The first sign Game 2 of the NBA Finals was going Golden State’s way came on the first possession.
Boston controlled the opening tap. Marcus Smart dribbled across midcourt and flipped the ball to Jayson Tatum, who quickly tossed it to Al Horford near the top of the key.
When Horford tried to make a move, he ended up on the floor, on the wrong end of a wrestling match with Draymond Green — who got his hands on the ball and did what he does best, create havoc.
It only took 11 seconds. The tone was set.
The Warriors vowed to be tougher in Game 2 and lived up to that plan — led by Green. A 107-88 win on Sunday night knotted things at a game apiece, with the Warriors leading by only two at the half and outscoring Boston by 27 in the first 13 minutes of the second half.
“We knew we had to come with a much better focus and sense of aggression, and I thought that started right from the beginning,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Draymond played a huge role in that.”
Of course he did. That’s what Green does.
Hockey has what’s called a Gordie Howe hat trick, when somebody has a goal, an assist and a fighting penalty in the same game. Basketball should have what’s called a Draymond Green boxscore: He finished Sunday night with nine points, seven assists, five rebounds, a technical, might have come close to a second one after a little shove and generally was a thorn in Boston’s side all night long.
“You know, when he’s out there playing with that intensity and when he’s flying around making plays, you know, not only our team feeds off that but the crowd feeds off that,” the Warriors’ Kevon Looney said. “When he’s out there getting steals, getting blocks, getting assists, it makes the game easier for everybody.”
Not that it’s breaking news. After all, Green said as much on Twitter.
Stephen Curry was the offensive star with 29 points. Jordan Poole had the play of the night, a 39-footer to end the third quarter. The biggest contribution from Green, who took only three shots all night: He might have gotten into Boston’s head.
And if that happened — and if he can stay in Boston’s head — that’s a huge edge for the Warriors as the series shifts to the Celtics’ home for Games 3 and 4 this week.
“I mean, he’s going to do what he does,” Horford said after Game 2. “We’re not worried about him. We’re going to do what we do, focus on us. We just didn’t get it done tonight. We’ll be better at home Game 3.”
The comforts of home await Boston. More than 18,000 fans, most wearing green, a city that used to celebrate Celtics titles like they were annual holidays and have gotten to see only one since Larry Bird’s last in 1986.
Make no mistake, it’ll be a huge boost for the Celtics.
It’ll also be a huge boost for Green. He led the emotional charge in Game 2, and the Warriors hope it continues.
“We couldn’t go into Boston being down 2-0,” Warriors guard Gary Payton II said. “He lit the fire under us. He lights it and everybody else follows, and tonight was one of those big nights that everybody responded.”
The Warriors have won a road game in 26 consecutive playoff series, in large part because Green goes into hostile territory, plays the role of official villain, and somehow makes opponents forget that they really should be worrying about Curry and Klay Thompson and the guys who can score in bunches.
The biggest moment of Green’s night came with 54.3 seconds left in the first half. The Celtics’ Jaylen Brown tried a 3-pointer and got fouled by Green. Both ended up on the floor, Green’s legs coming down near Brown’s head. Words were exchanged. They were separated. Cooler heads prevailed. Green already had one technical; a second one there would have ended his night, but none was called.
“That’s what Draymond Green does,” Brown said. “He’ll do whatever it takes to win. He’ll pull you, he’ll grab you, he’ll try to muck the game up because that’s what he does for their team. It’s nothing to be surprised about. Nothing I’m surprised about. He raised his physicality to try to stop us and we’ve got to raise ours. Looking forward to the challenge.”
Brown made two of the three free throws awarded on that play, tying the game at 50-50.
The Warriors scored 43 of the game’s next 57 points.
Coincidence or not, that moment was where the game changed.
“You have to send a message,” Green said. “Guys follow me on that side of the ball. If I’m not sending a message, who is sending that message? I am not going to just come and sit in front of y’all and hold myself accountable and not back it up. You got to be about what you talk about, and I take pride in that.”
He set the tone Sunday. It’ll be seen Wednesday if he set the tone for the rest of this series.
Tim Reynolds, basketball writer, authored this story for The Associated Press.