SAN FRANCISCO – Draymond Green and Jusuf Nurkić continued their war of words Saturday night at Chase Center.
Unlike the last time the two got into it in December when Green smacked Nurkić in the face while seeming to fall out of bounds – a play that resulted in a 12-game suspension for the Warriors star – Green kept his cool against the Phoenix Suns on Saturday, stayed in the game and made several big plays to help Golden State win its fourth straight.
Green had one of his best all-around games since returning from that suspension. He had 15 points, seven rebounds and nine assists in the 113-112 victory.
Yet the post-game buzz centered more around comments Nurkic made afterward.
“It’s sad. He didn’t learn anything,” Nurkić told reporters at Chase Center. “Just a matter of time. He’s going to hit somebody else again. Take back everything I said. He don’t deserve a chance.”
Green had to chuckle when asked about the comments. It was clear that Nurkić and the Suns had spent the evening trying to rattle Green and throw him off track, hoping his history of wild antics would crop up again and earn him another ejection.
Like Phoenix’s game plan, it didn’t work out so well.
“He tried to get in my head and it didn’t work,” Green said. “If he wants me to walk around quiet like him, I’m never going to do that. Quiet guys don’t win. He can keep riding that same horse that he rode in on. He can ride his ass home out of here on the same horse. It’s not working.
“He was hitting me a lot today. It was a lot of little cheap shots. I knew his goal was to get me out the game. No one wants to see me in the game. That makes the game a lot tougher. It’d take a pretty good ish talker to get me to do that. That’s too obvious. It’s OK. That was a fun game.”
There were numerous big moments throughout the game, including Stephen Curry draining a game-winning 3-pointer from 32 feet out with seventh-tenths of a second left. Curry got free for the shot after Green set a key screen.
Yet there was no getting around the Green-Nurkić drama that had been nearly two months in the making.
Early in the game Saturday, the two got entangled when Nurkić tried driving down the lane, rammed into Green and was called for an offensive foul.
In the past, that might have resulted in an outburst from Green and earned him a spot on Golden State’s bench. Or he might have received another disciplinary phone call from NBA commissioner Adam Silver.
But after serving two NBA suspensions for that type of stuff already this season, Green showed how much wiser and aware his is. Green got back to his feet and repeatedly pointed at his head as he jogged back up the court.
To many, it seemed as if Green was sending a message to the Suns and the rest of the league. No matter what, the four-time All-Star is going to keep his cool and won’t be baited into any further altercations.
That wasn’t the case at all.
Green said he was trying to deliver a message to Nurkić.
“I was saying he was a dummy when I was pointing to my head,” Green said. “I wasn’t necessarily saying I was keeping my head. I was saying you can’t start talking and charge into me. That’s not smart.”
Green has been pretty smart since coming back from his second suspension, when he also received therapy for his anger issues.
The Warriors’ defense has been noticeably better when he’s on the court, and the offense runs a lot more smoothly as well.
More significantly, the outbursts that put him in the cross-hairs of referees and the NBA front office have been mostly, if not completely, absent.
“It’s mostly him living up to his word, the conversations we had when he was out and how he felt in those moments where he knew what he needed to do,” Curry said. “At the end of the day we just need him available. You’ve seen the difference in our team when he’s out there on a consistent basis and he’s playing and feeling like himself.
“He knew, and still knows, what he needs to do consistently to put himself in the best shape mentally and physically to go out there and play basketball and be the Draymond Green that has helped us win championships. I’m going to keep encouraging him to do that because you see the results. It’s fun to watch. “
Make no mistake. Green has not completely changed his ways. He still enjoys trash-talking, going hard at opponents and plays as passionately as anyone. When he made a game-saving play to knock an inbounds pass away from Kevin Durant, Green yelled at his former teammate in a burst of celebration.
He’s just not crossing the line of no return anymore.
Against the Suns, for example, the old Draymond Green might have gotten kicked out of the game following the first dust-up with Nurkić. This time he kept it together and was on the court to make the game-saving play when he broke up an inbounds pass intended for Durant as time expired.
Green did get called for a technical foul in the second half after he scored on a layup. Thinking he got fouled on the play, Green became frustrated when no whistle blew and he stomped on the floor, drawing the T.
Kerr was just fine with it.
“If he’s passive we might as well not play him,” Kerr said. “We do want him to walk the line but we just don’t want him to be passive at all. A technical? I’m fine with. A flagrant foul? That’s fine. But he’s gotta stop right there and that’s what he did tonight.”
The story of the night, however, changed in the postgame when Nurkić spoke up.
Green’s teammates were quick to defend him. Curry, for example, pointed out how Nurkić made the “too small” gesture to Green in the third quarter in hopes of rattling his cage.
Instead, it worked out the opposite way.
“Draymond was in his head, plain and simple,” Curry said. “Everyone talks about how much Draymond needed to change or figure out what he was doing during the suspension. Tonight was exactly the playbook of how you play basketball at a high level. I love it.
“I know everybody’s going to talk about what Nurkić said or how idiotic that was, but just the fact that Draymond knows how to walk the line that he needs to walk, this is probably the best game we’ve seen it where he can be loud, fiery and competitive and jaw back and forth but we’re playing basketball. If you didn’t see that tonight you’re not watching the game.”
Like Kerr, Curry hopes Green maintains his edginess and doesn’t change
“That’s his identity, that’s who he is as a basketball player,” Curry said. “It’d be like me running out there not shooting 3s. I know he has been in a delicate situation. He’s trying to figure that out and not let it spill over because we can’t have that. He knows that. Can’t afford to let it get out of control, but it fuels him because he lives for those moments.”
After all the fuss over Nurkić’s comments, Green was given an actual basketball question when a reporter asked what he learned since his suspension.
“That when I’m in the game we are a very good basketball team. Incredible,” Green said. “And I think people are starting to see that.”
What people aren’t seeing is Green losing his cool. And that is about the most positive thing to come from the Warriors so far this season.