WASHINGTON — Monday brought an interregnum to the Warriors’ odd regular season. Golden State, terrible on the road so far and short-handed, came to Washington for a two-day pitstop, playing the Wizards on Monday then returning to the White House for the first time since 2016 to meet a president. Of course, math reminds us that the Dubs have won four NBA championships since 2015, but you all know what’s been going on in this town since then, right? So it was the first time to celebrate with the DC political elite (yay?) for most of the current roster, outside of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green.
For three quarters Monday, the Warriors looked exactly like the kind of disinterested, .500-level team that’s barely hanging on to a top-eight spot in the West. The Wizards, no one’s idea of a contender, were able to get whatever shots they wanted, led by seven in the third quarter and appeared ready to send the Dubs to, amazingly, their 18th loss in 22 road games, continuing their horrendous play away from Chase Center.
Then, a couple of Wizards fans sitting baseline started heckling Green. And, all of a sudden, it was Game 4 of the NBA Finals in Boston last June.
You remember that game. Green had been horrendous in the previous game, with Celtics fans heckling him throughout with “F— you, Draymond!” chants from the opening tip. He wasn’t much better in Game 4, so, with his team trailing 2-1 in the series, Steve Kerr benched Green for a large chunk of the fourth quarter — a got-to-have period. Kerr put Green back on the floor in the last couple of minutes, and Green made some big plays down the stretch. But it was Curry’s otherworldly 43-point night that saved Golden State’s bacon and tied the series.
Green, though, rallied to again be one of the best players on a floor full of stars in Game 5, leading Golden State to the pivotal win that tipped the series in its favor.
So, what happened Monday wasn’t unprecedented. Suddenly, Green was everywhere, leading on the classic half-court four-on-threes that have been created by Curry’s mere presence on the floor for the Warriors for almost a decade, hitting Anthony Lamb backdoor for a layupdiving himself for a layup, tapping the ball out to Jordan Poole on an offensive rebound for the game-clinching 3 in the final minutes — and, improbably, making two 3s himself, raising his percentage for the season behind the arc to a not -robust 32.5.
“Everyone on our team heard the guy on the bench talking,” Green said afterward. “And everyone, including our coach, was like, ‘Draymond — shut him up.’”
But needing that spark speaks to the boredom of a defending champion team the following season, waiting for the postseason. The Warriors aren’t anything close to title ready. Only the Rockets and Spurs have a worse defensive rating on the road than Golden State. James Wiseman, in whom the Dubs have invested so much, spent a month in the G League, playing well, but hasn’t brought that back to the parent club. JaMychal Green, who was supposed to take up some of the slack from the free-agent departure of Otto Porter, hasn’t played since Dec. 18 because of injury. No one’s replaced the defensive disruption of Gary Payton II, now in Portland.
And Green’s future with the Warriors is, to say the least, up in the air. He can opt into the final year of his contract, at $27.5 million, for 2023-24. But if he opts out, there’s little sense Golden State will bring him back. The Warriors gave Poole, whom Green punched in that infamous training camp beef during practice, the big bag — four years and $128 million, starting next season. Joe Lacob has made it clear he’s not going to keep paying historic luxury tax going forward. At 32, Green’s future has never been murkier, even when he summons up his old two-way excellence as he did Monday.
But that leaves the rest of this season, in a Western Conference full of very good but hardly intimidating teams at the top. Can Green be great again, when it matters most — and, if he’s going out, go out with a fifth title?
The following interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
Why did some rando talking junk to you bother you so much?
It wasn’t necessarily that it bothered me. He was talking the whole time. So it wasn’t that in particular. That was just some of the stuff he was saying. He was talking Hall of Fame, he was talking about scoring. “Draymond, you scared.” He told me I was scared. I think that sets me off more than anything. When he was like, “Oh, you scared,” I was like, “Scared?” We’re out here playing the Washington Wizards, on a soft Monday, and the games I’ve played in, and I’m scared? Why would this game scare me? Three pm on Monday. Game 42. It’s not even a national television game, let alone a big game. So, I think that probably set me off more than anything.
The Hall of Fame thing, you can say what you want. The way I thought about the Hall of Fame thing was if you come to this game, and you immediately set out speaking to me about being a Hall of Famer, you probably believe I’m a Hall of Famer. Because you didn’t come to talk to anybody else about being a Hall of Famer. We know Steph’s a Hall of Famer. And so, why would you come to talk to me about that? There must be something there. It was the telling me that I was scared that set me off.
If you get in the Hall of Fame, and you probably will, it will be for something completely different than scoring, anyway.
And that’s what I’ve always said. I think I’ll — and I hope I’ll — be in the Hall of Fame. But my route won’t be the typical route. You won’t go and look at my stats and say, “This guy’s a surefire Hall of Famer.” But if you know the game of basketball, and you look at the game of basketball, then I think I have a case. That’s kind of how I look at it. No, my path to the Hall of Fame won’t be the typical path guys take to the Hall of Fame. And I still have work to do and continue to build, but I think I can make a solid case.
Kerr said every season’s different, and this certainly has been a weird one for you all so far. Do you have to lean in even more on the institutional memory that you and Steph and Klay and Kevon have built up over this run, so that whatever the circumstances of this season are, you’ll figure it out in time?
Yes, I do. And I always trust that, because the reality is that that has never failed us. But I also understand that we have to build habits. I do understand that we have to continue to figure things out. When you’re able to figure it out, you have go-to plays, you have go-to lineups, you have all these things, go-to matchups. And so, we’re still figuring all of those things out. The truth of the matter is, we still have some learning about this group to do. We still have some togetherness to continue to build. But in saying that, what we understand and what we believe is, if and when we do those things, we know what it takes. It’s not many other people in this league that truly know what it takes.
But last year, you had Otto, you had GP – you had vets who could put their feet in both of your roster’s worlds, you know? How do you find that now?
It’s funny, because we were talking the other day, and I was telling Jordan, ‘Your impact is bigger than you think.’ When you’re talking about a bridge between younger guys and experienced guys, you are that guy that can understand and relate to both. I use the word “cool.” All of these younger guys probably think you’re way cooler than all of us. But that matters. And so, I think it’s him. I think it has to be him, and I think it will be him.
Is there anyone else who can help him with that, or is that his lift?
I think that’s his lift. I think it’s on us, as vets, to help him with that. But I think it’s his lift. That takes time to figure out. When, Jordan’s in, what, his fourth year? It’s not like he’s in Year 8 or 9. This is starting to be your first test of leadership, and that’s to tie that together. And it takes time to grow into that role. But it’s on us to help him with that.
When you look at the West, are you encouraged that no one has really taken a stranglehold on the conference yet halfway through, or is that challenging, because anyone could get hot at the right time in the playoffs?
I think that speaks louder to us than anything. It’s right there for us to go take it. We do what we have to do; it’s more about us. That’s what it says to me — that it’s more about us than it is about anybody else.
(Photo of Draymond Green: Jesse D. Garrabrant / NBAE via Getty Images)