The Warriors were counting on Klay Thompson to have a breakout game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night at Chase Center, but less than two minutes into Golden State’s 104-101 In-Season Tournament Group Play loss, he was headed to the locker room because of an ejection.
Thompson and McDaniels started going at each other. Then Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert put his hands on Thompson, resulting in Green racing in and putting Gobert in a headlock before the referees and coaches were able to separate everyone.
In the moment, Warriors coach Steve Kerr was irate with the decision to eject two of his players, while Gobert went unpunished.
“There’s no way Klay Thompson should have been thrown out of the game,” Kerr told reporters after the game. “I mean, he’s running up the floor and the guy grabs his jersey and he’s pulling on him. So Klay pulls back. No way Klay should have been ejected. That was ridiculous. So I was upset about that and then the Draymond piece of it, if you watch the replay, Rudy had his hands on Klay’s neck, and that’s why Draymond went after Rudy.
“I saw one replay right after it happened. Guys on the back of the bench were telling us that Rudy had Klay and that’s why Draymond went at Rudy. That’s all I know. But yeah, it was a bizarre way to start the game a minute and a half in.”
Kerr isn’t sure if Green will be suspended for his role in the scuffle, but based on the referees assessing the Warriors’ forward with a Flagrant 2 foul, there likely will be additional penalties coming from the NBA.
In the aftermath of the ejections, the Warriors had to proceed without Thompson, Green and Steph Curry, who was out because of a right knee injury. Against the red-hot Timberwolves, it wouldn’t have surprised outside observers if an outmanned Golden State team was run out of the building.
But the fight and ejections seemed to energize the remaining Warriors players and the fans inside Chase Center. Golden State took a five-point lead into halftime and carried a seven-point lead into the fourth quarter.
“I really don’t remember what was going on, but guys stepped up trying to protect their own teammates,” veteran center Dario Saric told reporters after the game. “But early game, sometimes that is better in the beginning of the season. I don’t say it’s a great, great thing, but to show the team is alive, the team is ready to play, the team is ready to bring some energy. In one way it’s a good way, in another way it’s, not basketball, but to bring that kind of edge, it was good.”
The unlikely star of the Warriors’ loss was rookie Brandin Podziemski, who was thrust into a much larger role with Curry, Thompson and Green unavailable. The Santa Clara product ended up playing a career-high 39 minutes and finished with 23 points on 9-of-18 shooting from the field.
While Kerr was angry about how the fallout from the fight unfolded, Podziemski had a different take.
“I thought it was amazing,” Podziemski told reporters. “When Draymond and Klay get into it, I think that’s what kind of sparked the energy from our fans. Draymond, he does anything he can to impact winning and maybe that’s what was called for tonight.”
The Warriors entered Tuesday’s game having lost three consecutive games, including a loss to the very same Timberwolves on Sunday night. So Golden State knew it had to start well in the rematch against Minnesota.
“We were already kind of hyped up for the game, just because they just beat us,” Kevon Looney told reporters. “It’s an In-Season Tournament game, so there’s a little bit more at stake. I think the altercation just kind of set the tone. We already knew we were going to come out there and compete hard and we wanted to punch first and the altercation just got the crowd into it, got everybody going, that we were going to attack first and we wanted to play hard for our guys that got ejected and I think that carried over.”
Looney shared Kerr’s sentiments on how the discipline was handled by the officials, believing Thompson should have remained in the game while Gobert deserved some sort of penalty for his role in everything.
“I was kind of shocked that it happened that early in the game,” Looney said. “I didn’t think Klay should have gotten ejected. Somebody tried to attack him. And I was surprised Gobert walked away with nothing after he grabbed Klay first and Draymond just protecting a teammate. So it was a little bit of a shock but it is what it is and refs got to make the tough calls. Sucks not having those two guys for the rest of the game, but we had to do what we had to do.”
With Curry out, Chris Paul slid back into the starting lineup alongside Thompson, Green, Andrew Wiggins and Saric.
Paul became the unquestioned leader on the floor once Thompson and Green were ejected, and he could feel the atmosphere in the building change after the altercation.
“We still had a game to play,” Paul told reporters. “Whenever that stuff happens, it usually creates a lot of energy in the building. It definitely got everybody into the game a little more.
“It was good to see that energy and that fire. Unfortunately, there were two ejections.”
The Warriors have a day to cool off before hosting the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday. Whether or not they’ll have Curry and Green in the lineup remains to be seen.