BOSTON — Draymond Green has the Celtics right where he wants them.
And that means the Warriors do, too.
Yes, the NBA Finals are tied at one game a side — Boston stole home-court advantage with a Game 1 win — but the Warriors rebuttal in Game 2 has longer legs than just one win should have.
That’s because it wasn’t merely the Warriors’ on-court adjustments for Game 2 that has Boston spinning going into Game 3.
No, Draymond Green was the fullest version of himself in Game 2 at Chase Center. He was the aggressor on defense, setting a tone of physicality that Boston simply had no interest in matching. Of course, it didn’t stop there for Green — was happy to tell the Celtics what he was doing to them the whole game.
The Celtics did not respond well to such agitation.
In the immediate aftermath of the game, the Celtics were whining and complaining that Green was not ejected from the game. They had lost all their cool the first time they were pressed on the NBA’s biggest stage.
For a young team, such an emotional response isn’t unexpected.
But what was unexpected is that after a flight and a day off, the Celtics were still hung up on Green Tuesday.
“We ain’t got time for that,” Jaylen Brown, the most aggrieved, as Green’s primary defensive mark, said at TD Garden. “We’re here to play basketball, so don’t get caught up in all the antics and stuff like that.”
That was a refrain from the Celtics Tuesday:
“Just play basketball.”
But what Green is doing is basketball. It’s winning basketball.
And if the Celtics do not figure out how to handle it, they will lose the home-court advantage in these two games in Beantown — if not the series altogether.
The Warriors’ forward can defend at the highest level and is an elite passer, but he can’t shoot worth a lick in this series where shooting is at a premium, so he’s throwing his body around with reckless abandon to make up for it. He’s trying to set a tone for the Dubs.
And it’s working.
But Green’s true superpower amid all this physicality is his ability to talk trash.
With some brashness and a whole lot of wit, I’ve seen Green crush the confidence of his opponents. (Hi, CJ McCollum!) And at this, the highest level of basketball, it’s the little things that amalgamate into the kind of advantage that can swing a series. Take an opponent out of the game just a bit and it could undercut an entire team.
So Green is going to poke, prod, and nudge at any weakness — overt or researched — in an effort to knock his opponent off their game.
And if he hasn’t already reached that point with Brown and the Celtics, he’s dangerously close after two games.
“If you want to ignore it, ignore it. If you engage, engage. Do what you do. Be who you are,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “The main thing is to continue to stay composed… For us, it’s to be who you are.”
Doesn’t that sound all well and good?
But Udoka continued to talk, and this is how Green knows he has the Celtics on the hook:
“I told them if I was a player, who I was, I would probably get a double technical immediately [in Game 2]. But that’s not everybody. Do what you do. Block it out or meet physicality with physicality.”
It’s important to remember why Udoka is the head coach of the Celtics.
Boston was coached by former Butler coach Brad Stevens, and he did a great job. He was tactically brilliant and his eye for talent and ability to develop players was second-to-none in the league.
But Stevens moved to the Celtics front office in part because this Boston team — which is as smart and talented as any squad in the league — needed someone who could reasonably challenge them to be tougher.
This is a squad led by Jayson Tatum, who despite being a first-team All-NBA wing and a future NBA MVP, openly questions if he can lead. There’s Brown, an intellectual who chose Cal for his one-and-done year. And then there’s veteran leader Al Horford, whose reputation in this league is that he is too soft for the big moments.
Yes, Boston has Marcus Smart, but one small tough guy can only get you so far.
Stevens looks like he works in marketing at Eli Lilly. (Oh wait, he did that.) His highest level of basketball was at DePauw University in Indiana, where as a 6-foot-1, 178-pound guard, where he played 18 minutes a game.
Ukoka was an NBA journeyman who could tell his squad that they were “getting punked” before the fourth quarter of Game 1 and have it mean something.
Boston has responded to Ukoka’s in-your-face personality. They beat the Bucks and Heat — two of the toughest, most physical teams in the league — to reach the Finals.
But Green and the Warriors represent an entirely different kind of challenge.
He’s the Finals boss.
Green learned to talk trash on the courts of Saginaw, Mich. He was a second-round pick who can recite the names of everyone who was selected before him.
Green doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder — there’s a shoulder growing out of his chip, even after three titles and a guaranteed place in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
This is in his DNA. This is part of the Warriors’ “championship DNA.”
Steph Curry isn’t that kind of rah-rah kind of leader for the Warriors. No, he sets the tone for Golden State by being the ultimate professional. No drama, no nonsense, just results.
But this is the real world and nice guys don’t always finish first.
Just as the greatest hockey player of all time, Wayne Gretzky, had his “bodyguards” in Dave Semenko and Marty McSorley, Curry has Green. Collectively, they give the Warriors balance. It’s a formula that works.
And it’s working against the Celtics right now.
Game 3 will be huge for the timbre of this series.
The Boston crowd is going to direct decades of blue-collar angst on Green on Wednesday. He’ll certainly be booed every time he touches the ball and perhaps even when he doesn’t have it, too, just for good measure. And Green will welcome the attention and egg on the Garden crowd.
He lives for moments like this.
But the Celtics know that the home crowd can turn on them, too.
Is that the reason they are 5-4 at home this postseason? You can’t discount it.
On Tuesday, Celtics players were already bracing for the crowd to turn against the home team in Game 3.
“For us, it’s just a matter of using that energy and trusting our fans because they’re going to be there to support us,” Grant Williams said. “At the end of the day, we have to continue to trust. Sometimes I feel like when things don’t necessarily go (our way), we go away from the things that are working. Next thing you know, it goes even higher.”
Those boos — for him or anyone else — are music to Green’s ears.
“There is an art to trash-talking,” Green said Tuesday. “If you grew up in Saginaw, Michigan, it’s naturally given to you… You can’t survive if you can’t talk on the court. You go out there quiet if you want to… If you’re quiet, they’re going to think you’re soft. They’re going to try to bully you. That’s just kind of the way I learned.”
He lived that truth in Game 2.
He’s going to bring the same intensity to Game 3.
This is where the series can turn.
And while Curry 3s and Looney blocks will play a huge role in any Warriors’ victory, it’ll be Green’s impact — that chip on his shoulder — that will put the series in the Warriors’ hands.
Contributed by local news sources