There are undoubtedly faces in Cleveland that Draymond Green knows by heart. A permanent spiritual resident on the front lines of shit-talking wars, the Golden State Warriors' mercurial forward always peaks in his sound and fury when he reaches the NBA Finals. Over four straight years facing the Cleveland Cavaliers in the championship round, he got to know, frustrate, enrage, and ultimately entertain every ounce of basketball-concerned humanity within that city, establishing and repeatedly reinforcing a mutual animosity so strong that it necessarily includes respect. Now, the famously acidic crowds of the Boston Celtics are coming to know this overwhelming hybrid of hate and love.
Through the first two games of the 2022 Finals in San Francisco, Green was quick to remind the public just how powerfully obnoxious, confident, and theatrical he can be on this stage, displaying a historically strong understanding of his sport's psychological contours—a knowing that has, at times, verged into a recklessness that some maintain cost his team a trophy in 2016. In Game 2 of this year's title series, in particular, the perennial Defensive Player of The Year candidate (and winner of the award in 2017) put his stamp on his things, earning an early technical foul and then leaning into the behavior he was penalized for; there was much talk of how Green was, and has long been, exploiting a loophole in league's code of decorum, recognizing that referees—part of whose job is to be custodians of entertainment value—are reticent to give him a second technical foul and make the unpopular decision of effectively ejecting him from the contest.
Green got to stomping, screaming, and all other forms of haranguing. He called pesky, rotund Celtics' X-factor Grant Williams a "bozo" and accused him of doing a stale, unimpressive Draymond impersonation. He straight-up tackled Williams, in another moment. Haters—of which Green has plenty, even within his own fanbase—claimed that this was an example of how much extra-physical conduct he gets away with, due to how aggressively he pushes the Overton Window on officiating, warping referees' senses of what's permissible and extending the boundaries of what he's able to do into increasingly blurry territory. It's hard to argue that he's doing anything else, but Green doesn't care: he knows that Williams and Celtics guard Marcus Smart travel in similar arts of annoyance and deception—which have always been inherent to this and every sport, especially at the championship level—and that now is his time to prove himself superior at it.
We're not even that far into the project of describing Green, though—that won't be done by
the end of this column space either. The man is, perhaps mostly succinctly, a lot. But we would be remiss not to say more about what he currently does as an actual basketball player. Now 32 years old and dramatically diminished as a scorer, Draymond averaged the fewest shots per game since his second season in 2021-22, largely operating as a screener, passer, and communicator in the Warriors offense. When he does shoot, it's unsightly, and it doesn't seem to matter whether he's launching from three or taking a short-range floater: every time he sends the ball out of his grasp and towards the rim, it's as if he has learned to projectile-defecate out of his hands. Green remains an indispensable member of his team's sets regardless, because of the aforementioned qualities; some battlefronts require their generals to be articulate, loud, and insistent to the point that, even if they're a stumbling mess while they holler and enact their directions, he still brings them closer to victory.
Defensively, Green's switch onto Jaylen Brown as a primary assignment in Game 2 helped turn the series back Golden State's way after a somewhat baffling Game 1 defeat. Coach Steve Kerr recognized that Draymond need be just as active attacking the ball as he is with his mouth for the Warriors to be their best selves, and once he was asked to mess up one of the Celtics' deputies—instead of infantry member Al Horford, who usually gets rid of the ball quickly after catching it—things started going more Golden State's way. Brown ended up the game 5-for-17, and Green was able to disrupt elsewhere too, contributing to a lockdown effort in which Boston scored just 14 points in a decisive third quarter.
All that went sour on Green in Game 3, though. He never got a hold on what the Celtics were doing, or on their rancorous crowd—which eagerly introduced a clever "f--- you, Draymond" chant—and fouled out with four minutes remaining, flailing haplessly on the ground for a loose ball. He got under no one's skin but his own, or perhaps that of his own team, and the Celtics beat the Warriors fairly easily to take a 2-1 series lead. In Game 4, the Warriors tied things up as Steph Curry led them with one of the best performances of his career, and Green was on the bench for many of the team's best stretches. He had a lot of ugly moments when he was playing, but then at the very end of the contest, when the Warriors closed the door, he lasered into his best self, grabbing a pivotal offensive rebound and quickly finding Kevon Looney for an assist on a bucket that more or less sealed the game. This, for a while now, has been the Draymond Green experience: he can look better than ever at his singular mudman beat one night, and entirely too old for it the next. And then he can go right back to being a championship-level glue guy, without any warning. The line between brilliance and disaster is one he moves back and forth over more than maybe than anyone ever has, and whoever wins these Finals just might be determined by how many games he can spend on the right side of it.