UPDATE: The NBA elected not to suspend Draymond Green. This piece was published before the league made its decision.
Basketball is really good at giving us regular Rorschach tests. We have an urgent one this week: Should Draymond Green be suspended for kicking Steven Adams between the legs in Game 3?
Notice the neutrality in that statement, because Draymond Green did kick Steven Adams between the legs in Game 3. The question is whether it was intentional or not. If it wasn't, the flagrant foul called upon review on Sunday likely stands, but there are no further sanctions. If the NBA deems it intentional, Green should be suspended for Game 4 on Tuesday.
It's an exceedingly difficult call for NBA Executive Vice President of Admonishments, Fingerwags and Sanctions Kiki VanDeWeghe. On the one hand, the video evidence suggests a wholly unnatural move by Green's leg. In addition, history suggests a pattern: Green got Adams in the, uh, midsection in Game 2 as well, and the Mouth of Saginaw has been sweet-talking in Adams' ear all series long. Green's been particularly chippy and physical even by Draymond Green standards.
On the other hand, Green is too smart to think he'd get away with intentionally kicking another player between the legs in an on-ball situation -- a situation in which he drew a shooting foul, even. The other evidence in Green's favor is that, well, he really, really, really just wants you to believe him, okay? Here's his 107-second press conference reply to a question about the kick and whether Green believed he'd be suspended for Game 4:
No, I thought it [the flagrant] would probably get rescinded. Um, I followed through on a shot. I'm not trying to kick somebody in the men's section. I'm sure he wants to have kids one day, I'm not trying to end that on the basketball court. That don't make sense. I brought the ball over atop this way, he fouled me, and my leg went up. I know my core isn't strong enough to stop my leg halfway from wherever it was going. I didn't honestly know I hit him. I walked to the three-point line and clapped everybody's hands, and I turn around and he's on the floor. I'm like, "what happened?" You know, and then I'm standing at the three-point line, I look at Bogut, he looked at the replay, and he was like, [makes a face].
No, but like I said, I thought it would be rescinded. I was following through on my shot, my leg went up. So no, I don't think I'll be suspended. I don't know how anyone could possibly say that I did that on purpose, regardless of the way it may look. I was going up for a shot, I got hit that way. When you get hit that way, your leg just goes up. I just don't even think that I should have got a flagrant. I asked the official, he said, "I don't think it was with intent, it was just the fact that you hit him under the groin that I have to call a flagrant." We'll see what happens, but it wasn't on purpose. I don't make a day out of hitting someone down there. That's not what I try to do when I'm playing ball.
Much of this comes across as a worried man searching for every possible exonerating excuse. He blames physics, he claims he didn't know he hit him at all, he suggests he cares about Adams' future children, he says the official told him he didn't think there was intent. But there's a nugget of truth in there, a nugget that will fuel the debate around Game 4 sanction: "I don't know how anyone could possibly say that I did that on purpose, regardless of the way it may look."
He's right. There's no foolproof way of knowing an action like this is taken on purpose, barring a confession. Green pleads his innocence. So the matter is left to interpretation. That's what VanDeWeghe faces over the course of Monday: Interpreting whether a groin kick was unnatural enough to be punished like an intentional act, or whether it was an unfortunate accident that should not result in further sanctions.
If that weren't hard enough, VanDeWeghe has to contend with the immense drama that will unfold no matter what he decides. If the NBA suspends Green, there will be unholy outrage from Golden State and controversy going forward should OKC win the series. (Anyone seen my asterisk lately?) If Green isn't suspended, OKC will rage and even Cleveland will get in on the action, screaming about double standards.
Double standards? Oh yes. On Sunday, just hours before the Warriors and Thunder tipped off, the league announced Dahntay Jones would be suspended for Game 4 after striking Bismack Biyombo below the belt in garbage time of Game 3 of Toronto-Cleveland. Suspending Jones was easy: He's an end-of-the-bench guy with a long list of prior transgressions. (His most recent run-in, in fact, came opposite Draymond!) Suspending Jones was easy, even though, as with Green, there can be no evidence of intent absent a confession. Suspending Jones has literally no impact on the series. Cleveland wasn't going to use him but in very specific circumstances regardless. It was an easy call to make as a deterrent to future malevolent actors.
Unfortunately, suspending Green will impact the Warriors heavily. Despite his minus-43, 1-for-9, four-turnover performance on Sunday, Green is mighty important to Golden State's fate, and it can be argued Golden State's fate is tied up entirely in Game 4. Winning turns this into a best-of-three series with two games at Oracle. Losing forces the Warriors to win three straight against a team with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, with one of those games in OKC. The Warriors can obviously win without Green, and they can certainly lose with him. But this is an All-NBA utility knife we're talking about, the spirit and soul of the Warriors (not to mention the shutdown defender, the best passer and one helluva offensive sidekick). If he's gone, there will be a huge impact.
In some ways, Green has already served his suspension. Perhaps looking ahead to further punishment, he was particularly atrocious after kicking Adams. The Thunder were up 48-42 before Adams took his flagrant free throws with six minutes left in the second quarter. Over the rest of the period, OKC outscored Golden State 24-5. That included four minutes of the Warriors' so-called Lineup of Death, during which OKC outscored Golden State 17-1.
This exchange happened during that run. (Clip via reddit.)
Steven Adams got kicked in the groin, and then Draymond Green and the Warriors got kicked in the face. Perhaps that's penance enough. Perhaps there is more injury to add to the insult Golden State suffered in Game 3. We'll find out soon enough. No matter what, someone's going to be mad.
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