SAN FRANCISCO — A face-to-face altercation. An exchange of “too small” taunts. Countless insults and elbows. The first matchup between Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green and Phoenix Suns center Jusuf Nurkic since mid-December was about as colorful as you could expect.
The last time they met Green struck Nurkic in the head, leading to a 12-game suspension that included mandatory counseling. In order to return, the NBA said that Green “completed steps that demonstrated his commitment to conforming his conduct to standards expected of NBA players.” Nurkic even said shortly after the incident that he wanted Green to succeed and that he had “no bad feelings or any hate toward him.”
After the Warriors’ 113-112 win over the Suns on Saturday night, however, Nurkic expressed a change of tune.
“I mean it’s sad. He didn’t learn anything,” Nurkic said. “Just matter of time, he’s gonna knock somebody else again. I take everything back, what I said. He don’t deserve a chance. … His antics. Try to hit people. Just stuff he shouldn’t do.”
On Saturday, Nurkic finished with six points and six rebounds in the loss, while Green put up 15 points, nine assists and seven rebounds on 7-of-9 shooting. After hearing about Nurkic’s postgame comments, Green offered his retort.
“He tried to get in my head and it didn’t work,” Green said. “If he want me to walk around quiet like him, I’m never gonna do that. Quiet guys don’t win. So yeah, I thought I was pretty great tonight. He can keep riding the same horse that he rode in on — he can ride his ass on out of here on the same horse. It ain’t working.”
Stephen Curry shared Green’s sentiment, calling Nurkic’s comments “idiotic.”
The chipiness began halfway through the first quarter, when Green was called for a foul on Nurkic and the two players’ arms got tangled up in the aftermath. That led to a face-to-face confrontation before Klay Thompson entered the fray and slapped the ball out of Nurkic’s hand, resulting in a technical foul.
On the ensuing Suns possession, Green drew an offensive foul as Nurkic attempted to make his way to the basket. Green ran down the floor shouting and pointing one finger to his head, which he later clarified was intended to indicate that Nurkic was “a dummy” for plowing into him.
In the third quarter, Green was called for his first technical foul since the suspension after arguing a no-call following a made layup. On his way back down the court, he bumped into Nurkic, causing the Suns center to look toward the officials.
And then there were the taunts. After making a jump hook over Green, Nurkic took the “too small” celebration to another level, smacking the floor twice.
When Green made a lefty layup over Nurkic on the other end a couple of minutes later, he was sure to return the favor by smacking the floor.
“You can’t get bullied a couple plays later if you want to do that,” Green said of Nurkic’s celebration. “You can’t be a nothing defender if you’re gonna do that. You gonna do all that, you probably outweigh me by 70 pounds, and you get put in the rim? Got to be more careful.”
Sitting at 25-25 and in the final Western Conference play-in spot after Saturday’s win, the Warriors have improved significantly since Green’s return from suspension. They’ve now won six of their last seven games, during which Green is a plus-62 in the box score. For the season, Golden State’s net rating improves by nearly six points per 100 possessions when Green is on the floor.
“Draymond was in his head. Plain and simple,” Curry said of Nurkic after the win over Phoenix. “For Draymond to be able to — knowing what happened last time we played them. Give him all the credit.
“Everybody talks about how much Draymond needed to change and figure it out and what he was doing during the suspension and all that. Tonight was exactly the playbook of how you play basketball at a high level. So, I love it.”