Late Tuesday night, the NBA reached a verdict on the debate that has consumed the league since Draymond Green’s foot connected with Domantas Sabonis’s chest in Game 2. Did Green, whose foot got tangled up in Sabonis’s arms, merely lose his balance? Or was he trying to hurt Sabonis, who underwent X-rays on his ribs and lungs and is questionable for Game 3? Was it a step or a stomp? An unfortunate accident, a malicious attack, or something in between?
The video, which has now been dissected to a Zapruder level, leaves so much up to interpretation. The NBA, in an absence of clear-cut answers to these questions, leaned “in part on Draymond’s history of unsportsmanlike acts” in its decision to suspend him for Game 3, according to a statement.
Green’s overaggression has certainly crossed dangerous lines before, and turning to history is a reasonable way to settle a situation that doesn’t have a conclusive answer. But without risking confirmation bias or leaning too much on assumptions, history can only estimate intent—not determine it fully. We don’t know what’s in Draymond Green’s heart. But it feels like he’s being punished for his past, especially since he was already ejected from Sacramento’s Game 2 win, while Sabonis was only assessed a technical foul. The Warriors are now staring down the barrel of an 0-2 deficit without Green, who has bolstered their net rating by almost 10 points when he’s been on the floor in this series.
“My leg got grabbed. Second time in two nights,” Green lamented after Tuesday’s game, referencing a play involving Malik Monk in Game 1. “Referees just watch it. I gotta land my foot somewhere, and I’m not the most flexible person, so it’s not stretching that far.” Green extended his arms out to demonstrate his stiffness, like a defendant providing evidence that he couldn’t have done it. “I guess,” he concludes, “ankle-grabbing is OK.”
Indeed, Green’s movements are not exactly fluid. A different player might get the benefit of the doubt with explanations pertaining to stiffness, gravity, balance, and the simple fact that, as I put it after the game on The Answer, sometimes bodies do things.
The play involving Monk, with four minutes left in Game 1, contains elements that are much more damning than the Sabonis situation. It illustrates intention and repetition, and leaves no questions about who the instigator was. Unlike Sabonis, who looked like he was trying to protect himself from flying limbs, there is no mystery about whether Monk was in full command of his body. He was intending to grab Green’s legs, and it was a dangerous play.
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The only question is what Monk was trying to accomplish. Maybe he was just flopping, or trying to create the illusion of a tussle hoping that the refs would see it and blame the guy with the bad rep. Maybe he was trying to hurt Draymond. The only reason we’re not asking those questions is because Green’s foot just happened to land steadily on the hardwood instead of turning sideways or landing on another person’s body.
My mind keeps going back to this: What if roles were reversed? What if Draymond was on the ground, holding onto Sabonis’s knee, and it was Sabonis who stepped on Green. Who would we be holding responsible for this incident? Would we be accusing Green of trying to hurt Sabonis’s leg?
But that’s not what happened, so the Warriors will be without Green for a critical game in what might be the final series featuring their original championship core of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Green.
Things already may have been headed in this direction. After a wobbly season that began with Green punching Jordan Poole (that damn history!) fans have dubbed this postseason the Last Dance. Green could opt out of his contract this summer and become a free agent. The Warriors could deal him or Klay in a move to get younger. Andre Iguodala, now 39, is reaching Udonis Haslem status. As Curry put it early this month, “it’s still proven that it can win, and you don’t really mess with that. So I feel like as long as we can continue to prove that, it makes the conversation a little bit easier.” But right now, they’re in an 0-2 hole against the Kings, and difficult conversations lie ahead.
The Warriors haven’t looked like they’ve had many answers for the Kings’ speed, offensive rebounding, and scintillating scoring, and they will have less without Green. Even in the minutes Green has played, the Kings have outscored the Warriors by 3.6 points per 100 possessions. But things get so much worse for Golden State when Green sits. Golden State’s rebounding percentage drops from 50 to 38.5. He’s a big body to handle Sabonis. Andrew Wiggins, Green, and Kevon Looney had five fouls each in Game 2. When Curry was getting blitzed in the fourth quarter of Game 2, the Warriors sorely missed Green’s ability to play downhill and attack four-on-three coverages.
The first time Green smiled in his postgame press conference Tuesday was when he was asked about the Warriors being down 0-2 and potentially being eliminated in the first round for the first time while the core has been healthy. “That’s exciting, right? A new challenge,” he said, his face breaking into another smile. “After the game I was actually thinking about that. I was like, ‘Man, this is one we haven’t seen yet. And we’ve conquered all the rest of them. So why not go conquer this one?’ It would be a lot of fun. A lot of fun. It’s good.” You can see real excitement in his eyes when others would be overcome by hopelessness. His mentality borders on delusional, but it also has utility for a team in this predicament.
“Fun” is also a word Draymond used to describe jawing with the crowd while he waited for the referees to review his infamous play in Game 2. You could (fairly) argue that riling up opposing fans while their team’s best player is writhing on the floor in pain is in poor taste. But Green, for better and for worse, has a tendency to get lost in these bouts of intensity. He has fueled all-time comebacks while simultaneously having to be held back from his head coach. The Warriors have lived and died with Green toeing the line between aggression and recklessness for the better part of a decade. A Draymond Green suspension being the final nail in the coffin for this dynasty would feel somehow poetic, unfair and fitting.
However, most of what ails the Warriors against the Kings could be moot if Sabonis can’t play. While the X-rays on Sabonis’s ribs and lungs came back negative, he is listed as questionable for Game 3, with a bruised sternum. If he misses time, the complexion of the series could change in a way that gives the Warriors a better strategic shot at a comeback. While Sabonis’s future hangs in the balance, so does Golden State’s.