OAKLAND, Calif. — When recounting Draymond Green’s reaction to the news he had been suspended for Game 5 of the NBA Finals, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr simply said, “He’s disappointed.” But after practice on Sunday, who could tell, really?
Green went about his post-practice shooting routine as though nothing were amiss, as though he wasn’t actually suspended for what could have been the night he won the Finals MVP. Same boisterous smack talk in Luke Walton’s direction. Same dance of delight as Golden State staffer Theo Robertson was made to do push-ups. Green would check in occasionally with Warriors general manager Bob Myers at center court, but then it was back to his spirited routine.
Then, quick as one of his fast breaks, Green slipped into the training room and away from the media circus.
Much like the NBA’s adjudications of his incidents, Green isn’t entirely predictable. He does live according to certain codes, though, and felt the need to respond when LeBron James stepped over him on Friday night. Green flipped his arm in James’ direction, once toward a sensitive area, once at the air.
It reminded a bit of the December game against Milwaukee when Green scuffled with O.J. Mayo. Afterward, a livid Green declared of that incident, “I’m not going to go into what he said, what you think he may have said, he may have said or may not have said, but no man is going to touch my head. Point blank.” Green will go to great lengths to combat the physical manifestations of disrespect.
If Green has an Achilles’ heel, it’s not being undersized, or even “dirty,” as many fans now allege. It’s pride, a quality indivisible from what has allowed him to overcome that tweener status. Draymond was not going to let LeBron step over him at a time when backing down was needed. The Warriors know this and accept it. They’ve priced it into the Draymond experience.
How can they be mad at this juncture? Letting Draymond be Draymond hasn’t been a Faustian bargain, because his excellent play more than pays off the debts of irascibility.
Stephen Curry was asked if Green has been a distraction and spoke to that general acceptance, saying, “I think it hasn’t been that much of a distraction for us as a team. Because Draymond plays with fire, and that’s what we love about him.” Curry continued, “Unfortunately he’s been in two situations now or as of late that have caused some people to judge his character and intent on the floor.
I think that’s overboard, knowing Draymond as a player and a person.” Instead of turning on Green, the team would prefer to fix its glare at an enemy. And right now, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ star player makes for a convenient enemy.
From the Golden State perspective, James decided to target Green at a moment when Game 4 was over in all but technicality. Perhaps James had no designs on Green’s flagrant-foul points, but it’s easy and practical to believe the worst of your enemies.
From the anti-Draymond perspective, he’s a repeat offender, long overdue for his comeuppance. From the Warriors perspective, James is the true culprit — a cynical tattletale who manifested this whole controversy out of desperation.
“At the end of the day, the man stepped on his head,” Warriors forward Marreese Speights said. That’s not all the Warriors are frustrated by. They haven’t taken kindly to James telling the world that Green’s comments toward him “went a little overboard.”
Or, as Klay Thompson put it Sunday, “I’m just kind of shocked some guys take it so personal. … It’s a man’s league and I’ve heard a lot of bad things on that court, but at the end of the day it stays on the court.”
That’s not all the Warriors are peeved about. A few players are under the impression that James lobbied the league to get Green suspended as a means of ducking an opponent. Maybe James was merely being honest when speaking with NBA investigators, but that narrative is less compelling at Warriors HQ.
Upon hearing Thompson’s “man’s league,” response, Speights went further, saying, “For real, bro. You lose respect for guys like that. If you a player in this league you want to compete for a championship, you going to have to play. Don’t try to get nobody suspended. You supposed to be the best in the league. You supposed to be the best in the world. Prove it.”
When asked if Michael Jordan would have taken James’ tack, Speights said, “No! When Jordan gets in between the lines, he’s a dog, he’s a killer. He don’t care who on the other side. He ain’t do that against the Bad Boys and he used to get killed by them.”
A case could be made that the Warriors should be mad at Green for losing composure. Now is not the time for such sentiments, not in this particular crucible. The Warriors are supporting Green, warts and all. They’d prefer to direct their anger at an opponent for exploiting Green’s anger. Maybe that’s silly and tribal, but it’s also sports.
“We gon’ be all right. Everybody fired up,” Speights said. “If we win without the All-Star, it’s another story for y’all to write. ‘Strength in Numbers’ on our shirt for a reason.” Indeed it is. The Warriors are supposed to be the best in the world, good enough to end this series at home on Monday night without the All-Star. Prove it.