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By most metrics, Golden State Warriors All-Star Draymond Green had an excellent Game 4 of the NBA Finals vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers, balancing a relatively poor 2-of-9 shooting night with 12 rebounds, four assists, three blocks, two steals, and tremendous defense to open up a 3-1 advantage in the series. However, an altercation with LeBron James in the fourth quarter could bring a review from the league and put Green's availability at risk for Monday's potential clincher in Oakland.
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Yes, Green now finds himself at the center of a groin-related controversy yet another time this postseason. With fewer than three minutes remaining in regulation and the Warriors leading 96-86, Green and James became tangled while setting and covering (respectively) a screen for Stephen Curry. Green appeared to start the incident with a swipe at James, after which LeBron retaliated with a stronger flail of his arm and stepover after Draymond fell to the ground. The two All-NBA forwards then continued their discussion through the possession, which ended with double fouls and jump ball won by the Cavs. Take a look here:
The incident seemed over and perhaps more about LeBron's frustration with the loss and Draymond's pest-like play than anything else. Look at the play a little closer, though, and you can see Green's arm come up towards James's crotch as he steps over and towards the basket. Here's a good view of it:
Green's action would not be so attention-grabbing if not for his history in these playoffs. Golden State's vocal leader courted controversy in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals when he kicked Steven Adams in same area. That play was initially called for a flagrant-1 on the floor and upgraded to a flagrant-2 the next day upon league review, a decision that brought punishment to Green without affecting the outcome of the series. It didn't end up mattering — the Warriors got blown out again in Game 4 — but it did put Green in the precarious position of having to avoid a flagrant foul the rest of the postseason to avoid a one-game suspension for flagrant point accumulation.
That situation means any league review that ends in a Green flagrant will keep him out of Game 5. The league could attempt to issue a lesser punishment again and assess the play as a technical — where Draymond has more wiggle room — but this incident should be looked at as a potential flagrant if it's reviewed at all.
Not surprisingly, both James and Green were asked about the dust-up after the game. James did not come out and say that he thinks Green should be suspended, but it's clear that he and his teammates aren't pleased with what occurred:
Oh, nothing got me going. You know, Draymond just said something that I don't agree with. I'm all cool with the competition. I'm all fine with that, but some of the words that came out of his mouth were a little bit overboard, and being a guy with pride, a guy with three kids and a family, things of that nature, some things just go overboard and that's where he took it, and that was it. [...]
Well, I don't know what should happen. It's not my call. That's the league office. They'll take a look at it. We all saw it in the locker room. You know, like I said, as a competitor, I love going against Draymond, and I'm all about going out there and leaving it out on the floor. But when it gets a little bit more than what it should be, that's what caused me to have words with him. So as far as the play, I think the league will take a look at it. Obviously our locker room has seen it, and we'll see what they say.
LeBron responded to a follow-up about whether he deemed a suspension likely with one word — "No."
Perhaps LeBron does not expect a suspension because he's referring to what Green said, not where he put his arm. His answer focuses on Draymond's verbal response, and such incidents between two players almost never result in suspensions. For that matter, inappropriate words should be viewed as a potential technical, not the flagrant that would keep Green out of Game 5. According to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com, the exchange doesn't even seem that extreme:
Green, for his part, also seemed to explain the altercation in terms of what was said:
The specifics of that explanation likely won't come until Spears publishes the latest installment of the diary he has done with Green all postseason, but it's fair to guess he's not saying he hit someone in the privates because he stepped over him. Green disavowed any intent in his incident with Adams, and it's hard to believe he'd say he meant to hit the biggest name in the sport on a play that's open to interpretation.
To be clear, Green's contact is not one of the worst plays we've seen on a basketball court this month, let alone in the history of the game. It's not clear that he meant to get LeBron, and James appeared to be the primary escalator of the situation when he swung out at Green and then climbed over him on his way to the basket.
Then again, we're not discussing this situation on the basis of whether Draymond or LeBron was more at fault. (Frankly, it might be easier for the league to determine that James deserves some form of punishment.) The only reason this is up for discussion is because Green, a great player with deserved status as Finals MVP frontrunner, is in a position to earn a suspension with one more flagrant thanks to repeated incidents. The accumulation rules exist in an effort to punish repeat offenders, and Green finds himself in these situations more often than most players. It'd be a shame if he missed a title-clinching opportunity over an incident even LeBron didn't judge on these terms, but the potential for that outcome existed as soon as Green got the flagrant-2 for the Adams play.
Regardless of Green's Game 5 status, it seems clear that discussion of any similar incidents is not going to go away any time soon. It's as much a part of his reputation as his status as most versatile non-LeBron player in the NBA.
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