A day later, the great NBA debate was about suspension. Of belief, and of Draymond Green, after everyone reflexively went nuts about the Golden State star’s kick to the groin of Oklahoma City’s Steven Adams in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals.
It was a move that seemed to spark a Thunderous tail-kicking of the defending champs, not to mention arguments about deciphering intent as NBA officials spent much of Monday deciding Green’s fate.
But it’s one that also rebooted the discussion about bad acts and bad acting, two habitual problems the league has yet to kick. And though Green won’t be sidelined for tonight’s Game 4 — he was fined $25,000 and his “unnecessary and excessive” foul was upgraded to a flagrant-2, putting him on the verge of a suspension — the NBA is again confronted with that uncomfortable truth.
“You watch this league,” said Steve Kerr, the Warriors coach. “People flail all the time trying to draw fouls.”
They do, of course. And while this is not new, it is getting old in a hurry. Harder to stomach, too, whether it’s LeBron James staggering from the slightest contact and self-administering an 8-count or any of the below-the-belt nonsense that often results from it.
It was Game 2 of the West finals when Green barreled into Adams and left the Kiwi doubled over in pain after driving a knee into his nether regions. And as Adams told reporters in Oklahoma City after a repeat offense, twice is, um, not so nice.
“I mean, it’s happened before, mate,” said Adams, the 7-foot New Zealander who played a key role in second-round upset of the Spurs. “He’s pretty accurate, that guy.”
That’s the problem now for Green, even if he professes not to care publicly. One week he’s the Sports Illustrated cover boy, the next he’s pinned up as a poster child for cheap-shot artistry and dirty play. Whether that label is accurate or not really won’t matter, as his pal Ndamukong Suh probably can tell him. He’s on the verge now, officially and otherwise.
Another flagrant foul in these playoffs gets him an automatic one-game suspension, by rule. But the slightest hint of foul play gets scrutinized, by default.
“Does he have to be careful?” Kerr said Monday, sounding a bit exasperated by the line of questioning. “I guess. Now people are watching for him or whatever. But I don’t really know how I should respond to that. He’s just going to play, he’s going to be himself, and we’ll see what happens.”
As it happens, Adams, a 2013 lottery pick, is the guy with the track record of inciting violence in his brief NBA career. But viral videos and social media don’t really encourage nuance, a point that TNT analyst Charles Barkley actually articulated quite well, if inadvertently, as he made his own postgame defense of Green, saying, “I know for a fact — I’m just guessing also, really ... I don’t think Draymond Green was intentionally trying to do what he did, is my opinion.”
I’m guessing he wasn’t, either. Watch Green play long enough and you’ll see him do plenty of that sort of thing, arms and legs thrashing uncontrollably. And the fact is, this is all part of what makes him such a uniquely talented player — a versatile offensive weapon and one of the league’s best defenders — thriving as much on conflict as he does contact.
His basketball IQ has plenty to do with his NBA success, diagnosing plays and dissecting defenses the way he does. But it’s more than that with Green, who can rattle off every one of the 34 players chosen ahead of him in the 2012 draft. He doesn’t just play with a chip on his shoulder. He has stacked his career on it, which is perhaps why he’s always teetering on the brink of something, from his grade-school tantrums to his screaming matches with the likes of Tom Izzo and now Kerr
“I love boos — it usually helps me play well,” he told reporters Monday. “That means I’m on people’s minds. So, yeah, I really enjoy that.”
Theater of the absurb
But is anybody really enjoying all this foolishness? James, who reminded Pistons fans just what a diva he can be, at times, in that first-round sweep by Cleveland, was at it again over the weekend in a Game 3 loss in Toronto. He got called out for flopping by ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy, then looked downright silly when he embellished an innocent elbow from his own teammate.
“I’m not trying to sell a call,” James insisted later, almost comically so.
Green, at least, wasn’t pretending otherwise, admitting his Rockette routine was an intentional act, even if the target wasn’t, despite what Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook said.
“I sold the call,” Green said Monday. “Russell said I did it on purpose, but he’s a part of the superstar group that started all this acting in the NBA — I didn’t.”
Right on cue, Westbrook fired back, noting he’s never been fined for flopping, which is true, technically speaking.
“I don’t know how to flop,” Westbrook added. “Seems like (Green) was the one flailing and kicking his legs out yesterday. It wasn’t me.”
That’s the sort of childishness NBA commissioner Adam Silver could do without, especially with his referees under siege lately.
But who’s kidding whom here?
“Every game you watch people are doing that,” Kerr said.
And while this year’s NBA postseason still can produce some terrific theater — the script is good, and the roles are, too — it’d help if some of the actors remembered the play’s the thing.