Warriors, Celtics ready to fight fire with fire in physical NBA Finals

BOSTON — Draymond Green and Marcus Smart aren’t going to collect NBA MVP awards. That honor belongs to their teammates — Steph Curry for Green, and Jayson Tatum for Smart. Both Green and Smart each have been named Defensive Player of the Year once, and hold a different title than their teammates who can score in bunches.

They’re the heartbeat of their respective teams: Green for the Warriors, and Smart for the Celtics.

Both players wear their emotions on their sleeve. You can see it, you can hear it, you can feel.

In Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Smart held the upper hand in bringing the energy, resulting in a historic comeback win for Boston. Green countered in Game 2 with fire replacing his breath. So, what’s Smart’s response for Wednesday night’s Game 3 now that the series is back to TD Garden?

“I mean, you respond to fire with fire, right?” Smart said Tuesday to reporters. “We’ve just got to turn around and do the same thing. If he’s going to come in here and try to be physical, this is our house and we’ve got to protect it.”

Green knew he had to be better Sunday night after the Warriors’ loss two nights prior. He felt he let Steph Curry and the rest of his Warriors teammates down, and put it on himself to even the series at one win apiece.

Curry said he knew five minutes after the series-opening loss that Golden State was about to get a different Green in Game 2. And they did. Not only in the box score of the Warriors’ 107-88 win, too.

Thirteen seconds into the contest, Green found himself tangled up for a jump ball with Boston big man Al Horford. Eleven seconds later, the Warriors forced a turnover off an errant pass from Smart. While baiting Celtics forward Grant Williams into a foul halfway through the first quarter, Green subsequently was called for a technical foul.

The Celtics badly wanted a second technical called on him near the end of the first half when he and Celtics star Jaylen Brown got into their own scuffle, and they continue to still talk about it. Draymond toed the line, pushed the envelope and Steve Kerr continues to send the same message to him.

Don’t change. Be you.

“No, just let him be him,” Kerr said. “He’s at his best when he’s passionate and emotional. I thought he played a great game the other night. He got the early tech, but he left the officials alone all night.

“The play is always going to be physical in the playoffs. Being physical is part of it. So the main thing is you have to leave the officials alone, and Draymond did a good job of that.”

Immediately after the Warriors’ loss to start off the series, and the hours and days following, Green knew what Golden State needed going forward. Physicality is part of it. So is energy and intensity.

More than anything, he believed the Celtics didn’t feel the Warriors enough.

The Warriors led by as many as 15 points in the third quarter of Game 1 and went into the fourth quarter with a 12-point lead. They squandered it. Big time. The foot was taken off the gas and the Celtics took advantage, breaking the record books and outscoring the Warriors by 24 points in the final period for a 12-point win.

But with his team essentially facing a must-win game, Green didn’t let that happen again. The Warriors won each of the first three quarters, due in large part to them closing out each frame on an extremely high note. They went into the fourth quarter with a 23-point lead, pushed it to 29 early on and won by 19.

“I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I’m going on about my summer and we lost the NBA Finals because we couldn’t meet force with force,” Green said Tuesday. “So I think that was just kind of it for me and understanding that, like I said, that is my department.

“That’s where I’m supposed to lead, and I can’t let my guys down.”

This era of basketball is defined as being soft by many, especially on the outside. The rules are different, 7-footers throw up 3-pointers like it’s a layup line and there’s more pushing and shoving in the stands than on the court.

Those who played in the 1980s and 1990s can’t let go of the past, and feel the need to let everybody know exactly how physical the game was back in their day. The latest to do was Cedric Maxwell, who won two titles with the Celtics and was named the 1981 Finals MVP when Boston beat the Houston Rockets in six games.

“That s–t that Draymond Green was doing, during the ’80s he’d get knocked the f–k out,” Maxwell said after Game 2 to Gary Payton. “He’d get knocked the f–ked out.”

Come Tuesday, Draymond had something to say in response.

“When guys get to making these comparisons or talking about, ‘Oh, if you played in this day and age,’ like yeah. And if you played in this day and age you would have had to be way more skilled than you were. It’s just different.

“Comparing the physicality of the game and everybody acting like they were just the most physical and brutal enforcers, it’s like everybody acting like they shoot the ball like Steph Curry today. You know, it’s like then it was physical, now it’s shooting. Everybody can’t shoot the ball. Imagine me in 20 years, like, ‘Man, if you played in my day you had to shoot.’ Like, yeah, guys did shoot better and more. But that don’t mean you shot that well.

“So it just baffles me when guys get out here talking and they ain’t got — we got YouTube. You can pull up them highlights and they ain’t got no YouTube fights. You see them on the court getting bullied, but they talking about you ain’t got punched in the face. These people be killing me.”

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Mic drop, end of Green’s press conference.

He won’t drop the ball again when it comes to physicality and force in the Finals, and don’t expect Smart to either. The fireworks have only just begun, and we could be in for a show Wednesday night, as well as the rest of this heated series.

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