During the Warriors‘ championship-sealing 129-120 win at Oracle Arena on Monday night — when the Warriors vanquished the Cavaliers, LeBron James, and every 3-1 joke ever by capturing their second title in three seasons — Thompson leaped in the air to block Tristan Thompson‘s shot at the rim. Except, he never shot the ball. Klay, already committed in mid air, made contact with the other Thompson’s shoulder, a whistle blew to signal a foul, and Klay kept falling.
So, Green caught him.
Green was trying to save Thompson from a devastating fall to the hardwood. He ended up finding redemption.
Before the season even began, redemption was a word that many threw around when discussing the Warriors. Could the Warriors, a 73-win team that blew its spot in history by letting an insurmountable Finals lead slip away, redeem itself with a championship?
Except that talk never really made total sense. This version of the Warriors, with Kevin Durant replacing Harrison Barnes, are not last year’s Warriors. And so, the idea that the Warriors could take revenge against the Cavaliers or gain some sort of redemption was always a stretch. Last year is last year. It’s not comparable to the present.
Green is the exception. After all, he’s the reason — at least a significant portion of the reason — why the Warriors failed to finish their record season with a crown.
Last year, when the Warriors tried to close out a 3-1 series against the Cavaliers at Oracle, Green was stationed next door at the A’s game, hanging out with Marshawn Lynch in a suite, prepared to sprint over to the arena to join his teammates after they won their second straight title. That never happened — in large part because Green couldn’t play. His suspension, which stemmed from the previous game when he attacked James’ groin area, prevented him from serving his role as the Warriors’ beating heart.
Without Green, the Warriors allowed 112 points. The Cavaliers stole a game they needed to steal. The rest is history.
“I don’t really carry it with me,” Green said the day before this year’s Finals began. “I’m a firm believer in shit happens. And carrying it with you for what? I carried the lessons that I learned with me, but the actual incident? I put that behind me a long time ago.”
More s*** (the better kind) happened Monday night, when Green completed his arc of redemption.
In no way was he perfect, shooting 3-of-10 for 10 points. He really wasn’t good offensively all series long. After a blistering start to the playoffs, when he shot 47 percent from deep in the run-up to the Finals, his touch faded in the final five games. He went 7-of-25 from 3 in the Finals. But Green isn’t there to score. When his 3s drop, they’re an added bonus. They turn a nearly unbeatable team into an indestructible force. They’re the dragons reigning fire down from above to help an armada already filled with Unsullied and Dothraki.
But they’re not necessary. The Unsullied and Dothraki don’t need him. Steph Curry, Durant and Thompson are there to score. Green is there for other reasons.
His presence alone is enough to make the difference. By doing something that probably seems easy to everyone else — simply staying on the floor — he did his part. Steve Kerr often likes to say that his team walks the edge between reckless and explosive. Green walks the line between fiery and out of control. A year ago, he lost control. This year, he straddled that line perfectly.
“I talked to my dad, my grandmother, every person I saw walking down the street, my mom, everybody’s like, ‘Keep your cool, keep your cool. Don’t argue with the refs,'” Green said. “I had to ask myself, ‘Is it that bad? Like does it look that bad that everyone I see’ — I’m in a grocery store, guy’s like, ‘Keep your cool. I’m like, ‘Jesus Christ, this must be bad.’
“And so I had to have a real seminar with myself, like I must be out there looking bad. So, I just told myself, like I’m not going to worry about the officials. I’m just going to play the game.”
So that’s what he did. He played.
The Warriors needed Green like they needed him last year when they had a chance to put away the Cavaliers at Oracle. They needed his unseen screens in the paint. They needed his menacing challenges at the rim. They needed his timely rebounds (12 on Monday). They needed his ability to push the ball up the floor and his knack for finding open cutters (five assists). They needed his defense (two steals). They needed his game-high plus-minus (plus-19). They needed his grind, grit, and beating heart. All year long — dating back to last summer when he reached out to Durant immediately after their Game 7 loss — they needed him.
After the game, at his emotional press conference, Durant — unprompted — told a story about Green from December, when he helped move the Warriors past the awkward transition phase.
“I had my lows in the season where I was beating myself up, where I was struggling throughout the year. But the great part about it is I’d get a tap on the head from Steph or Draymond,” Durant said. “I can remember when we were in Sacramento and we had just lost to Memphis, we gave up the lead, we were up 20 — I’m sure you guys remember. Draymond pulled me aside. We were having dinner the next night in Sacramento, and he told me to be myself. Don’t worry about anything, just be you, keep working, everything’s going to come around.
“And I was struggling at that point. And to have teammates that encourage you, that lift you up, that’s what we all need in life.”
Without Green, the Warriors’ Hamptons 5 lineup wouldn’t exist. The Warriors wouldn’t be able to trot out a lineup that obliterated the Cavaliers throughout the series, in small stretches during the first four games and in significant minutes during Game 5, when the Warriors pulled away with a 36-11 second-quarter blitz and stayed ahead by putting their smaller unit — anchored by Green, not Zaza Pachulia — on the floor more than they have all season long.
Green — and only Green — makes that possible. In that sense, he’s their most important player.
He’s always been an enigma. A controversial figure. A paradox.
He’s too small to play center, yet the Warriors are at their best when he’s their lone big. He’s the Warriors’ most important player, but he’s the third- or fourth-most talented player on the roster. He’s the emotional center of the Warriors, but his emotions have led to their downfall. He’s smart, introspective, and brutally honest with reporters, but that trait can lead him into trouble. He’s not perfect and he has his limitations, but he knows what he does well. So that’s what he does, always to his fullest — as James himself noted with Green in the same room at All-Star Weekend.
“That’s why this [expletive] is so good,” James said at the time, pointing at Green.
As the final minute ticked away on the NBA season, as the clock made the turn from 1:00 to 59 seconds, Curry dribbled the ball up the left side of the court. Behind him, Green walked behind the play. He didn’t have the ball or a signature moment from the game. But it didn’t matter. He raised his arms triumphantly.
He was there. And that alone was enough.