While declaring something like we did in the title after only the third loss this season for the Golden State Warriors, which was by only two points, is a little bit bold, we stand by it. Draymond Green is what makes the Golden State Warriors truly great, not Stephen Curry.
The Warriors lost for the third time in 39 games, this time 112-110 to the Denver Nuggets, who were led by Danilo Gallinari, who is having a fantastic season leading a team some thought was going to be the worst in the West, but could end up making the playoffs if there’s no one that picks up the pace and grabs that 8th spot in the next couple of months.
Gallinari scored 28 points, 17 of them coming from the free throw line. His biggest play was the steal off of Curry (who was scorching in the fourth quarter with 20 of his 38 points). Curry later said he got stuck between looking for a shot and finding the open man on the final possession, which sealed the deal and opened up the time window for Gallinari to make the defensive stop.
Curry finished with 13-of-25 from the field and 5-of-12 from beyond the arc, going beserk in the final quarter. But this wasn’t Warriors basketball, or at least not the best kind of it. Green makes the special things happen, and he was taking a rest. Turns out that if you’re not the San Antonio Spurs on a prime time night, it’s OK to rest one of the best player in the league, without anyone punishing you.
And why is Green so important? First of all, it keeps Jason Thompson off the floor, and the combination of him and Brandon Rush together just felt too pre-2014 Warriors. But it’s what Green does on both ends of the floor. While the Warriors rarely resort to their special lineup that did so well in the Finals (unless they really have to), Green is the team’s best passer, probably their best rebounder and most versatile defender next to Andre Iguodala. Curry might be a menace offensively and the favorite to win a second MVP, but when he’s not playing it doesn’t mean so many dimensions of the Warriors game take a beating compared to when Green is off the floor.
This doesn’t mean doom for the Warriors or anything close to it. In fact, we need some more games without Green to see how this very intelligent team adapts. They did that without Harrison Barnes and Curry when they missed their first games of the season. And then again, if Green is injured at some point, it shows the fragile nature of this league, in which one player in the lineup means so much to the success of even the best and one of the deepest teams in the NBA. The Warriors can live with a loss here and there if it means a fit team in the playoffs and no unnecessary fatigue building up. But even a team that might end up with the best record in NBA history has its flaws, and the Cavaliers and Spurs are watching attentively.