Golden State Warriors are flying with controversial veteran back in the fold

Phoenix Suns v Golden State Warriors
Phoenix Suns v Golden State Warriors / Lachlan Cunningham/GettyImages

The Golden State Warriors enjoyed their fourth consecutive victory, trumping the Phoenix Suns 113-112 in a Saturday night thriller -- their longest streak since they won five straight in mid-December.

A lot has happened since then, including the originally indefinite suspension of Warriors forward Draymond Green, which saw him miss 12 total games and came with a laundry list of side effects for an already struggling Golden State squad.

For starters, in the 24 games that Green missed, mostly due to suspension, the Warriors' defensive rating shot up to 122.3. That mark would rank below the Charlotte Hornets for the worst in the entire NBA.

In the 11 games since Green's return, Golden State has posted a defensive rating of 111.4 -- the third-best mark in the league during that span -- reminding us all why Green's presence is imperative to the Warriors' defensive infrastructure.

Draymond Green's return has seen a stark turnaround for the Golden State Warriors, with the team third in net rating across the last 11 games

Not only does Green offer another big, bruising body on the interior, but his versatility allows the Dubs to toggle between a series of defensive schemes, utilizing the former DPOY in a multitude of ways.

Many wondered how the Warriors would fair defensively against the star-studded Phoenix Suns, who had won five of their previous six games entering Saturday night's contest.

But any doubts about the Warriors' resistance at full strength were quickly erased, as Golden State held Phoenix four points below their season average of 117.4 points per game, forcing 14 turnovers and making things extremely tough on the Suns' superstar trio.

When asked what he's learned about the team since he's returned from suspension, Green responded like only he could.

"[I've learned] that when I'm in the game, we're a very good basketball team. We are a very good basketball team, and I think people are starting to see that."

Draymond Green

Arrogant. Cocky. You can call him what you want, and we know he's heard it all before -- but when it comes time to push all the chips to the center of the table, the fact remains that the Warriors are a much better basketball team with Draymond Green in uniform. It's been that way, and it'll be that way until he's no longer repping the Blue and Gold.

Saturday night's primetime slot against a top five Western Conference opponent presented a solid litmus test for the Dubs, whose talent supersedes that of a typical 10-seed, but have lacked the quality wins to show for it.

Well, they got that quality win on Saturday night, and it was the two-way dominance of Draymond Green that fueled Golden State past the finish line.

Though it was Stephen Curry's absurd 29-foot bomb that ultimately put the Warriors on top, it was fittingly a defensive stand by Green against Kevin Durant that sealed the victory, and he made sure to let Durant know about it after the final buzzer sounded.

As his teammates and coaches alluded to after the game, Green's energy was infectious from the start, and the Warriors fed off of his fire all game long.

Stephen Curry led the team with 30 points on 9-of-16 shooting from three-point range, but Green was perhaps their most important player throughout the night. In addition to his game-wrecking defensive effort, the 12-year veteran enjoyed one of his most productive offensive outings in recent memory, notching 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field to go along with 7 rebounds, and a game-high 9 assists.

Green would exchange barbs with Suns' big man Jusuf Nurkic throughout the night and their intensity bordered animosity at times, but Green made sure to keep his emotions in check, his vigor only boosting his team's spirit as they gutted out a back-and-forth affair.

“We need him competitive," Warriors' head coach Steve Kerr implored after the game.

"Everything with [Draymond] is about his force and his energy and his competitiveness. We do want him to walk the line but we just don’t want him to be passive at all. A technical, I’m fine with. A flagrant foul, fine. But he’s got to stop right there. And that’s what he did tonight.”"

Steve Kerr

Green certainly tip-toed the line but he didn't seem to offer anything extracurricular, though Jusuf Nurkic had quite a different tune after the game.

"“It’s sad. He didn’t learn anything, man. Just a matter of time,” said Nurkic. “He’s going to knock somebody else again. I take everything back I ever said. He doesn’t deserve a chance.”"

Jusuf Nurkic

Nurkic's comments aren't all that surprising considering that the last matchup between the two saw Green inadvertently strike Nurkic in the head, culminating in his indefinite suspension. However, on Saturday it appeared as though Green was simply being himself -- chatting, irritating, and getting under his opponent's skin -- a sentiment echoed by Curry postgame.

"In his head, plain and simple. This is probably the best game that you’ve seen it where he’s loud and fiery and competitive and he’ll jaw back and forth. But we’re playing basketball, and if you didn’t see that tonight, then you ain’t watching the game."

Steph Curry

With Draymond Green playing like himself again and reinforcements on the way soon, things are trending up for the 10th-seeded Warriors. Two road games against the Utah Jazz envelope a Valentine's Day clash with the Clippers as Golden State looks to carry its momentum into the All-Star break.