OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Through all of the criticism and accusations of dirty play, Draymond Green vowed to keep pushing as hard as he possibly could to help deliver another championship to Golden State.
That win-at-all-costs mentality has suddenly opened the door for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to get back into the NBA Finals, and added an extra edge to a burgeoning rivalry.
Green was suspended for Game 5 on Monday night after the league assessed a Flagrant 1 foul for striking James in the groin during a scuffle in the closing minutes of the Warrior’s Game 4 victory Friday night.
James and Green got tangled up on the play, and James stepped over Green as the two got up — a move widely viewed as a show of disrespect in league circles. Green then swiped at James’ groin in retaliation and threw another jab at the four-time MVP that did not connect.
“There’s no way you can say this is an acceptable act,” Kiki VanDeWeghe, the NBA’s executive vice president of basketball operations, told The Associated Press in a phone interview.
Especially for a player like Green, who entered the finals one flagrant foul or two technicals short of a mandated suspension.
“History probably didn’t help Draymond,” Warriors center Andrew Bogut said. “When they reviewed it, that’s probably what helped them get to their decision.”
Commissioner Adam Silver put the hard-nosed, emotional leader of the defending champion on notice before the start of the rematch with Cleveland when he said that the Competition Committee would in the offseason be reviewing Green’s penchant for wildly flailing his legs on jump shots and rebounds.
Green was given a Flagrant 2 foul and fined $25,000 for kicking Oklahoma City’s Steven Adams in the groin during the Western Conference finals and picked up a Flagrant 1 for throwing Rockets forward Michael Beasley to the ground in the first round. Green also kicked Cavs guard Kyrie Irving in the chest – inadvertently, Green said – in Game 1 of the finals, which was not penalized by the league.
“You have to do what you think is right for the play,” VanDeWeghe said, “and unfortunately Draymond put himself in this position.”
Golden State leads the series 3-1 and has easily been the better team. But losing a player of Green’s caliber could tip the scales just enough.
Green is a plus-71 in the last two NBA Finals, serving as the heartbeat of the Warriors defense and a critical playmaker on the other end of the court.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr spoke to Green earlier in the postseason about keeping his emotions in check, but they again got the better of him at a crucial time.
“Draymond’s success is based on playing like that,” Bogut said. “He plays physical and chippy and he’s a talker. That’s what makes him who he is. It’s hard to tone that down when it’s in you. We don’t blame him for it.”
The after-the-fact technical levied against James isn’t unprecedented. It’s the fourth assessed by the NBA in the last two postseasons.
Last year in the Chicago-Cleveland East semifinals, the Cavs’ Matthew Dellavedova got one. This year, Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant (in the Thunder-Dallas series) and Miami’s Goran Dragic (in the Heat-Toronto series) also were assessed technicals after league review.
“There’s no rhyme or reason to it,” Bogut said. “I’ve been in the same situation. I’ve been suspended before. I think it’s like a lottery decision, like the draft. They just pull out a ping-pong ball and make a decision.”
James said Green crossed the line with some of the trash talk he hurled toward the Cavaliers star, and said he felt Green’s swipe at his groin was “a little outside of basketball.”
Green’s teammates stood tall for him, saying James instigated the confrontation when he stepped over Green on the court.
“You don’t let anybody walk over you,” Bogut said. “If someone walks over me, I’m getting up the same way.”
“I was just trying to get back into the play,” James said.
The incident has helped turn what started out as a respectful rivalry between two of the best teams in the league into a heated contest.
Warriors forward Marreese Speights tweeted out a baby bottle on Sunday afternoon, clearly directed at the Cavaliers for how they have responded to the situation. James and Stephen Curry exchanged words at the end of Game 4 and Warriors guard Klay Thompson poked a little fun at James for accusing Green of being too harsh with his trash talk.
“I guess his feelings just got hurt,” Thompson said. “I mean, we’ve all been called plenty of bad words on the basketball court before. Some guys just react to it differently.”
When told of Thompson’s characterization, James chuckled out loud for several seconds and started and stopped an answer twice.
“It’s so hard to take the high road,” James said. “I’ve been doing it for 13 years. It’s so hard to continue to do it, and I’m going to do it again.”
Then Curry’s wife, Ayesha, chimed in on Twitter: “High Road. Invisible bridge used to step over said person when open floor is available left to right.”
The Warriors learned of the suspension late in practice on Sunday, and Green wasn’t made available to the media.
“He’s not happy, no,” Curry said. “But anybody in that situation, you can’t expect them to be OK with the decision. I know he’s going to give us positive energy. He’s going to support us as a team the best way he can, even though he’s not going to be on the floor, and we have to go out and get a win for him.”
AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley and AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this report.