Draymond Green returns to Warriors starting lineup, but this time it looks different

SAN FRANCISCO — Draymond Green’s hand made contact with LeBron James arm and that was it.

The whistle blew. James sank both free throws.

Ballgame.

After four quarters and two overtime periods, the Warriors lost to the Lakers, 145-144.

And yet, this might go down as one of those beautiful losses.

Green, back in the starting lineup for the first time since returning from his suspension, had played “brilliantly,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, and while his smothering defense and intense physical presence failed the Warriors in the final seconds, it remained the most important of the game.

Perhaps of the season.

Four games into Green’s return from a 16-game absence and the Warriors feel like they’re starting to get their groove back. At times on Saturday, they looked like the Warriors of old.

Like in overtime, when the Warriors were down, 128-124. Steph Curry drove up the court, flipped it to Green on the perimeter. He moved it to Klay Thompson, then back to Green, who drove towards the rim, then tossed it back to Curry, who found daylight. He popped a 3-pointer. Swish.

The easy chemistry and simplicity of their movement is what the Warriors have been looking for.

“We were flying around, playing aggressively,” Curry said. “Understanding every possession was important. Makes or misses, whatever, there was an energy of what we were trying to do.”

Green played a whopping 46 minutes, scored eight points, collected 14 rebounds, dished out 11 assists, picked up three steals and two blocked shots and was involved in just about every pivotal moment.

Thompson had 24 points and Curry had a season-high 46.

“As long as we keep playing the way we played tonight, then I think we’re going to turn this around and have a great season,” Kerr said.

Green finished the game with a plus-31 rating. When he wasn’t on the court, the Warriors were outscored by 30.

“Draymond was incredible tonight,” Thompson said.

This time, Green lined up as the center, the position Kerr appears ready to keep him in. Green at the five with Curry, Thompson, Jonathan Kuminga and Andrew Wiggings “allows us to cover more ground defensively,” Kerr said.

With so much scoring around the league – NBA teams are averaging 116 points per game, the highest in 54 years — Kerr wants players who can cover more space.

For the longest time, Kuminga and Wiggins couldn’t be on the floor together. Now, something has changed.

“We figured it out,” Kuminga said. “We have a feel for each other now. We know how we play.”

With Green at the five, he can be the conductor on defense, shouting and directing traffic.

“He’s had plenty of experience there,” Curry said. “He provides such a big presence. That lineup we have some speed, some athleticism, Draymond’s brain, mine, the way he sees the floor defensively.”

Look to the final seconds of the first overtime period, when the Lakers had six seconds to work with and a chance to win the game. They wanted the ball in James’ hands, obviously, and it was Green who velcroed himself to the NBA legend, forcing him into a bad shot as time expired.

Again in the final moments of double overtime, Green was a machine in the paint. He came up with a huge steal with a minute remaining. He came down with a clutch rebound with 12 seconds left.

After a timeout, Green set a perfect screen for Curry, who hit a wide open 3-pointer to put the Warriors in front by one.

But on the game’s final play, the Warriors couldn’t get the defensive matchup they wanted. James broke free to receive the inbounds pass. He drove by two defenders, then Green jumped up at the last moment, forcing James to miss but making contact while doing so. The foul was costly.

Still, nobody could point a finger at Green for that loss. He’s the reason that Kerr and the Warriors walked away feeling good about where this season is headed, despite back-to-back one-point losses.

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“We’re going to get this turned around,” Kerr said. “I believe in them.”

In Green’s four games back, the Warriors are plus-65 with him on the court. They’re minus-56 when he’s on the bench.

“Draymond is one of the great defenders of all time, so when he’s with a group he automatically connects a group defensively,” Kerr said. “He covers up our mistakes and he’s also behind the play talking, communicating. And on offense he’s another playmaker for us.

“Draymond is a Hall of Fame player for a reason.”

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