NEW YORK — It was an amusing but telling scene in the visiting locker room at Barclays Center on Sunday evening after the Golden State Warriors’ win over the Brooklyn Nets.
Kevin Durant and Draymond Green telling hilarious stories about former NBA players they knew as youngsters, from a case of mistaken identity at a club to an older player telling Green when he knew it was “time to go.”
Stephen Curry recreating that famous crouch he debuted in the 2017 NBA Finals when Durant gave the Cleveland Cavaliers his “grand opening, grand closing” triple in Game 3, only this time Curry leaped from his chair to celebrate Boston Red Sox left fielder Steve Pearce’s first inning two-run homer to essentially close the door on the World Series.
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An amused Durant asked Curry, “How are you a Red Sox fan?” to which Curry started to explain, only saying there’s no professional baseball team in Charlotte, North Carolina (Curry’s hometown), before trailing off and laughing it away.
They’re a different bunch these days, as the defending two-time champions aren’t suffering from Champagne fatigue and looking like a team happy to be around each other in the most unlikely of places: New York, where the Knicks stand to be a suitor for Durant this offseason when he hits free agency.
Over the course of five days, Curry scored 51 against the Wizards, Durant put up 25 in the fourth quarter against the Knicks to turn a deficit into a rout, and Klay Thompson broke out of his slump Monday in record-breaking fashion, hitting an NBA-record 14 triples against the Bulls for 52 points in 27 easy minutes.
Green is a catalyst, participant and witness for everything, the emotional leader of the Warriors who understands this season has to take a different tone than last year’s run to a ring — one that was almost derailed in the Western Conference Finals, with only a Chris Paul hamstring injury perhaps keeping the Houston Rockets from knocking off the champions.
“Last year we cruised through the year and were looking forward to the playoffs and didn’t enjoy the process along the way,” Green told Yahoo Sports. “In not enjoying the process, it made it that much tougher because you’re not enjoying what you’re doing.”
They’re celebrating the mundane this season, having fun with Curry’s explosions and Thompson’s beard and headband, and even remixing Fergie’s eyebrow-raising national anthem from the All-Star Game last year.
So when the subject of Durant-to-New York comes up, Green doesn’t bat an eye.
“When that decision comes up, I think we’ll have won three championships,” Green told Yahoo Sports. “That’s my recruiting: three out of three.”
Green added that the last few years have been “exhausting,” referring to the emotional toll the long playoff runs have had on individual players. So even with speculation about a potential Durant departure in the air, Green believes, for the sake of his own peace of mind, he has to block it out.
“We’ve been under the lights, like really under the lights since 2015,” he said. “Since then it’s been nonstop and you have to figure out how to remove yourself from that, because it’s exhausting. I really don’t pay much attention to it. And I won’t pay much attention to it.”
Internally, Green said, the Warriors are aware of everything, but it’s largely unspoken. The Durant stuff. Chasing a three-peat. Chasing black-and-white ghosts as they attempt to become the first team since Bill Russell’s Celtics to win four NBA titles in five years.
“It’s something we don’t acknowledge, though. We don’t come in here saying, ‘We got a chance to three-peat,’ ” Green said. “That’s never the conversation. In order to three-peat, you gotta embrace this process. Last year we didn’t.”
Green is embracing his own process of sorts this year, wanting to reclaim his spot as the NBA’s top defender. To say he was not happy with finishing sixth in voting last season for NBA Defensive Player of the Year — with Utah’s Rudy Gobert winning — is an understatement.
“I want to win that because I’m pissed off that I made second-team All-Defense last year,” Green told Yahoo Sports. “They seem to have forgotten.
“I think people want to forget, but they go through those moments where they go, ‘All right [he’s that good].’ ”
Green says only Kawhi Leonard is in his class as a defender, calling Leonard “spectacular.”
“I got much respect for him,” Green said. “But I think I’m the best. If you want my honest opinion, there’s no one in the [contemporary] category with me but Kawhi.”
Green believes only his “big bro” — Ben Wallace — is in the same category defensively as he is, historically. Wallace won four Defensive Player of the Year Awards in Detroit, and the two forged a friendship dating back to Green’s days as a prep star in Saginaw, Michigan, and later at Michigan State.
“He’s definitely one of the top defenders our league has seen,” Wallace told Yahoo Sports by telephone.
If Green wins his second DPOY (he won it in 2016-17), he’ll be in line for a super-max contract, a five-year deal worth around $226 million.
“It’s not for a contract situation,” Green told Yahoo Sports. “And I don’t know if there’s anybody in this league who can control the game from the defensive side of the ball [like me]. That pissed me off [finishing sixth in DPOY voting last year]. That’s why I want to win that.
“I’m gonna make a lot of money. I’m not gonna sit here and add stress to myself trying to accomplish something about money. I’ve never played this game for money. I’ve always played this game because I love it. And it’s been so good to me because of my love for this game, so why switch it up now?”
Talking the talk
“Dell Demps is a lousy general manager and none of those players are currently with the team anymore, and he may lose Anthony Davis.”
— Former NBA commissioner David Stern on the trade he vetoed in 2011 that would’ve sent Chris Paul to the Lakers
“The Emperor” clearly hasn’t lost his fire and sass since leaving the NBA’s top spot in 2014. Although Adam Silver clearly has done great things since taking over, I have to admit: I miss The Emperor being saucy and stirring the pot at a moment’s notice.
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