The Celtics crowd’s displeasure toward Draymond Green started well before the game started and with a chorus of heavy boos during pregame introductions.
They made the Warriors forward know how much they loathed him throughout the night with a never-ending dose of boos, chants and cursing from all directions of TD Garden.
“(Expletive) you, Draymond!” the sellout crowd chanted over and over again, all night long.
And when Green finally headed to the Warriors bench after fouling out with 4:07 remaining, the crowd erupted into a level of euphoria that was rarely even heard for any Celtics made shot or big play in their pivotal NBA Finals victory, a 116-100 Game 3 triumph.
Wednesday night was critical for the Celtics as they responded to a Game 2 battering in San Francisco to take a 2-1 series lead in these NBA Finals. But inside the Garden, it may also be remembered as the night Green officially became a Celtics villain.
“They did what I expected,” Green said of the Celtics crowd.
But this wasn’t: After he sparked the Warriors to their Game 2 win with his defense, Green completely no-showed in Game 3 with, given the stakes, probably his worst performance of the playoffs: 2 points on 1-for-4 shooting, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and a minus-13.
He had four more fouls (6) than he had points (2).
How did he feel like he played?
“Like (expletive),” Green said, frankly.
“I just think I never found a rhythm, really on both ends of the floor. Not enough force. But just got to find a rhythm quicker.”
That’s a rhythm Green found early in Game 2, when he tied up Al Horford for a jump ball on the first possession and helped force a Warriors defensive stop that set the tone for the rest of the game.
On Wednesday, not only were the fans waiting for him, so were the Celtics. That defensive intensity he and the Warriors came with on Sunday night never arrived, and it was the C’s who were imposing their will and physicality.
And not that the Warriors rely on Green for scoring – they have Steph Curry and Klay Thompson to take care of that – but he gave them absolutely nothing on that end. He had zero points at halftime, and his 2 points were his lowest output since Game 4 of the West semifinals against the Grizzlies.
“I was soft,” Green said. “That’s what was most disappointing to me, for us.”
The Warriors, somewhat quietly, were rated the NBA’s second-best defense this season behind the Celtics. Green is the engineer behind that, with his constant intensity, his elite defensive intelligence and never-ending energy. But when he doesn’t bring it like he did in Game 2, that’s when performances like Game 3 happen.
The Celtics had 68 points at halftime as they absorbed very little pressure or challenge from the Warriors defense. And just as importantly, they dominated the glass with a 47-31 advantage overall, including 15 offensive rebounds, a product of their offensive movement putting the Warriors in spin cycles.
“(It) goes back to our point of attack defense and you know, that starts with me,” Green said. “If we control the point of attack, it puts you in a better position overall on the court. And so then like I said, you allow them to get a few, then you just start to get the bounces and things starting to go your way. …
“I think that’s just a force thing,” Green said of the Celtics’ 15 offensive rebounds, which translated to 22 second-chance points. “Then once you get comfortable, you establish that presence, then the ball just kind of finds you. You start to get the bounces and the break. … Just got to start the game off better.”
The Warriors have been in this position before. They trailed 2-1 in the 2015 NBA Finals before reeling off three consecutive wins over the Cavaliers for their first championship. Klay Thompson said after Wednesday’s Game 3 that he was getting “big 2015 vibes.”
To come back, they know they need Green to be better.
“He had a tough game, but I trust Draymond as much as I trust anybody,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “He always bounces back from losses and from tough nights individually. He’ll be back on Friday.”
Green knows it, too.
“We’ll be better. I’ll be better,” Green said. “Come out, win Game 4. Go back 2-2.”
And the new Celtics villain, this time, is hoping to reverse the script.
“I embrace it. I enjoy it,” Green said of his villainy, and the endless chants and boos. “I didn’t really feed off of it tonight. I don’t think I fed off much tonight. … But yeah, that’s something that I enjoy. Waste a lot of energy talking to me, so it’s great. It’s great. Looking forward to Friday.”