Draymond Green had never experienced a midseason injury like the one to his lower back in early January.
He had never missed such a long stretch of games and had never had to work his way back with games still going on. So coming off his two-month layoff, he struggled.
But in the Warriors’ 109-90 win over the Sacramento Kings on Sunday, Green looked the most like himself since his return. Not only did he finish with a typical Green stat line of six points, five assists, seven rebounds, one steal and two blocks for a plus-11 net rating in 24 minutes, but he also played in both games of a back-to-back.
“For him to play in a back-to-back and bring that kind of energy and look as good as he’s looked, he’s clearly turned the corner from a physical standpoint,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
It was exactly seven days ago that Green sat in an interview room at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., and said he felt “terrible.” He explained how he’s never made a team worse when he’s on the floor. He said that the game was moving a million miles per minute for him and that he was failing to impact the game in the moments his team needed him the most.
Over the past two games, though, it’s apparent that Green’s game is catching up to him.
“I think there have been a few plays defensively that I can kind of feel me getting my time and rhythm back and covering up some things,” Green said. “Offensively, I’m starting to find my rhythm, too. I have to find my touch again. But other than that, I’m starting to find my rhythm. … It does feel that over the last few games it’s starting to come together for me.”
Against the Utah Jazz on Saturday, Green was one shy of a double-double, finishing with 10 points and nine rebounds and a plus-20 net rating. But beyond his production on the court, his vocal leadership finally hit.
Jordan Poole and Gary Payton II both said it was Green’s pep talk during a fourth-quarter timeout that fueled Golden State’s 18-0 run against the Jazz. Right after the game, he continued his talk. He knew the Warriors would be without Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Otto Porter Jr on Sunday. There was a chance that they would even be without Green. So he addressed his younger teammates to prepare them for Sacramento.
“The first thing he said in the locker room last night was, ‘Young guys, tomorrow’s a huge game and we’re going to need you,'” Kerr said. “So for him to be able to play and help lead them, I thought was an important factor tonight.
“Last night was a huge win for us, and he recognized the importance of this one.”
The Warriors felt a shift in their momentum after their game against the Phoenix Suns on Thursday. Sure, it was a loss, but they finally saw some resemblance of the team that once had the best record in the league and the No. 1-ranked offense.
Since that game, it’s been a constant push for the Warriors to build on their performance that night. Green feels that way on an individual basis, as well. It’s why he wanted to play on Sunday.
“They gave me the option to play, so I took the option,” he said.
The Warriors know it’s not a coincidence that as Green has started to find himself again, the team’s performance — particularly on defense — has started to retake its form. On offense, his return as the floor general has also settled everyone down.
They are without their two-time MVP Curry for the rest of the regular season, but they are confident that as long as they have Green, fondly known as the heartbeat of their team, producing, they have a shot.
As Nemanja Bjelica simply put it: “[Green] is maybe the most important player on this team.”
This story originally Appeared on ESPN