This is the bargain the Golden State Warriors have made.
They live with the threats Draymond Green sometimes poses to their championship aspirations because of the benefits they enjoy when he is at his best.
His energy and determination can frustrate an opponent into big mistakes, and they can lift and embolden his teammates. But he also regularly barrels toward the line between playing hard and playing dirty, and the Warriors tolerate it because he can help them win titles. With his history of rough fouls and taunts, he doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt when his behavior is in a gray area, and that can cost the Warriors dearly.
Now it has, again.
On Thursday night, Golden State will face the Sacramento Kings in Game 3 of a first-round N.B.A. playoff series the Kings lead, 2-0. The Warriors will have to try to save themselves from falling into a nearly insurmountable 3-0 deficit without Green, whom the league suspended for Game 3 after he stepped on the chest of Kings center Domantas Sabonis in Game 2 on Monday. Green was assessed a flagrant-2 foul and ejected with 7 minutes 3 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
The N.B.A. made it clear that the suspension was more about Green’s “history of unsportsmanlike acts” than what he did to Sabonis, who precipitated the events by grabbing Green’s ankle while lying on the ground. In an interview with ESPN, Joe Dumars, an N.B.A. executive vice president responsible for player discipline, said the way Green taunted the Sacramento crowd afterward also factored into the decision. As the officials reviewed the play, Green yelled to a crowd that was yelling at him, while clapping and gesturing for the fans to keep going.
The suspension might not seem fair, but it’s not an outcome that should surprise Golden State or Green.
When the Warriors were in the middle of their second annual unstoppable romp to the N.B.A. finals seven years ago, Green might have cost them a championship.
The league has a points system that triggers automatic suspensions related to flagrant fouls. Players are assessed two points for a flagrant-2 foul, and one point for a flagrant-1. If they exceed three points during the postseason, they are suspended for one game.
“We thrive off of Draymond’s competitiveness and his edge and it’s been very important for us this year,” Warriors Coach Steve Kerr said at the time. “And maybe that same quality has led him to this point — just his competitiveness and his passion. And that’s all part of it.”
Green watched the game from a suite at the baseball stadium next door in Oakland, Calif. His team had a 3-1 series lead at the time, but lost the finals to Cleveland.
It was Green’s only playoff suspension until Tuesday, but his conduct has drawn scrutiny many times.
Last season, Green was ejected from Game 1 of the Warriors’ second-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies for committing a flagrant-2 foul.
“I am never going to change the way I play basketball,” Green said later during that series. “It’s gotten me this far. It’s gotten me three championships, four All-Stars, defensive player of the year. I’m not going to change now.”
During Game 2, in Memphis, he took an elbow to the face and had to leave to get stitches. Fans jeered at him, and Green showed his middle fingers to the crowd as he left the game.
In last year’s finals against Boston, Green showed how his on-court intensity can help his team and frustrate his opponents.
“He’ll do whatever it takes to win,” said Celtics guard Jaylen Brown, who called some of Green’s conduct “illegal.” “He’ll pull you, he’ll grab you, he’ll try to muck the game up because that’s what he does for their team. It’s nothing to be surprised about. Nothing I’m surprised about. He raised his physicality to try to stop us, and we’ve got to raise ours.”
Said Stephen Curry, Green’s teammate, during that series: “You feel him in his presence, and the other team feels his presence and his intensity. And that is contagious for all of us.”
The Warriors thrive on that energy. Boston fans chanted an expletive at Green, which he admitted rattled him a bit. But after the Warriors won the championship in Game 6 in Boston, Green’s teammates serenaded him with the same chant in the postgame locker room. Their faith in Green had won out again.
The problem comes when he goes too far.
It has happened in games. It also happened last fall during a practice, when he punched his own teammate, Jordan Poole, in the face. Green took time away from the team and apologized. Poole reacted like someone who just wanted the whole incident to go away.
It’s all part of what keeps Green under a disciplinary microscope.
This week’s suspension didn’t follow the N.B.A.’s typical method for policing flagrant fouls. Green paid for his reputation.
Another player might not have been suspended for what he did. The league might have considered that Sabonis grabbed Green’s leg, instigating the interaction, and felt that being ejected from the game was sufficient punishment. Golden State lost the game, after all. The N.B.A. might have given another player the benefit of the doubt, figured that he really didn’t mean to harm anyone, that he was simply looking for a place to land his foot, as Green insisted after the game.
“That’s a possibility, yes,” Dumars said in an interview with ESPN.
Instead, the league made a decision that imperiled Golden State’s season.
“Each time he’s messed up, my hope is he learns from it and becomes better,” Bob Myers, Golden State’s general manager and president of basketball operations, told reporters on Wednesday.
So far, though, the Warriors have accepted that this is who Green is. With their actions, they have accepted that they will sometimes have to suffer the consequences of his behavior because the good with Green has outweighed the bad for them. Perhaps that will start to change, if the bad begins to outweigh the good.
This result was a risk the Warriors have lived with for years.