Draymond Green remains one of the NBA’s most controversial figures, but his 2016-17 has so far featured much more good than bad. The Golden State Warriors star has continued to add to his reputation as the most versatile defender in the NBA, blocking two Atlanta Hawks in the final 45 seconds to seal a win on Tuesday and easing the introduction of Kevin Durant into the side with his ability to cover multiple positions. The fiery personality and penchant for talking trash were apparent during the team’s 16-2 start and 12-game winning streak, but the controversial incidents that popped up throughout last spring’s postseason had been noticeably absent.
That changed late in Thursday’s double-overtime thriller against the visiting Houston Rockets. Down 126-123 with 2:10 on the clock in the second extra period, Green pulled down an offensive rebound and went up for a put-back over James Harden. The Rockets superstar was whistled for a foul, but referees reviewed the incident because Green kicked up his right leg and lowered it onto Harden’s head. A minutes-long review ended in a flagrant-1 foul for Green. Take a look:
Green split his pair of free throws to cut the margin to two points, but Harden made both of his flagrant freebies at the other end to make it a two-possession game. Eric Gordon finished a lay-up on the subsequent play, and the Rockets suddenly led by six points.
Green made several plays to attempt to get Golden State back into it, but he fouled out with 20 seconds left and Houston finished up an impressive 132-127 win. The Warriors continue to hold the league’s best record, but saw their season-best win streak end at 12 games.
Green’s kick should look familiar to anyone who followed the controversy surrounding his strike to the groin of Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams in last May’s Western Conference Finals. As the discussion at that time showed, Green has a tendency to overextend his leg when he jumps, to the point where it’s hard to say it’s intentional. But the NBA made officiating these movements a point of emphasis this season, and Green surely deserved his punishment on Thursday. It’s hard to knock him too much when he made so many other plays on his way to 20 points, 15 rebounds, and nine assists, but it certainly mattered.
The flagrant also came at the worst possible time for the Warriors. Stephen Curry had fouled out a minute prior — his first disqualification since December 2013 — on a charging call drawn by Rockets center Montrezl Harrell, a turning point that allowed Harden to break a tie on a 3-pointer the very possession. With Klay Thompson (4-of-20 FG, 3-of-13 3FG) struggling with his shot throughout the night, the Warriors suddenly became very dependent on Green and Durant for offense. Several possessions saw them pass the ball around the perimeter with little movement or rely on one-on-one play, and the offense in overtime was therefore somewhat dependent on Durant’s ability to draw fouls. Houston did much the same for long stretches, but Harden’s penchant for late-clock excellence covered up enough of those errors.
Until those late moments, though, this game appeared set to go either way. The teams traded baskets and mini-runs all night, with the only double-digit lead on either side lasting all of 38 seconds. Nevertheless, Houston appeared in control more often. That was in part due to the play of Harden, who put up his fourth triple-double of the season on 29 points (8-of-23 FG, 11-of-14 FT), 15 rebounds, and 13 assists in 46 minutes.
Yet the Rockets’ secondary performances were what made them so strong throughout the night. Offseason pickups Ryan Anderson (29 points on 9-of-17 FG, 5-of-10 3FG) and Eric Gordon (23 on 9-of-19 FG) were fantastic, making multiple big shots in crunch time to hold off the Warriors and bail the Rockets out of several tough possessions. Gordon was emblematic of a more general Houston strength, leading three subs in double figures (out of four total) on a night when Golden State head coach Steve Kerr struggled with his depth and played top reserve Andre Iguodala for 42 minutes.
That’s not to say the Warriors struggled to keep up. Despite a poor night for Thompson and a delayed showing for Curry due to early foul trouble, the hosts scored 29 points in three of four quarters and surrendered points more through stellar shot-making than their own breakdowns. Yet the crispness we’ve come to associate with the Warriors at their best was certainly rare. Durant put up big numbers with 39 points and 13 rebounds, but the effort showed.
Houston deserves lots of credit for pushing the Warriors out of their comfort zone. A team with well-known defensive minuses all over the rotation looked tougher. It’s odd to say about a contest that saw these teams set a new NBA record for combined 3-point attempts with 88, but this was a scrappy game in which second chances and 24-second defensive possessions tilted the outcome.
The Rockets very easily could have folded when the Warriors turned to their small Mega-Death Lineup — a group that had outscored Houston by 22 points in only six minutes of floor time — down 101-100 with 4:15 on the clock in the fourth. However, they fended off several nascent runs and were every bit the equal of the most fearsome lineup in the NBA. Mike D’Antoni will always have his doubters, but he has the Rockets looking engaged in a way they never did during their disappointing 2015-16 season.
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The Warriors can look at this loss as a learning experience. Despite their impressive record, Golden State came into this game having played the fewest “clutch” minutes of any team in the league. Durant has proven to be a very good fit in the Warriors’ existing structure, but their best players still need to learn how to play together when it matters most. Better to lose these games in early December than in the spring.
When those more important games come, though, the Warriors can rest assured that people will be watching Green very, very closely. Thursday’s incident certainly isn’t going to change his reputation around the NBA.
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