PHOENIX — The latest nightmare night for a surging Golden State Warriors team began early in the third quarter. In an attempt to galvanize a weak starting unit, Steve Kerr made some radical rotation choices in the first half. He benched Andrew Wiggins and Kevon Looney, shifted Draymond Green to center to speed up the game and, in Kerr’s words, create more space for Steph Curry.
I worked temporarily.
“I saw he got a layup on the first play of the inning,” Kerr said of Green.
Warriors fire Green after Nurkic injury: Will he face suspension?
But there has been nothing sustainable for the Warriors’ 10-13 through 23 games. Part of the problem was Green’s lack of consistent availability. He may still be their second most important player. But for that to matter, he must remain on the floor and out of the league’s disciplinary program.
The Warriors maintained a five-point lead with less than nine minutes gone in the third quarter. Green tried to free himself for a post feed into the far right corner near the Warriors bench. While doing so, Jusuf Nurkic placed his right hand on Green’s right hip. In a wild attempt to get the official’s attention, Green spun 360 degrees and flapped his arms. His right-hand man smoked Nurkic across the left cheek with great force.
This caused Nurkic to fall to the ground for about a minute, triggering an automatic review by officials. It didn’t take long. Green was ejected for Flagrant 2 and ran into the locker room without arguing it, later agreeing he deserved it.
It was the third time this season that Green was ejected. He was eliminated in the second half of a close game against the Cavaliers due to a dustup with Donovan Mitchell. The Warriors lost to Cleveland. He was ejected while the score was still 0-0 in the first quarter for smothering Rudy Gobert. The Warriors lost that night to the Timberwolves. They went 2-3 during his five-game suspension.
A look at Draymond Green’s suspension
They were five on the Suns when Nurkic hit a spinning forearm. They lost 119-116, meaning they are now 2-6 this season in games in which Green was ejected or suspended.
“Huge swing,” Kerr said. “We felt good about having him in (the middle), stretching the floor, and the shooters there. We changed the lineup around it. We thought that could give Steph some space and Draymond could use his speed… We need him. We need Draymond. He has to He finds a way to keep his balance and be there.”
The spotlight now turns to the league, which has been transparent in its dealings with Green, letting the world know in official statements that his past transgressions led to a harsher punishment. There will be a review within the next 24 hours and a suspension is expected before the Warriors play the Clippers on Thursday night in Los Angeles. How long will they be without him?
Green will be part of the review process. He expects a call from the league — Joe Dumars and perhaps Adams Silver — on Wednesday and said he will talk to them. Green was quiet in the locker room after the game and agreed to speak to reporters, holding a 13-minute news conference that previewed what will surely be his defense against the NBA on Wednesday.
“He was pulling my hip and I was swinging away to sell the call,” Green said. “I called him. You know, I’m not one to apologize for things I meant to do. But I do apologize to Joseph. Because I didn’t mean to hit him. I sell calls with my arm. I don’t fall down to sell a call. I’m not a flip flop. So I was just selling a call. I’ve “He spun away. Unfortunately, I hit him.”
Green watched the replay. He agreed that it didn’t look good but reiterated that his intentions were to sell the call, not to hit Nurkic, which — when tracing Green’s history — is a lot like a playoff kick in the groin of Steven Adams while trying to sell a foul call. . He received no suspension in that case, although the blatant points eventually piled up to a one-game ban in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
But that was several transgressions ago. The league typically discusses incidents with all parties involved, and Nurkic didn’t seem too sympathetic to Green’s explanation that it was unintentional.
“I don’t know what’s going on with him.” Nurkic said. “I personally feel that the brother needs help. I’m glad he didn’t try to strangle me.”
This comment was passed on to Green.
“I think we all need help,” Green said. “I don’t think any of us are very perfect. So, respect. I’ll tell him the same thing I told you. I apologize to him. I didn’t mean to hit him.”
Curry talked about the new year being a demarcation point for these Warriors, noting their need to resolve their issues and generate momentum before the calendar turns. They have nine more games in December against these opponents: Clippers, Nets, Blazers, Celtics, Wizards, Blazers, Nuggets, Heat, Mavericks.
The Warriors need to win a few of these to stabilize an up-and-down situation. The league is once again on the verge of determining how many (will there be any?) of those games Green will be eligible for.
“I wasn’t going to put the team in a bad position,” Green said. “I intended to get a foul and I called it. For Steve, of course, I have to be there for us to win. I understand that. That’s why I haven’t argued with the referees since I came back, and I haven’t gotten into it with any player since I came back. Because I understand that. Unfortunately Luck, bad luck. He tried to make a mistake and you called it. But those are not the same things.
With or without Green, Kerr faces some bigger questions about the bigger picture of the Warriors’ evolving rotation. Since returning from his recent finger injury, Wiggins has put together three of his worst games, combining 8-of-30 shooting with 11 turnovers against the Blazers, Thunder and Suns.
It finally reached decision point for Kerr late in the second quarter against the Suns. Wiggins missed a layup and dribbled it himself out of bounds shortly after coming in to potentially seal the first half. Jonathan Kuminga played well behind Wiggins. So Kerr pulled Wiggins with more than four minutes left in the first half and put Kuminga in the starting lineup to start the third quarter. Kuminga played 29 minutes. Wiggins played a season-low 15 minutes. It did not close the game.
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“I still feel good,” Wiggins said. “I just have to do more. I wasn’t making shots. But I feel like I competed on the defensive end, smashed the glass.”
Kerr also replaced Looney with Brandin Podzemski to open the third quarter, leaning smaller. Looney played only 11 minutes. It was minus 13. Podziemski was excellent, finishing with 20 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, changing the game with a variety of quick plays, including an offensive rebound from a free throw that led to a 3 and a layup against Devin Booker to give Booker his fourth. Foul at the beginning of the third quarter
But Kerr’s most seismic rotation option Tuesday night in Phoenix was his late-game benching of Klay Thompson. Thompson missed eight of his 10 shots and seven of eight threes while Chris Paul (15 points, 11 assists) and Moussa Moody (12 points, four rebounds) emerged as more productive options in the backcourt. Kerr closed with Curry, Paul, Podzemski, Kuminga and Dario Saric.
“I felt like tonight I had to play with the guys who are doing the best,” Kerr said. “I’ve been really patient trying to organize everyone and give the players freedom and space. But tonight didn’t feel like a night to be a lot of patient.
As Green later pointed out, this was the first time Thompson had to make this kind of sacrifice. When he was healthy throughout these dynasty years, Thompson always started and shut down. This was his first time on the bench in prime time.
Thompson didn’t like it. He spun around during the timeout in frustration after learning of the decision, shouting in the direction of the huddle several times and slamming what appeared to be a cup holder onto the floor behind the bench. Curry came to comfort him at some point during the timeout. Thompson was stewed for most of the fourth quarter and had this exchange with reporters after the game.
One of the stories of the night is that you did not close.
“Yes,” Thompson said. “It’s very strange. Very strange.”
How do you feel about that?
“I don’t know, man,” Thompson said. “I don’t really have any feelings about it.
Was it frustrating?
“Of course it frustrates me,” Thompson said. “Do you think I’m going to get cold feet? I’m a very competitive guy. At the end of the day, I’m one of the most competitive people to wear this outfit. I can say that with confidence too. But whatever. I guess I didn’t bring it tonight. I deserved it.”
Got an explanation at this moment?
“No,” Thompson said. “No. No. No. No. Whatever. I deserved to be on the bench tonight. I played like crap.”
I was visibly upset on the bench.
“If you’ve played basketball before, you know what you’re capable of,” Thompson said. “You always want to be out there competing. Those are just facts. Whatever it is. It happens. I deserved to be on the bench. I was playing like crap. Twenty games. I couldn’t get into a good rhythm. But give credit to our bench. They played “Greatly. The young people are progressing.”
What do you think of some of the rotation decisions Steve is making now?
“I trust Steve,” Thompson said. “I trust Steve now and I will trust him forever.”
Curry said he expected Thompson to be upset during his prime-time seat and stressed they would need to move on. But it is clear that the breaking point has finally been reached and Kerr is now more willing to greenlight the most troublesome rotation options regardless of the personal implications.
“I don’t think Clay had to deal with that at all,” Green said. “The first time you deal with this is different. Your reaction, you never know how you’re going to react to something like this until you go through it. This is foreign territory for Clay. I don’t think anyone is angry because he’s upset about it.”
“These are tough nights,” Kerr said. “But this is the NBA.
“It’s a really tough league. It’s a dream job, but it’s also very difficult. You get booed, you get benched, you get traded, you get injured, you get cut. It’s not easy. Every season is full of ups and downs, moments where you really struggle.” “Individual. We are all human. Every player goes through certain things.”
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(Klay Thompson Photo: Mark J. Rebelas/USA Today)
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