NBA playoffs: Draymond Green stabilizes Warriors, starter or not, while young Kings show fight but also miscues

The champions are alive and well, courtesy of a heart-stopping Game 4 win over the Sacramento Kings that evens the first-round series at two games apiece. It is clearly the most compelling series in this round, and even though the Golden State Warriors have had their issues on the road all season, you can bet they’re feeling mighty confident about taking a game on the road in order to advance.

Thoughts on Sunday’s 126-125 win by Golden State:

Draymond Green

Be it his own suggestion or the coaching staff’s, coming off the bench following his Game 3 suspension showed an urgency and an acknowledgement that the Kings are a true threat. It’s a balancing act, as the Steph Curry/Klay Thompson/Andrew Wiggins/Kevon Looney/Green unit is the best in the NBA per 100 possessions. But having one big on the floor opens things up a little bit more, plus it anchors the defense during those off minutes.

Green’s impact would’ve been felt no matter when he appeared. And he showed why, with critical stops on defense and knowing just where to be on offense, he feels worthy of whatever he’ll ask the front office for this summer.

He is one of a kind on defense especially, stymying Domantas Sabonis on the interior and having the temerity to guard De’Aaron Fox on the perimeter. The Warriors tried literally everyone on Fox, and Green had his turn. Multiple times in the fourth quarter, the Kings had multiple-man advantages on the backside near the rim and Green thwarted the action. Or Green’s stop on Harrison Barnes followed by his block of Sabonis after the offensive rebound.

Yes, he got a tech very early for jawing at Fox — the pointless double Ts that accomplish nothing but put everyone closer to blaming the refs for knee-jerk decisions — and he missed several easy shots at the rim, going 3 for 14 — so he gave the full Draymond Green performance. It was the Draymond Green show, one would say.

But he stabilizes everything and gives the Warriors just enough of a defensive presence in a series where stops will be at a premium the entire way. He cleared Curry for a couple clean looks Curry didn’t have to create on his own, critical considering the heavy minutes Curry is playing.

Now, he returns to the scene of the crime — or the stomp — by going back to Sacramento for Game 5 and having to deal with everything that comes with it. If he brings the tenacity, defense and focus, the Warriors feel like they can withstand just about anything else — just about anything.

Youth, and more youth

The Kings don’t scare. They’re not intimidated by the moment, by the specter of playing against the Golden State Warriors. How many times in Game 4 did it look like the Kings were on the verge of folding after a 10-2 run, only to regroup, get back in the game and take the lead? More experienced teams have suffered that fate at Oracle or Chase, but the Kings keep coming.

In Game 4, they didn’t dictate the terms of play as they did in the first two games at home, but they played true to their character. Fox often played like he’s been in the postseason for years, with yet another 30-point performance.

Sacramento Kings guard De'Aaron Fox goes up for a shot against Golden State Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins during Game 4 at Chase Center in San Francisco on April 23, 2023. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

They didn’t do much in the way of immaturity, but they had a few costly lapses that hurt them in ways that may haunt them if the Warriors win it. Fox throwing the ball to no one in particular — resulting in it going out of bounds — with the Kings trailing by two is one he’d like to have back. There’s no reason for Fox to give up that ball at all, he’s too potent and too unstoppable to relinquish possession when he’s the best option on an unbalanced floor. Malik Monk over-penetrating and hitting Green in the face was another one. Fox losing Curry on a simple brush screen for a triple goes against every principle on guarding Curry, the attention to detail that must be applied on every possession.

It happens. They’ll rebound because they’re probably too innocent to know better and too good to go down easily. Even on the final possession, going to Barnes as a screener for Fox instead of red-hot rookie Keegan Murray is one head coach Mike Brown would probably request a mulligan on, too. The Warriors played it perfectly, took their chances with Barnes, and the series is tied with the Warriors having new life.

All sides of Steph Curry

Usually it’s Curry saving Green on something, but he needed saving in this case. It wasn’t some downright choke, but he was flying a little too close to the sun in the final minute, especially after the Warriors wrestled away control of the game with timely defensive stops.

Pulling a Chris Webber, calling a timeout when the Warriors’ last one was on the Looney moving screen challenge, was almost disastrous. And even going for the kill shot with 10 seconds left and the Warriors up one seemed a bit on the hasty side.

Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry is guarded by Domantas Sabonis and Keegan Murray of the Sacramento Kings during Game 4 of their first-round NBA playoffs series at Chase Center in San Francisco on April 23, 2023. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry is guarded by Domantas Sabonis and Keegan Murray of the Sacramento Kings during Game 4 of their first-round NBA playoffs series at Chase Center in San Francisco on April 23, 2023. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

But this is what Curry does — at least on the latter matter. He bends conventional wisdom and tries to take advantage when there’s just a sliver of a hole, with usually positive results. His game, aside from those two things, felt masterful.

Curry played the extra minutes Steve Kerr has been hesitant to give him, but he was needed in every one of them. He scored 10 in the fourth, with both his triples occurring when the Warriors were up one and in need of a little breathing room. He defended with physicality and endurance, particularly jumping the screen on the last possession to junk up the Fox-Barnes two-man game. And he flew out to Barnes on his last attempt to give him something to think about in addition to those butterflies Barnes was likely feeling.

Curry finished with 32 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists, but all of those buckets felt so impactful in the second half when there weren’t many extended periods of separation.

This isn’t the 2016 Curry that opposing teams will hunt on defense and try to wear down over the course of a game or series. He’s a full-grown man — an NBA adult, if you will, and showed some steely concentration even in the face of his own mistakes. If there’s one person who has no hesitation about going into Sacramento and stealing a game, it’s No. 30.