Draymond Green looked to be in a tough spot, even as he maintained his innocence and confidence before a media crowd. Normally a man who speaks in bold font, Green’s voice quavered while explaining the now-infamous kick to Steven Adams‘ groin. Again, he was consistent in declaring the oft-replayed act an accident.
Then suddenly, a self-defense turned into an offensive, with Russell Westbrook as the target. “You know, Russell [Westbrook] said I did it on purpose, but he’s a part of the superstar group that started all this acting in the NBA,” Green said Monday before the Warriors’ practice. “I didn’t. So, I sold the call. [The official] called me that way. I sold the call.” Green went on to cite a play where Westbrook kicked him during a jump shot.
After the news conference, there were murmurs as to why Green had, again, gone heel as the league was considering his fate. The answer to many things Draymond Green is usually, “He can’t help himself.” A brash honesty seeps into his words, burbling up and flooding over the political front.
Despite and maybe even because of the Westbrook implication, Green has since won — for now. He escaped suspension in Golden State’s massive Game 4 Tuesday night in Oklahoma City, but also incurred a flagrant 2 upgrade (and $25,000 fine) for his kick. That upgrade puts Green on the precipice of future suspensions.
Green has received a reprieve, but he shouldn’t get too comfortable. It’s a dynamic Golden State officials still fear, as the team now fights for its playoff life. It’s the background for every Green play from here on out. One overly aggressive move could ruin the historic season.
That’s an issue for a player who’s often on tilt, and a team not far from the brink. If Green garners a future flagrant 1, he’s out a game. If he gets a flagrant 2, he’s missing two games. He also carries four technical foul points in these playoffs, placing him three techs away from a future suspension. While the last flagrant may have been accidental, it removes a safety net for future dubious acts. Warriors officials are concerned about this lack of insurance.
It was fair to wonder if Green already was suffering for subduing himself. Recently, before the Game 3 kick, he has tried to quiet down around the refs, holding in his recriminations after drives into contact, jogging back on defense while biting his lip. That’s fantastic for NBA officials, but not entirely in keeping with the All-Star forward’s angrily loquacious style. Perhaps it has nothing to do with a shaky Western Conference finals (so far), but Green was bad enough in Game 3 to inspire some unconventional theories.
“That’s what was frustrating to me,” Green said of his Game 3 performance, in a Monday news conference that mostly focused on a possible suspension. “I was just bad.” Green was a miserable 1-of-9 from the field in Game 3, missing repeatedly at the rim. Usually an incredible defensive player, Green saw Dion Waiters easily driving past him on Sunday. Green set a record for total plus-minus this season but suffered a miserable minus-43 mark in Game 3.
Right now Green would love to properly play the role of villain as Oklahoma City treats him accordingly. Upon getting the initial flagrant on the Adams kick, he ambled up to a jeering crowd and egged on the mob. Green just can’t truly revel in the rage while playing so badly. “I missed a couple easy ones and it kind of killed my whole game,” Green said. “So that was pretty frustrating, especially with all the boos. Because I love boos. It usually helps me play well. It’s frustrating because it usually gets me going.”
If boos truly get Green going, he’ll have plenty of fuel Tuesday night. He is sure to be serenaded with anger throughout Game 4, perhaps to a level unprecedented in these parts. He’s threatening to be a more hated figure in Oklahoma than Patrick Beverley, a theoretically impossible feat.
This is the setup for a classic antihero performance from Green, provided he can play with focus with so many now focused on him. Once a player struggling to make the team, Green is now both famous and infamous. He’s also a marked man, playing without a safety net, while serving as his team’s emotional leader. It’s a moment he was born for, provided he can make good on it.
When asked about the jeers he’s sure to receive, Green responded, “That’s fun. That means I’m on people’s minds.”