Warriors’ Draymond Green clashes with Suns’ Jusuf Nurkic – ‘Never Back Down’
SAN FRANCISCO — After converting a hook shot on Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green in the third quarter on Saturday night, Phoenix Suns’ Jusuf Nurkic slapped the floor twice and taunted Green with a “pretty little” gesture.
Two minutes later, Green returned the favor.
With Nurkic between him and the hoop, Green quickly pushed Nurkic down and slammed the ball over his head and into the basket. Immediately, Green hit the court, just as Nurkic did.
“You can’t be a nothing defender if you’re going to do that,” Green said of Nurkic. “You’re probably 70 pounds outweighing me and being put on edge? You should be more careful.”
The Warriors’ 113-112 win was the first matchup between Golden State and Phoenix since Dec. 12, when Green hit Nurkic in the head and was suspended indefinitely, sidelining him for 12 games.
Part of the criteria for Green’s reinstatement was to undergo counseling and prove to his team and the league that he had learned how to manage his behavior.
Green clearly didn’t do that, Nurkic said after Saturday’s contest.
“It’s sad. He didn’t learn anything,” Nurkic said. “Only a matter of time. He’ll hit someone again. Take back everything you said. He doesn’t deserve a chance.”
When told of Nurkic’s comments in his postgame news conference, Green paused before responding.
“I thought I was great tonight,” Green said with a smile. “He tried to get into my mind, and it didn’t work. If he wanted me to walk around quietly, like him, I would never do it. Quiet guys don’t win.”
“He can keep swinging on the same horse he rode. He can ride his ass off from here on the same horse. It’s not working.”
Nurkic’s remarks spread throughout the Warriors’ locker room, eliciting chuckles and gasps. Stephen Curry called the comments “stupid.”
For the Warriors, Green’s antics and how he balanced them on Saturday represent the strongest evidence yet that he has changed.
“That month, that suspension was real,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. “(Draymond) knew his career was on the line or on the line.
“He understands that he has to be the guy he’s been the last nine years, not the guy he was last year. I see him doing that.”
Before Saturday’s game, Kerr said he didn’t want Green to be a “goody boot,” adding that if Green wasn’t going to bring his fire, the Warriors might not play him either. But Green’s availability is his most important asset.
Against the Suns, he finished with 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting, 9 assists and 7 rebounds in one of his best double-double performances of the season.
“He gave us a boost every game he came back,” Curry said. “He ties our defense together, but you can talk about his defense every game. What he did offensively tonight, especially in the fourth quarter… he gave us a lot of energy in the sense of having that competitive spirit that we need to win.” “A match like tonight, to face the moment.”
He added: “Draymond knows how to walk the line he needs to walk.” “This is probably the best game I’ve ever seen.”
Green and Nurkic exchanged words four minutes into the first quarter after Green was fouled.
A few seconds later, Nurkic fed the ball to Green and was called for an offensive foul. Green responded by crouching, running down the field and gesticulating by knocking him on the head twice.
“They fouled the post, and he started talking,” Green said of Nurkic. “Never back down from it. I love this kind of work.”
When asked about the gesture that followed Nurkic’s offensive foul, Green said, “I was calling him a dummy when I was pointing at my head. I wasn’t saying I was holding my head. I was saying, ‘You can’t start talking and then charge me. That’s not smart.'”
With eight minutes left in the third quarter, Green was assessed for his first technical foul since being suspended for stomping his foot in frustration after a no-call.
But for Curry, it was this “very small” gesture that shifted the momentum in Green’s favor.
“You can tell if someone’s on your mind when you go out of your way to celebrate,” Curry said of Nurkic. “Then Draymond came back to it. All the talking, Draymond was in his head — plain and simple.”