CLEVELAND — Coach Steve Kerr pulled Warriors forward JaMychal Green aside before Friday night’s game against the Cavaliers to offer a few words of encouragement.
“Go out there and play free,” Green recalled Kerr telling him. “I know you missed a few games, might make some mistakes, but just play through it.”
That was exactly the advice Green needed to hear after a month away from the game due to various maladies.
With Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins out, JaMychal Green provided a key spark off the bench in his first game since Dec. 18, drilling a trio of the Warriors’ 14 first-half 3s. He ended the night with 13 points and eight rebounds in 16 minutes in the shorthanded Warriors’ improbable 120-114 road win.
“That feels great,” Green said after the Warriors stunned the Cavaliers. “I was worried about the rhythm, my touch and everything out there, but it felt great to finally be back out there, to play well and get the win.”
Friday night was a long time coming for Green after a grueling month.
Green tested positive for COVID during the Warriors’ six-game road trip last month, getting stuck in a tiny New York hotel room over Christmas with nothing to do but binge watch TV shows and movies. It was so terrible, he said, he considered buying himself a ticket home.
“I really couldn’t do nothing,” he said.
Green’s troubles didn’t stop there. Once he was cleared from COVID, Green got a staph infection from a cut in his right leg that required him to stay a night in the hospital.
“That was worse” than catching COVID, Green said. “It was crazy, it was unexpected. Thought it was something that would go away quick but it just flared up on me, got worse. So just glad we stayed on top of it before it got worse.”
Green could hardly walk — let alone break a sweat — while he waited for the wound to heal. His patience was tested. When he was cleared to come back, the coaching staff drilled him in practice.
Those hard workouts paid off, preparing him to provide the spark off the bench as he did Friday with the Warriors incredibly thin on the second night of a back-to-back.
“He gave us some huge boards,” Jordan Poole said. “He’s just a different force out there.”
Green, 34, signed a one-year, veteran-minimum deal this offseason to be a replacement for Otto Porter Jr. and Nemanja Bjelica after they left the team this summer. His addition improved the team’s frontcourt depth, and they hoped to primarily utilize him as a stretch five who can help spread the floor.
It has taken Green some time to adjust to his fifth team in nine NBA seasons. But he hopes those challenging days are behind him and he can build off what he did Friday. He’ll have a chance to do just that Sunday when the Warriors host the Brooklyn Nets.
The Warriors are 23-23 and sixth in the crowded Western Conference standings, with the All-Star break a month away.
“My main thing is to get back out there, just feel the flow, get back into rhythm because it’s going to be a tough stretch coming up next week,” Green said. “Just got to get prepared for this next push… We’ve got to be ready, get these wins so we can put ourselves in a great position to win a championship.”
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