On Christmas, in front of a bewildered national audience on one of the NBA’s showcase days, the Golden State Warriors — who have just absolutely sucked this season following a rash of injuries to most of their key players — beat the Houston Rockets, a kind of title contender running out a full lineup, by nearly 10 points.
How did this happen? A few reasons, I suppose. Third-year journeyman and longtime D-League grinder Damian Lewis was weirdly great, notching 22 points, 15 boards, and four assists. James Harden got caught in the Warriors’ stab and a box-and-one devised by assistant coach Jarron Collins, and ended up having an underwhelming night, as a result. Russell Westbrook, given free rein in the vacuum left by a blotted-out Harden, took 32 shots and missed 21 of them. Just a night of horrors for the poor Rockets, who look really, really vulnerable in a world where teams sit back and recognize that Harden can melt you like the center of the Earth, but Westbrook just … might not have the juice for that, at this point in his life, and is just totally willing to shoot Houston out of a game at will.
But you know what? I don’t care about any of that “basketball tactics and player production” nonsense. I am here to tell you the REAL REASON the Rockets randomly got their asses kicked by the worst team in the NBA.
It happened because Draymond Green is a rascal.
Here’s Green doing some high-end rascal sh*t, running on the break, catching a pass from two-way rookie Ky Bowman, and gently throwing it down. What the Warriors’ social media team doesn’t include in this manifestation of the clip says more about our rascally guy than the clip itself. The play begins with Ben McLemore just brutally bricking a long three-point shot. The ball kind of drops down to Draymond, who nearly catches it with a one-two- hand clasp, riiiight before P.J. Tucker — also a rascal, but not an apex rascal like Draymond is — pokes the ball away from Green, theoretically keeping him from dribbling on the break and creating a clean fast break for the Warriors.
But then something even weirder happens. The ball ends up in the hands of Bowman, and Green gets going in transition. The Rockets, who are probably waiting for Bowman to stop the play and give it to a ball handler, kind of let him proceed midcourt unmolested. Green, catching like four guys ball watching, waiting for someone to start the defense, just kind of gallops to the rim, catches a pass, and drills a clean, open dunk. Harden sort of looks around, wondering why no one on the team did anything resembling their job.
“Nice! There you go.” Hubie Brown loves it.
Draymond Green doesn’t have any of the sh*t you’re really looking for when you draft an NBA player. OK, not totally true — he does have long arms. But aside from that, he’s merely a pretty good athlete, his jumper somewhere around functional; he’s not blessed with extraordinary touch, really.
But what he does have, the sh*t that makes him better than, like, all but two of the dudes drafted before him, is the powerful spirit of a true rascal. He is Basketball Bugs Bunny, out here racking up dimes and winning games purely by being cleverer than everyone he plays against, smelling out little, exploitable angles, exercising total control over his little domain. No one in the NBA relishes the deeply not-beautiful art of covering a guard on a switch, slowing down his drive, then kind of standing there and sticking his arms in the air to disrupt his shot. He’s a savant in transition making himself into a midcourt hub that can easily find an open shooter or a guy under the basket. He plays center defense just by eating up space, being out there and figuring out which part of the court needs sealing.
Draymond Green is like if you made the entire basketball player out of PREMIUM INTANGIBLES, of heady defense and off-the-dome improvisation, and didn’t really put any of the other, 2K-type ratings in him at all. He’s an elite NBA talent purely out of spite, somehow. Not in the Jimmy Butler way, either, where he terrorizes and denigrates whoever he is playing with, gets low-key mad that he didn’t get to go to Kentucky and fixates on being a person with the ball in his hands, doing things, showing THEM that they all made a MISTAKE. It’s not about proving something to himself or to anyone else — it’s about winning, filling in all the little tiny spaces you need to to disrupt your opponent and crack your teammates open. It’s about noticing and exploiting whatever little weakness he can find, here, the Rockets collectively falling into a fugue state in transition after they THOUGHT Tucker had managed to gunk up the play enough to force a half-court possession, and just sliding through, right on in there, filling or shooting a gap that only he can see in motion on the hardwood.
Green is practicing his trade for a garbage team this year. It’s not even close to being his fault, of course. He’s not LeBron, he doesn’t just get to go out there and impose his overwhelming physical and intellectual will on whoever is standing in his way. He’s an extraordinarily valuable talent, one of the premium players who needs space and scoring to win like he has in the recent past, and the D-League cast-off Warriors just don’t have ANYTHING like that this year.
But he’s a g**damn professional, people. He’s doing what he can to keep everyone from killing each other, big-upping his teammates to whoever will listen, playing most games, not airing anyone out to reporters. And when he gets the chance to make mischief against the Rockets, who walked into the arena half-asleep on Christmas Day, he goes ahead and takes it, notches 20 and 11 boards, and leaves the home fans with some good yuletide feelings.
In this way, Draymond is like Santa Claus. Well, maybe not Santa Claus. He’s more Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He’s an unconventional talent, with a freakish ability to perceive the world around him — Rudolph, of course, blowing through the fog with his red nose, Draymond, simply by seeing through the fog of reality and executing on the pure, crystalline truths he sees through the haze that disrupts so many other, inferior players. There was a time when both men were underrated, Rudolph, getting ragged on left and right, denied the fun of reindeer games with his comrades, Draymond going in the second round even though he had a wonderful college career, simply because his weird squat body didn’t appeal to narrow-minded scouts who were drafting purely for moldables. But when they got their shot, they both CHANGED THE GAME — Rudolph, helping Santa not fly into a mountain, and Draymond, anchoring the Warriors’ excellent defense and operating as a hub for their ball movement in transition and the half-court.
This year, of course, Santa is dead, but Rudolph is still a legend, waiting for him to be born again in the personage of someone like Tim Allen in The Santa Clause. Or a non-injured Steph and Klay. Whichever.