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WILL DRAYMOND GREEN’S RAGE SABOTAGE THE WARRIORS … AGAIN?
Six years after costing his team a title during a dynasty run, the problem child is playing with more flagrant-foul fire, throwing down an opponent and raising familiar doubts about his state of mind
The man who can’t stop talking — all Dray, every Dray — is mum on one subject. He’s the reason the Golden State Warriors didn’t win four straight NBA championships. If Draymond Green hadn’t taken a swipe at the crown jewels of King James’ groin area, which led to his suspension for Game 5 of the 2016 Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers probably wouldn’t have completed a comeback from a 1-3 hole and won the title.
Might he sabotage his team again?
Put it this way: His ejection Sunday for committing a flagrant foul 2 puts Green in familiar dicey territory. Under the league’s penalty points system, the infraction gives him two flagrant points this postseason. If he reaches four, he must serve a one-game suspension. If he reaches five, he is docked two games. Seeing how we’re gambling on everything these days, what are the odds of this volatile man-child screwing the Warriors as he did six years ago? A sure bet, I’d say.
“My biggest worry, moving forward, is that it gives me two flagrant foul points. As we know, I’ve been suspended for an accumulation of flagrant-foul points,” Green said afterward on an “emergency podcast,’’ playing the victim card again instead of confronting the problem in the mirror. “My hope is that it will be rescinded to a flagrant foul 1.”
Don’t expect any favors from the league office, which must be as sick of Green as the rest of us. And what a damned shame if he undermines the Warriors again, just as they return to the national conversation and try to resume their dynasty. What a shame for Klay Thompson, who missed more than two seasons — 941 days — with knee and Achilles injuries and played the hero’s role Sunday. What a shame for Steph Curry, who shouldn’t have been out of the title spotlight for so long. What a shame for coach Steve Kerr and general manager Bob Myers, who’ve remarkably augmented the championship core with the youthful infusion of Jordan Poole. What a shame for many of us who’d like to see the Warriors in the Finals again, indulging in one of the sport’s most entertaining shows.
They survived Green’s absence in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals, sliding past the upstart Memphis Grizzlies only when Thompson drilled a huge three-pointer and played guard dog as Ja Morant drove for a would-be winning layup. Next time, they won’t be as fortunate. “We knew that was a tough break that didn’t go our way, and we were all kind of shocked by the decision,” Kerr said. “But we were confident and determined, and the guys stayed with it.”
For all the bellyaching from league stars on social media and analysts in television studios — “What are you doing, looking for Cottonelle tissue commercial endorsements?” ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said of the officials — Green deserved to be ejected. He first made contact with Brandon Clarke’s head as the forward soared toward the basket, then grabbed the collar of his jersey and threw him to the floor, only realizing the extent of his actions when he belatedly tried to brace Clarke’s fall. That is not a basketball play. It’s a football tackle, a UFC move, an alley mugging.
“My hand got caught in his jersey,’’ Green pleaded as the officials reviewed the video. Sure, just like he was checking to see if LeBron had jock itch.
What happened next further illustrated the troubling reality that hangs over the Warriors: Green is still a time bomb, enabled by a TV-career-in-progress that has turned him into Charles Barkley on and off the court. He skipped across the floor at FedEx Forum, laughing all the way, pumping his fist to delighted Grizzlies fans, slapping skin with teammates who weren’t amused, and finishing his pro-wrestling antics — or was this a temporary insanity lapse? — before running into the locker room late in the first half. After the 117-116 victory, Green stood in the tunnel with a grin and hugged every teammate and coach. They hugged him back, as they always do, ignoring his turbulent past. Privately, they must be worrying if history will repeat itself in a series where his collateral damage can’t be overcome, such as a presumed conference final against the Phoenix Suns.
Generally a smart man when he isn’t doing dumb things, Green thinks he’s the victim of a double standard. He thinks referees are officiating his tempestuous, sometimes dirty reputation instead of judging each play as it happens. Ya think? And just two rounds into the postseason, all he has done is give them even more juice for their perceptions. Nor did it help when he returned to his hotel room after the game and hosted a podcast — along with his regular TNT gig, he hosts “The Draymond Green Show” on a YouTube channel — and criticized the decision to assess a flagrant 2.
“I was ejected … I’m not sure for what. At this point, I kind of expect things like that. I’ve been suspended for a game in the NBA Finals, so do you think for one second I wouldn’t get kicked out of Game 1 of the second round?’’ said Green, clutching his microphone and wearing shades in his room. “When the official turned to me, he was having a hard time telling me: ‘It’s going to be a flagrant … 2.’ He didn’t want to say it.
“It’s a reputation thing. Tonight was a reputation thing more than a hard foul. Flagrant 2 for unnecessary contact? I can’t say it was unnecessary because I was trying to prevent (Clarke) from getting a bucket. Excessive? I didn’t even make contact with the guy’s body, so excessive would be extreme. A guy jumping off two feet, up and down, then sells a foul and dives to the floor. By definition, I’m not sure that play meets the definition of a flagrant foul. … So many people talk about basketball and don’t really know it. I study basketball daily for hours and Joe Blow thinks he knows better than me. But in this situation, our IQs are in the same spot. You don’t know and I don’t understand this one.”
So if he thinks he’s being picked on, why does he keep acting up? That always has been the central question in the life of Draymond Green, who is 32 years old and still a provocateur. He must be at war with someone, at all times, and any thought that he’s learned from the LeBron episode is wrong. Last week, Chris Paul kicked Jose Alvarado in the groin during Game 5 of the Suns’ series with New Orleans. A powerful figure in the league, Paul wasn’t assessed a foul until a retroactive Flagrant 1. When former Golden State teammate Andrew Bogut asked Green about the play on Twitter, he replied, “Those rules always change based on the personalities involved. Happy he didn’t get suspended from a meaningful game though. I don’t wish that on anyone.”
He is creeping close to a return nightmare. You could argue he cost the Warriors even more championships because he contributed to chasing away Kevin Durant, whose on-court spat with Green was the start of his one-way departure to Brooklyn. Imagine if he blows up again, and it leads to the Suns winning the West or Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks repeating as champs.
“He's been known for flagrant fouls in his career," Clarke said. “I’ve watched him on TV my whole life, it feels like. I wasn't really shocked. I don't really like to flop or nothing, but he did hit me pretty hard twice when I saw it again. ... It is not shocking that he did that. Something he has done in the past.”
Curry, who told the refs that the ejection was “f---ing crazy,’’ is among those who’ve let “Draymond be Draymond.” The internal approach has worked to the tune of three titles, but the Warriors shouldn’t press their luck. “The core, we’ve got championship DNA, and we wanted to utilize that today,’’ Curry said. “At this stage, that’s what it’s all about. Never let go of the rope in terms of feeling like you’re out of a game. Big win for us.”
Said Poole, whose joyride continued with 31 points after re-inheriting his sixth-man role from Curry: “This is a huge game to win, especially with (Green) going out early. You really have to find that grit and grind and buckle down and lock in offensively and defensively. He is such a big part of our team. ... We were able to fill in for the energy he has."
Injuries are playing a significant role this NBA postseason. Joel Embiid (orbital fracture, concussion, thumb) … Devin Booker (hamstring) … Luka Doncic (calf) … Khris Middleton (knee) … Kyle Lowry (hamstring). The Warriors also are dealing with another health issue.
Draymond Green (recurring headache).
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.