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Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Warriors

The Warriors can win without Kevin Durant, but not without Draymond Green

After the Golden State Warriors’ Game 3 win over the Portland Trail Blazers Saturday night, head coach Steve Kerr gave Draymond Green the onus for their victory.

He referred to Green’s all-around play, which translated to his third triple-double of this postseason (20 points, 13 rebounds, 12 assists) as the equivalent of a wrecking ball. On both ends of the court, Green made his presence felt. He set screens, made the right passes, and finished strong at the hoop. Defensively, he shut down the paint while making key stops on the perimeter.

When it was all said and done, Kerr had no choice but to tip his hat to his enigmatic star forward.

“I don’t even know what to say about Draymond,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “He was like a wrecking ball out there. He was just destroying everything in his path. The pace that he was generating was incredible, and it just seemed like he never got tired. … It’s one of the best games I’ve ever seen Draymond play.”

Green’s play is a key reason the Warriors are just one win away from their fifth consecutive Western Conference title. But, if you watch closely, one thing should be clear: while Stephen Curry is the Golden State Warriors’ face, Green is the heart and soul.

They have shown they can get away with Kevin Durant not playing and their play not tapering off. But if Green doesn’t? Ask the Warriors what would have happened if Green played in Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals. A healthy, wrecking ball Green enforces the charge on both ends of the court, which translates to the Warriors playing their beautiful game of basketball.

In Game 3 against Portland, Green showcased his jack-of-all-trades style. Leader, on-court coach, and a motivator to Jordan Bell after his missed dunk blunder. Draymond pushed the pace offensively and set the tone defensively. This led to the Warriors playing catch up successfully, dropping a double-digit deficit of their own to an 11-point victory.

Durant’s absence has forced the Warriors to operate with a style of basketball circa-2015. More movement, more passing, more screens, and spread-out shooting. This has proved to be Green’s forte before Durant, and his play has just been a reminder of it as of late. In the last four complete games without Durant, Green is averaging 14 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 7.7 assists.

Before Durant’s injury, Green was already doing damage this postseason. But with KD out, Green has assumed more autonomy of the ball in the Warriors’ offensive/transition sets. In place of attempting to mesh the Warriors system together while trying to appease Durant, Green can make a steal, block a shot, or grab a rebound and look to attack/find Curry Thompson, or whoever is streaking down the floor. One of Green’s best gifts to the Warriors is his play when clarity and transparency are involved.

But, it is Green’s will to win, which has been on full display all postseason, that solidifies his importance to the team. All series long against Portland, the Warriors have been fueled by Green’s play and clearly want to prove something.

Kevin Durant’s signing implied (to some) that the Warriors wanted the easy route to NBA titles. The Kevin Durant-less Warriors are proving that theory belongs six feet deep thanks to Green’s determination on both ends, guarding their best players, defending shots down low, rebounding, dishing out assists, and grabbing steals. Green is spearheading a masters class on how to win a championship as the hunted, while also proving why he’s the Warriors’ key ingredient to winning titles.

Complacency has dogged Green and Golden State the past few seasons. He has admitted that he’s a 16-game player, not an 82-game one. But while Green and Durant’s talent discrepancy is wide in favor of Durant, what Green does on the floor is a combination of Scottie Pippen, Magic Johnson, and Dennis Rodman all rolled in one.

It takes a special kind of player to risk his body defensively and shots offensively as Green does. Never one for the glory, Green simply wants to do the little things to win. To him, those are the keys to long-term success.

The Blazers haven’t figured this out yet, and neither did the Houston Rockets in the Western semifinals. It’s more than talent and scheme; it’s more than analytics and numbers, too. Championship pedigree is all about doing what’s necessary to win, which is what Green is all about.

This alone separates him when it comes down to who is more important between himself and Durant. KD makes Golden State go from great to greater. Green helps make Golden State a great team, period.

As Golden State looks to close out Portland Monday night, the Blazers must understand that it’s not just about matching up with the Warriors. They have to find someone who is willing to match or elevate beyond Green’s energy. Someone who will scrap for the ball on the floor, make the smart passes, and defend mercifully. Someone who will score if needed, but puts the team winning first.

Green doesn’t necessarily play for stats, although he does register triple-doubles in his own right. However, it’s all in the name of winning, not in the Russell Westbrook form of stat-padding.

It’s no wonder the Durant-less Warriors have survived: their system is running through the Splash Brothers, but their engine, Green, is making an impact the only way he knows how.