until he gives us the nod and that he’ll be back out there. Today he told me this morning that he wont be coaching tonight, and I just said ‘alright.'”
Nearing the midway point in the season, Golden State has only two losses. It’s entirely possible that, even with the injuries and the grind of an NBA season, the Warriors could top the 72-10 1995-96 Chicago Bulls and seize the record for the most wins in a regular season.
Walton praised the win on Saturday night, but noted the losses — which include Bogut, who fouled out but also dealt with cramps during the night.
“By the end of the game we only had seven players to rotate in and out. We only had one wing, we had (Jason Thompson and Marreese Speights) at bigs. For the guards and wings, that’s tough. And when Bogut fouled out. I think our guys played well tonight.”
Golden State got the win, sure.
But they’re also losing players at a rate that doesn’t add to a betting man’s confidence that they will get there in April.
Denver forward Kenneth Faried left the floor with 15.6 seconds remaining in overtime after being hit in the head on a Klay Thompson drive. Faried received medical attention from paramedics near the Nuggets bench as time expired, and was placed onto a gurney with his neck immobilized. Faried signaled “thumbs up” to the remaining crowd as he was rolled off the court after the game.