OAKLAND, Calif. — Let’s just get this out of the way at the start: Thursday night’s game between the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets was so captivating, so entertaining, so ridiculous, that no one even thought to ask any of the Warriors about Charles Barkley’s utterly inane pregame assertion that Golden State plays “little girly basketball.”
That’s what happens when a game goes to double overtime and sets an NBA record for three-pointers attempted, while James Harden records a triple-double, Kevin Durant scores 39 points, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green both foul out and Green delivers his latest controversial kick.
In the end, Houston came away victorious, claiming a 132-127 double overtime victory in front of a sellout crowd of 19,596 here inside Oracle Arena that snapped Golden State’s 12-game winning streak, dropping the Warriors to 16-3 on the year. But for all of the excitement and drama that went into this one, and all of the interesting subplots left to be examined – from Curry being subbed out of the game twice for defensive purposes to he and Durant taking turns going for game-winning shots in overtime to Harden continuing to make his MVP case with another ridiculous game to Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson continuing to make general manager Daryl Morey look right for taking a chance on them this summer, let alone the Warriors responding to Barkley’s latest outlandish statement – it is Green’s kick that will rightly leave the lasting memory.
The play in question came with 2:10 remaining in double overtime, with the Warriors trailing by three. Green – who played brilliantly, finishing with 20 points, 15 rebounds, nine assists, two steals and a block in 47 minutes – grabbed an offensive rebound after a Durant miss and went back up with the ball, drawing a foul and two free throws in the process.
But, in doing so, Green swung his right leg high into the air – much like he famously did multiple times during the postseason this past spring – and brought it down on Harden’s head, sending the Rockets star crashing to the court holding his face.
At the time, it was hard to tell what had happened. On replay, though, it was easy to see, resulting in a level one flagrant foul, meaning two foul shots and the ball for the Rockets. Green made only one of his two free throws, Harden made both of his and Gordon followed with a runner to push Houston’s lead to six, a cushion that would prove too much for Golden State to overcome.
Naturally, the first question Green was asked after the game was about the play. It was quickly apparent how he felt about it.
“There were a lot of other calls,” Green said. “It wasn’t up to that one call, but I really don’t care. They’re going to do what they want to do regardless. It didn’t make no difference one way or the other.”
Then, after another reporter began a different question, Green started up again.
“I thought there were other calls that could’ve been called flagrant, too,” he said, referring to one play in particular (more on that in a minute). “I’m under the impression that, if you’re hit in the head, incidental contact, I think that’s a flagrant foul, if I’m not mistaken, in the rule book.
“I don’t know. We’ll see. Maybe I’ll go read the rule book, maybe I’m wrong. But if I’m not mistaken, I’m right. So, who knows.”
The play cited by Green occurred when Montrezl Harrell fouled him with 20.1 seconds left in double overtime. Harrell appeared to hit Green in the head, which Green felt would result in a flagrant. Replays seemed to back up Green’s case, though head referee Bill Kennedy watched the same one and deemed it not severe enough to warrant a flagrant foul call.
Whether Green is right or not, it doesn’t change anything about the earlier play and his latest controversial kick. And it doesn’t matter that Green maintains he doesn’t do these plays intentionally, which is something other members of the Warriors organization echoed after Thursday’s game, or whether Harden maneuvered his head to try and draw the foul, as fans and others posited in the aftermath of the loss.
What matters is how the NBA will rule on these plays moving forward. And after Green’s multiple incidents during the 2016 playoffs, the league instituted rules establishing that plays such as this would be flagrant fouls, and then proceeded to make them points of emphasis this season. Under that scenario, there was only ever going to be one outcome when Kennedy went to review the play: Green was going to get a flagrant foul.
And, the next time Green does it, he’s going to get another one. Same goes for the time after that, and the time after that, as well.
In case Green doesn’t remember, his suspension from Game 5 of the NBA Finals for accruing too many flagrant foul points allowed a then-deflated Cleveland Cavaliers team to get a foothold in a series it trailed by three games to one, setting the stage for a comeback for the ages to bring Cleveland its first title in a half century, and preventing the Warriors from completing what would have been the greatest season of all-time if they had won a second straight championship.
That’s why it shouldn’t matter to him and the Warriors what his intent is, or whether the contact was incidental, or whether this is a subconscious act he has no control over. The bottom line is that, fair or not, whenever Green does this, he’s going to get hit with a flagrant foul. If one was going to be called in double overtime of a nationally televised game, it’s going to be called at any time.
That’s also why, for the good of the Warriors, Green needs to control himself. He remains one of the best players in the league, as his incredible performance Thursday night proved. And, if the Warriors are going to win the championship that they feel they should have had last year, they need Green on the court to do it. What they don’t need is him reprising his role in Karate Kid and earning himself flagrant points that could lead to a suspension at the absolute worst time.
So yes, there was plenty to celebrate Thursday night, as the Warriors and Rockets played a fabulous basketball game that featured many outstanding performances. But for Draymond Green, it served as a reminder of something else: the rules this year are crystal clear. If he ignores that reality, all he’ll have to do is think back to sitting at neighboring Oakland Coliseum watching Game 5 of the NBA Finals on television to know how costly that decision could be.