National

Draymond Green makes presence known in return from suspension, but Kings earn knockout-round berth

Did someone say rivalry? And stakes?

Of course Draymond Green was ready to put his foot all up in the Warriors-Kings game Tuesday night, and not a moment too soon.

A trip to the knockout round of the surprisingly fun NBA in-season tournament was at stake, which occurred just in time for Green to return from his five-game sleeper-hold-induced suspension.

Poor Rudy Gobert.

Actually, poor Sacramento Kings — for the better part of 36 minutes or so. For Green, you got the entire gamut. A technical foul. Perhaps a flop. Some physical play and even a couple 3-pointers that he seemed to relish in, playing in that arena.

You'd almost think it was golden, curing all what ails the proud competitors. His affect was tangible, scoring eight points with six rebounds, three assists and two blocks in 33 minutes.

But the Golden 1 Center crowd in Sacramento saw the Kings overcome a huge hurdle, having lost 11 of the last 12 regular-season games coming into Tuesday night and still smarting from the Game 7 loss just a few months ago.

Green’s reappearance seemed to signal things would be headed back in the right direction for the Warriors, who needed to win by 12 in order to advance to the knockout round in the tournament.

Perhaps that played a part in the Warriors’ blitzing the Kings in the first half, looking every bit of vintage with Green disrupting everything in all the good ways, taking a 24-point lead. But if it worked for them, it certainly worked against them in the second half when the Kings walked them down and took the final knockout-round spot.

The way no lead was safe when playing against the vintage Warriors, no lead the Warriors have today feels safe. Stephen Curry, of course, plays footloose and fancy free with the ball — part of the Steph package, baked into the math.

But even with Green back and Curry hitting, the margin for error feels nil.

When Green plays, the Warriors’ intensity is better, along with their ball movement and naturally their defense. When he defends Domantas Sabonis, there’s a forcefield around the paint Sabonis cannot penetrate.

Vultron forms with himself, Curry and Klay Thompson. They’re not unbeatable — they did fall in six games to the Lakers last May — but they’re formidable and you fear that within a moment’s notice they’ll run you out of any building.

That matters not to De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, who shoot without conscience and fly without fear — similar to their tormentors in a past life.

So of course Green’s defiance will hit the floor and interview room before he does. You hear him and feel his presence before you actually see him — and certainly the officials had to deal with him during a fourth-quarter stretch that featured Green (maybe, maybe not) taking an elbow from Trey Lyles, then unnecessarily fouling Monk and soon after, drawing a technical foul for continued complaints that began two possessions before then.

In the long run, perhaps the Kings will feel better about this win and it could signal some level of sea change in the West, even if it's small ripples. Even though Chris Paul and Gary Payton II got hurt, Green the agitator was there, thus validating the experience for the Kings.

The intensity of the game, certainly aided by the stakes, was buoyed by a crowd that not only wants revenge but respect from the likes of Green — who’ll likely never give them what they want.

According to TNT, Green issued an apology to his teammates for going too far in the incident with Minnesota, but stopped short of actual regret. It's what makes him special and flammable at the same time, because the Warriors can't win anything of substance without him.

But with the Warriors aging and the conference quickly gaining and even surpassing the Warriors, it’s hard to say if the Warriors can win with him.

You just know they’re that much more compelling to watch with him playing than him on the periphery, serving out punishments.