In the final minute of the first half Sunday, Draymond Jamal Green found himself precisely where he is most of the time: right in the midst of a controversy of his own making.
Moments earlier, he’d fallen into, then onto, Celtics star Jaylen Brown, who’d just launched a three-pointer before Green fouled him on a contest. Perhaps taking issue with Brown kicking out his left leg beforehand, Green laid his legs on top of the fallen Brown’s upper body. As Brown prepared to sit back up, Green lightly shoved him in the back, leading Brown to then stand over Green. The forwards got in each other’s faces, prompting official Zach Zarba, Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum all to clog the path between Green and Brown to make sure things didn’t escalate. Brown later said he was frustrated by what he described as Green trying “to pull my pants down” in the ruckus.
The incident itself likely wouldn’t have been noteworthy aside from the fact that it happened after Green had already drawn a technical foul in the early stages of the game. So as the dust settled with this instance, referees reviewed what happened to see what punishment, if any, should be doled out as a result of the tie-up. It was a bit awkward, because nearly everyone from the announcers on the broadcast, to former official Steve Javie in Secaucus, N.J., to fans on Twitter, could acknowledge that the play normally would have resulted in a double technical foul. Yet most agreed—and referees confirmed—that there’d be no such call here, in part because Green already had the earlier technical, meaning another would have him ejected.
Green essentially said as much himself. “I’ve earned deferential treatment. I enjoy that. I embrace that,” he said in an interview with ESPN’s Michael Eaves, adding that he wasn’t ever concerned he’d land a second technical over the dust-up.
I don’t want to see the Finals or any other meaningful game undermined by a ticky-tack ejection for a key player. But the scenario, and Green’s general view that he’s earned deferential treatment, does beg the question: If Green—who drew 14 regular-season technicals in just 46 games played—knows it would require something egregious to take the step of tossing him from a game, doesn’t it clearly benefit the Warriors to have him playing with such an edge, more or less daring the refs to oust him?
Make no mistake: Green has an abundance of practice as a habitual line-stepper. Each season, the NBA stipulates players will be suspended after tallying 16 technical fouls during the campaign. And every season, like clockwork, Green approaches that number, but usually manages to avoid reaching it. Thirteen in the 2015–16 season, 15 in the ’16-17 season, 15 in the ’17-–8 season, 16—and a suspension—during the ’18–19 season, and 14 each of the last three seasons, including this one, in which he had a 15th tech rescinded by the league.
He’s been burned once before on the biggest stage, obviously. Back in the 2016 Finals, Green drew a flagrant and automatic suspension for getting tangled with LeBron James in the late stages of Game 4, a punishment that stemmed from receiving too many flagrants. The ruling was costly: Aside from losing Game 5, in which Green was suspended, Golden State also dropped Games 6 and 7, becoming the first team to ever falter in a Finals series after jumping out to a 3–1 series advantage. (Shortly afterward, Green texted with Kevin Durant about joining Golden State, which added the superstar and then won the next two titles.)
“I think LeBron coaxed me into that,” Green said on J.J. Redick’s podcast, The Old Man and the Three. “And I know for sure today he couldn’t coax me into that. (For Brown’s part, he said he wasn’t aware that Green already had a technical Sunday.)
Despite standing just 6’6″, Draymond is among the best defenders of his generation—someone who can adequately protect the rim while also switching onto wings, or guard them straight up, as he did with Brown on Sunday. He’s a fantastic passer and playmaker, even without the sort of pinpoint jumper his teammates often possess. He’s one of the game’s best screeners, and he understands better than anyone how, when and where to get Stephen Curry open.
Yet one of his most underrated abilities is being able to play an edgy game of chicken with officials he knows he’ll rarely lose, because the stakes are too high. It’s the equivalent of playing with a Mario star, knowing no harm can come his or his team’s way, despite playing more physically and more aggressively than anyone else, all while riling up the opponent.
It’d be foolish to say that Green’s emotions don’t sometimes get the best of him. In the past, Steve Kerr said Green sometimes stepped over the line. Hell, Green’s emotions one game—during a run-in with Durant—played a role in Durant deciding to leave Golden State, according to Durant himself.
Still, the double-edged sword that Green carries when he has one technical—singular in today’s NBA—is an incredible, counterintuitive weapon to be able to use.
Meat and potatoes: Good reads from SI this past week
- Howard Beck zeroed in on an interesting angle yesterday: For all the talk of Jordan Poole’s massive leap, and everything we all know about Klay Thompson’s shooting prowess and status as a future Hall of Famer, the Warriors lack a consistent, reliable second star for now. And it’s leaving Curry with more of a workload than he usually has at this stage.
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- Chris Mannix wrote about what generally ends up being Golden State’s favorite part of the game, and Boston’s least favorite: the pivotal third quarter, which was lopsided in both Games 1 and 2.
Final thoughts on Game 2
A handful of brief thoughts on Golden State’s solid Game 2 adjustments, many of which figure to send Udoka back to the drawing board:
- The Warriors changed their defensive coverage to prioritize Boston’s perimeter shooters by anchoring onto them more than in Game 1, while also showing more of a willingness to live with whatever Tatum was able to get for himself offensively.
Perhaps most notably: Horford—shadowed by Thompson and a handful of other Warriors throughout the contest—didn’t get a single look from deep in Game 2 after hitting a career-best six triples in the Finals opener. It marked the first outing all postseason in which Horford failed to take a three.
Beyond that, Smart and Payton Pritchard each shot 0-for-3 from outside, while Derrick White connected on just 4-for-13 overall on the night. The performance by the role players marked an enormous reversal and left the Celtics’ offense relatively anemic inside the arc, where Boston shot just 34.8% (15-for-43). Through two games, no team in NBA Finals history has made fewer two-point shots than the Celtics’ 37—a point that, barring a shift in approach, raises the stakes even more on the team’s accuracy from distance.
- Playing further up on just about everyone not named Tatum meant less room to breathe for those players, and it resulted in turnover, after turnover, after turnover for Boston.
All told, there were 18 Celtics giveaways—including more in the third period (five), than Boston had buckets (four)—which the Warriors capitalized on to the tune of 33 points, the second-highest total in NBA Finals history. The game was essentially won (or depending on how you view it, lost) right there, in that one data point. Especially considering the teams were identical in terms of three-point efficiency, each shooting 15-for-37.
- After taking 12 shots in Game 1—many of them awkward-looking, in an apparent win for the Boston defense—Green took just three in Game 2. Yet, as promised, he played with a determination to impact the game elsewhere with his physicality and heavily charged emotions, and he repeatedly created gaps for Curry, who picked his spots and ultimately picked the Celtics apart with high screen-and-rolls in the third.
Yes, Green occasionally looked like a downfield lineman at times. But it helped pick the Warriors’ offense out of the mud, and helped put the game away, illustrating what Golden State initially intended to do after its dominant third quarter in Game 1. He also did a solid job defensively on Brown, who sizzled to begin the contest, but then cooled off completely over the final three quarters.
- Plugging in Gary Payton II, who sat out Game 1, made a considerable difference, not only because he gives the Warriors another solid defensive player (though the much taller Tatum hit a couple of shots over him), but also because of the juice he gives Golden State in transition and as a talented passer into tight, congested windows.
Payton largely vacuumed up the minutes left behind by Andre Iguodala, who returned to the lineup for Game 1 but missed Game 2. Yet Payton’s presence provides Kerr the luxury of not having to stick with Thompson through some brutal offensive stretches. (Another detail: lineups with Payton, Stephen Curry and Otto Porter Jr. outscored Boston by 16 points Sunday in just under 13 minutes of work.)
Thompson played a team-high 39 minutes, but that was only because Kerr left him in late, after pulling the other starters, seemingly hoping that the sharpshooter—who shot just 4-for-19—might find a rhythm before Game 3. Like occasional moments during the regular season, Klay took a couple of shots that looked completely outside the framework of anything Golden State was doing, almost trying to force himself into a flow at times.
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