Two flagrant fouls. Two ejections. One suspension. One broken elbow. One swollen eye. Two middle fingers.
The first two games of the second-round series between the Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies read more like MMA than basketball, characterized by extreme physicality and accompanying accusations of dirty play.
Warriors forward Draymond Green was controversially ejected in the second quarter of Game 1 after delivering a swipe to the face of Grizzlies big man Brandon Clarke and then pulling him down by his jersey. Just minutes into Game 2, Grizzlies wing Dillon Brooks was sent to the showers — without much controversy — for delivering a blow to the head of Warriors guard Gary Payton II, resulting in a hard fall that led to a broken elbow and a three-to-five week timetable for a return. On Thursday, the NBA announced that Brooks would be suspended for Game 3 for “unnecessary and excessive contact” which resulted in “substantial injury to Payton.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr called the play “dirty” on multiple occasions, and suggested that Brooks “broke the code” among NBA players about not “taking somebody out in midair and clubbing him across the head.” On Thursday, Kerr seized the opportunity to launch one more shot at Brooks when asked about his team’s mindset heading into Game 3.
“Just play hard. Battle for every loose ball, battle for every rebound, compete every possession. And, you know, don’t risk a guy’s career if he’s ahead of the play in transition,” Kerr said. “That’s our mantra.”
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All of this sets the stage for what should prove to be an intense and physical matchup on Saturday, with the winner poised to take a 2-1 lead in the series. With a Western Conference finals berth in the balance, you might expect that the players would try to keep their emotions in check in order to focus on execution. But Green, who said on Friday that his vision was still blurry after taking an elbow to the eye from Grizzlies center Xavier Tillman just seconds after the Brooks ejection in Game 2 (Green also earned a $25K fine for flipping off the Memphis crowd on his way to the locker room), is using everything that’s transpired in the series so far as fuel moving forward.
“You want every bit of emotions you can have in a playoff series. Somebody want smoke, you gotta want smoke, or you lose,” Green said on Friday. “This ain’t about putting no emotions aside or not letting your emotions get the best of you. If your emotions get the best of you, they should. It’s the playoffs. You’re playing for all the marbles. Your emotions should get the best of you, and you adjust from there.”
This isn’t a surprising comment from Green, who has been the emotional center of the Warriors for the better part of his 10-year career. Kerr often talks about how Green is able to walk the fine line between passion and recklessness, and obviously the pendulum has swung the wrong way at times in the past — like in Game 1 of this series, or when he was suspended for a crucial Game 5 in the 2016 Finals, which the Warriors eventually lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
For the most part, however, Green’s ability to stay on the edge has led to incredible success for both himself and the Warriors over the past several seasons. On Friday he said growing up in Saginaw, Michigan “bred me a little differently,” mentioning that he used to get hit in the head with the basketball by “the old heads.”
Whatever the reason, Green is one of the most outwardly emotional and passionate players in the NBA, and he won’t attempt to keep that under wraps in Game 3.
“It’s a basketball game, it’s a physical game,” Green said on Friday. “Whatever comes with that, you take that on the chin and keep it moving.”