Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green has been suspended for Game 5 of the NBA Finals, the league announced on Sunday. Green was assessed a flagrant-1 foul for hitting Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James in the groin late in Friday's game. James was assessed a technical foul for his role in the altercation that ensued.
Green had already picked up a flagrant-1 foul and a flagrant-2 foul in the playoffs. Once a player has three flagrant foul points in the postseason, another flagrant foul automatically triggers a suspension.
"The cumulative points system is designed to deter flagrant fouls in our game," NBA vice president of basketball operations Kiki VanDeWeghe said in a statement. "While Draymond Green's actions in Game 4 do not merit a suspension as a standalone act, the number of flagrant points he has earned triggers a suspension for Game 5."
Here is the play where the incident occurred:
Five things to know about Green's absence:
In the moment, the play stood out not because Green had done anything egregious, but because James had shown such anger. James is usually unflappable in this sort of situation, but he lost his cool and it looked like Green had provoked him to do so. In retrospect, it looks like James got the better of Green by stepping over him and causing him to react in a way that got him suspended at the worst possible time.
Does Green really deserve to miss an opportunity to clinch a championship? In his defense, it's not even clear if James noticed being hit in the groin. James took offense to what came out of Green's mouth, not what happened with his flailing arm. Even VanDeWeghe acknowledged that, on its own, this wasn't enough for a suspension, but the league has its points system for a reason.
Most reasonable people probably disagree with Charles Barkley's stance that Green had a "moral obligation" to "pop him in his junk." Most probably also don't want to see Finals games decided by suspensions to star players. The league was in a tough position here, and it could not please everybody.
2. Let's address the OKC stuff
This is an awesome day for conspiracy theorists. In the conference finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the NBA made the controversial decision not to suspend Green for Game 4 after kicking Steven Adams below the belt. The Warriors trailed the series 2-1 at the time.
Now that Green is out for Monday's game, people can say that the league just wanted to extend both series. Here's TNT analyst Reggie Miller implying it:
Would bet my right arm if this series was even at 2-2 Draymond wouldn't be suspended for GM5. What happened in OKC was way worse..— Reggie Miller (@ReggieMillerTNT) June 12, 2016
And here's Toronto Raptors forward Patrick Patterson:
Strange he gets suspended now in the finals but didn't in the conference finals..— Patrick Patterson (@pdpatt) June 12, 2016
The problem with that point of view: Green was in fact punished more harshly for the Adams incident. He was given a flagrant-2 foul, which is precisely why he was in the position to be suspended this time with a flagrant-1. If you're mad at this result, be mad at the points system that made it possible.
3. This is awful, awful news for the Warriors
Green is a strong candidate for Finals MVP. He has averaged 14.8 points, 9.3 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.3 blocks against the Cavaliers. As is always the case with him, though, box score statistics don't tell the whole story. Green's help defense has been phenomenal, and his versatility on both ends has made the Warriors look unstoppable in three of the four games. In contrast to when Cleveland lost Kevin Love for Game 3, there is absolutely no way to spin this as "addition by subtraction."
Green led Golden State in plus-minus in the regular season and the playoffs. When he has played center, the Warriors have destroyed the Cavs. When anyone else has played center, not so much.
GSW in Finals: With Draymond at C: 81 minutes, +53. All other lineups: 111 minutes, -24.— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) June 11, 2016
All year, Green has only missed one game. He was given a night off in Denver on Jan. 13, and Golden State lost 112-110 despite 38 points from Stephen Curry.
The Warriors will not look the same without Green making plays, battling for boards and guarding everybody. They'll miss his energy and attitude, too -- coach Steve Kerr often calls him the heart and soul of the team. Which brings us to...
4. What are the Warriors' options?
There's no perfect solution, but the simple one is to slide Andre Iguodala into the starting lineup. This pushes Harrison Barnes to the power forward position and maintains Golden State's ability to switch 1-through-4 with its starting lineup. Iguodala has arguably been the Warriors' best player for two consecutive Finals, and he is the sort of calming influence on both ends that they will need without Green.
If Kerr wants to keep Iguodala on the bench to run the second unit, he could slide Shaun Livingston into the first five. Brandon Rush is another option -- he has been out of Golden State's rotation in the playoffs, but started a significant stretch of the season when Barnes was injured. If Kerr really wants to go wild, he could call on James Michael McAdoo, who played seven minutes on Friday.
Regardless of who starts, McAdoo could see more playing time as a smallball 5. Marreese Speights could, too, and maybe Barnes will even see some time there. Kerr might also decide that it's best to use more traditional lineups, which would mean a bigger role for Andrew Bogut and/or Festus Ezeli. One of the defending champs' strengths is their ability to play different styles, but they have been more successful going small against Cleveland.
5. Does this mean Cleveland will force a Game 6?
It certainly makes that more realistic. Given how dominant the Warriors have been with Green on the court, all signs pointed to them finishing off their storybook season at home until now. Without him, that task will be much tougher.
It will be more difficult for Golden State to punish Cleveland for pressuring Curry. It will be more difficult to contain James' drives and still neutralize J.R. Smith, Kevin Love and Channing Frye on the perimeter. When Green is on the bench, the Warriors look a lot more like a normal NBA team, and the Cavaliers have looked like world-beaters against normal NBA teams.
While this is a massive break for Cleveland, it does not guarantee victory. Golden State has overcome injuries at various points in the season, including the MVP missing six games in the first two rounds of the playoffs. The Warriors have shown their depth in the Finals, so the Cavs should not be surprised if other players step up.