Chiozza’s impact felt by Warriors stars in the NBA Finals originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea:
SAN FRANCISCO – Whether you like it or not, Draymond Green’s postgame routine usually has an interesting wrinkle. He’s going to give his thoughts and feelings on said game, and more, on The Draymond Green Show, his highly popular podcast.
There’s always good reason to tap in and getting an inside view to one of the smartest basketball minds the game has seen. Following Friday night’s Warriors win over the Boston Celtics at TD Garden in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, one reason to put your headphones in stood out more than the others. Steve Kerr sat Green for a crucial four-minute stretch during the final period, a decision that worked and opened a lot of a eyes.
So, a little past 3 am ET in the bed of my Boston hotel, I did exactly as Draymond wants and pressed play on his podcast. What stood out most was not him repeating that he and Kerr did not talk about the choice at the moment and did not need to. Instead, it was he who credited for keeping him engaged before hitting the Celtics with the same force and focus that has made him a three-time champion once he returned for the final three-plus minutes.
“I credit my teammates, Juan Toscano-Anderson,” Green said around the 7:35 mark on the latest episode of his podcast. “See this is where when you’re trying to win a championship, this is where everything matters and everyone matters. I credit Juan Toscano-Anderson. He was in my ear. Not only was he in my ear the whole night, but when I was frustrated, when I had come out the game at the seven-and-a-half minute mark, he was in my ear.
“Chris Chiozza was in my ear. Gary Payton II was in my ear. And it was huge, because I was able to respond due to their positive energy that they were pouring into me. I was able to respond and come up with a couple of big plays. … Credit to those guys. Everyone has an impact and it was huge of them to keep my mind in the game and they kept my mind in the game and I was able to contribute in a way that would help us win.
“Big shouts out to those guys. That was absolutely amazing.”
Those three consist of three journeymen: One who has become a key part of the Warriors’ success, one who likely won’t see any important minutes in the Finals and one who literally can’t suit up in the playoffs. The final definition of the three belongs to Chiozza, one of Golden State’s two players on a two-way contract.
Chiozza, 26, was on a two-way contract last season with the Brooklyn Nets and was allowed to play in the postseason due to an exception as the NBA dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic. He appeared in six games and scored five points against the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. In his first playoff run with the Warriors, though, he’s stuck to the sidelines.
Yet, he’s still making an impact in the Finals. He earned the respect of Green and the rest of the Warriors’ stars. As Draymond said, everything and everyone matters right now. That includes the thoughts of Chiozza, someone who hasn’t appeared in a game since scoring six points vs. the Memphis Grizzlies on March 28.
It did not take long for Chiozza and Green to form a friendship shortly after the veteran guard signed his two-way deal with the Warriors last August. The two frequently chill together off the court, and they’re each all ears when one of them is talking on the court. Chiozza fully appreciates having Draymond’s attention, and he knew his message should be a short one.
“It means a lot,” Chiozza said Sunday in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Bay Area. “Me and Draymond have a great relationship. He’s been one of the guys I’ve been closest with since I got here. Off the court, we’re always hanging with each other. We live near each other, so we’re always hanging out. As he’s said, he’s struggled a little bit this series. He’s one of the most competitive people that I’ve ever met. You could see when he came out in that fourth quarter, you could tell he was frustrated.
“I just kept it short with him. I just said, ‘Look, you got to take us home when you get back in there.’ No matter if he’s playing good or bad, when it’s winning time at the end of the game, he’s gonna come up big and make big plays. defensive end, making a stop on defense and making the right plays.When he got back in the last three-and-a-half minutes, every possession he was involved in, he was doing what he needs to do.
“It’s an honor for him to shout me out and Juan and GP and just let everybody know that this is a whole team. I’m not playing but I’m still a part of this team. I talk to guys throughout the game. “I’ll just tell them what I see. They trust me, I have a good basketball IQ. If I see something and say it, they’re gonna listen and they respect what I got to say.”
The Warriors outscored the Celtics 10-3 after Green returned at the 3:41 mark. He came up with some huge rebounds, as well as perfect passes and big-time defensive stops.
From top to bottom, veterans to rookies, the Warriors have preached a stay-ready mentality all season long. They’ve had to with the number of injuries they’ve battled. Chiozza’s contract allowed him to be on the Warriors’ active list for no more than 50 games. That did not stop him from being on the same mindset as his teammates, always making sure to be prepared for his opportunity and put in work in the G League in the meantime.
Now, his main purpose is to make sure his teammates are ready to win a title.
His presence there is being felt in multiple ways.
“Me not being able to play at all in the playoffs, I’m just over there on the bench giving guys energy, support and just looking for things that they might not see while they’re out there playing,” Chiozza said. “When you’re playing, everything moves so fast. Draymond’s been in the Finals however many times, he’s been in the league a long time now. Even when he’s out there, there’s some things he might not see. And it’s always good to have people try to give you a little input.
“You try not to do it too much and I try not to do it a lot, but when I see somebody down or not feeling themselves, I just try to pick those guys up. I feel like everybody on this team respects me enough to where I can do that, so I’m comfortable doing it. “
While he hasn’t seen game action in 11 weeks, Chiozza is still a main fixture in Warriors practice. Nothing has changed there. In fact, the importance of his role has grown exponentially.
Like a scout-team quarterback in football, Chiozza wears the jersey number of a Warriors opponent and does his best acting performance. For the Finals, he’s played the character of Marcus Smart. In the past, his part has been imitating other teams’ point guard.
Without him, the Warriors can only revert to the tape. With him, Golden State gets the closest thing to the real thing on the biggest stage.
“Just trying to give those guys the best look possible of what they’re going to see in the game,” Chiozza said. “And then always being locked in. When you know you’re not going to get in the game, when you know you’re not able to play – sometimes it gets a little bit frustrating, almost like a helpless feeling.
“I can not really help my teammates, but I know even the little bit of talking I can do for them during timeouts and stuff, it goes a long way and it helps out a lot. I just got to keep that mindset. Even though I’m not playing, there’s other ways I can help the team. “
Whether it being his eyes and energy on the sidelines or focus for practice, Chiozza certainly is helping affect the Warriors in positive ways on the floor. The same can be said for away from it, too. The latest case came from a T-shirt giving Jordan Poole a Mac Dre makeover.
The Bay ate it up.
Chiozza wore that one on the way home from Boston after Game 4. He wore a Steph Curry-centric one for Game 1 and a 007-style one for Game 3 that featured Steph, Klay and Draymond in the middle and Poole and Andrew Wiggins on the sides. His favorite, however, came from the Warriors’ arrival in Boston.
Etched across his chest read “Baller Blockin Cashmoney.” Below was a masterclass vintage-style tee of Warriors players, along with Steve Kerr. Chiozza’s teammates loved it and couldn’t stop laughing at the image of Kerr.
“I do not know if he saw it,” Chiozza said. “I think they saw it in the coaches group message, I think they saw it.”
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He has more in waiting now, and never thought they would blow up so big on social media. Chiozza says he’s probably not going to wear his other unique Warriors shirts during games. That likely will be saved for travel and other times.
But they’re also an example of him continuing to make an impact on his teammates. The Finals can be the ultimate stress test. The pressure never stops, everything is heightened.
Anything to lighten the mood helps, even a picture of Kerr wearing a black bandana – some comic drip one day before Game 3 of the Finals.
“The guys love it, they think it’s funny,” Chiozza said. “Got some social media … I wasn’t expecting it to be a hit like that, honestly. It was more just for the camaraderie team, keep the mood light.”
Everything matters, everyone matters. And Chris Chiozza is part of a winning equation as much as any Warrior right now.
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