OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Draymond Green and LeBron James might make up, get over this moment and become friends again one day.
It’s hard to envision that right now, given how these NBA Finals have become far less friendly by the day, more testy by the game, with Golden State’s Green smack in the middle of much of the action.
Suddenly, James and the Cleveland Cavaliers have their opening and perhaps a prime chance to get back into this best-of-seven series: with Green banned and outside the building altogether.
He will have to watch his Warriors try to close out a second straight championship with everybody else who can’t get into sold-out Oracle Arena on Monday night. Green was suspended Sunday for his dustup with James in the fourth quarter of Friday’s Game 4 win that drew a retroactive Flagrant-1 foul against Golden State’s emotional leader. The NBA said Green “made unnecessary contact with a retaliatory swipe of his hand to the groin” of James, who was issued a retroactive technical for his role in the scuffle.
“I think we all know what’s crossing the line no matter if you’re playing basketball or if you’re playing video games or we’re playing catch or you’re double-dutching it,” James said. “We know what words cross the line, male or female. And ever since Draymond came into the league, I’ve been someone that he can always talk to and things of that nature. But he crossed the line last game. He felt like I crossed the line. We said what we had to say.
“So we’re in a competitive series right now, and I think right now friendship is the last thing we’re thinking about.”
Steve Kerr and his Warriors coaching staff were working furiously Sunday to figure out what to do without Green, game-planning minus an All-Star swingman who does it all on defense, can bring the ball up court when necessary, is Golden State’s top rebounder this postseason and a threat for a triple-double each time he steps on the floor — celebratory muscle-flexing and all. The Warriors lead the series 3-1.
Golden State won a record 73 games during the regular season after a record 24-0 start despite not having Kerr for the first 43 games as he recovered from complications following two back surgeries, missed Festus Ezeli and Andre Iguodala for stretches and made it this deep in the playoffs with Curry sidelined during the early rounds because of ankle and knee injuries.
Several Warriors spoke Sunday of winning for Green, whose postseason 15.3 points, team-high 9.6 rebounds and six assists will be greatly missed along with all the other intangibles like his hustle plays, encouraging words and high-flying chest bumps. He only missed one game all regular season, a 112-110 defeat at Denver on Jan. 13 and one of only nine losses.
The Cavs know they must capitalize and send the series back to Cleveland for a Game 6.
Coach Tyronn Lue’s message is a simple one:
“I told the guys when we left, we have to come back to Cleveland anyway,” he said, “so why not come back and play a game?”
Even Cleveland understands how much Green means to the other side and the magnitude of his absence.
“He’s one of those players that does whatever it takes for his team to win. He plays aggressive,” Kevin Love said. “Sometimes players, your actions or emotions get the best of you. … You’ve seen guys suspended. You’ve seen guys with technicals, flagrants. That’s just the way it is. Playoff basketball is a lot more physical.”
Emotional, too, so it seems.
Whatever Green uttered late in the fourth quarter Friday in that back and forth, James said, “I felt like at that point in time, it was a little bit outside of basketball.”
Klay Thompson might also have fallen down LeBron’s likable list Sunday.
“People have feelings and people’s feelings get hurt even if they’re called a bad word. I guess his feelings just got hurt,” Thompson said. “We’ve all been called plenty of bad words on the basketball court before. Some guys just react to it differently. All I can say for myself individually, I just try to ignore it or just let it fuel the fire, but I don’t carry it with me when the job is done.”
When told of Thompson’s comments, James laughed and said, “Ahhh, my goodness.” He paused, then responded again: “It’s so hard to take the high road. I’ve been doing it for 13 years. It’s so hard to continue to do it, and I’m going to do it again.”
Golden State must go forward as it has done so many times this season when undermanned.
Shaun Livingston stepped in and delivered when Curry went down in the first round against Houston, then scored 20 points and was part of an impressive performance by Golden State’s reserves in a Game 1 rout of Cleveland.
“It’s kind of the ultimate test, with him and Steph being guys that are kind of irreplaceable,” Livingston said. “But it’s something that we can rally upon. It’s something that guys can step up. We can play with a chip on our shoulder. The same heart that he brings every game, we can play with that as a team, and I think we will.”