A forearm strike to the head of Suns center Jusuf Nurkic in December earned Draymond Green a suspension that ultimately cost him 16 games, but it was the Warriors forward/center who got the last laugh in a 113-112 win over Phoenix on Saturday.
As Kendra Andrews of ESPN writes, Nurkic and Green exchanged words a few minutes into the fourth quarter after a foul was called on Green. Several seconds later, Nurkic was whistled for an offensive foul against Green, prompting the former Defensive Player of the Year to point to his own head twice on his way back up the court.
“I was calling him a dummy when I was pointing to my head,” Green said. “I wasn’t saying I was keeping my head. I was saying, you can’t start talking and then charge into me. That’s not smart.”
The two big men got into it again in the third quarter when Nurkic scored over Green and taunted him with a “too small” gesture. Green returned the favor a couple minutes later by backing down Nurkic for a basket and making the same gesture.
“You can’t be a nothing defender if you’re going to do that,” Green said. “You probably outweigh me by 70 pounds and you get put in the rim? Got to be more careful.”
Following December’s incident, Nurkic wished Green well as the Warriors star underwent counseling and learned to manage his behavior following a series of violent on-court incidents. However, his tone had changed following Saturday’s game, as Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic details.
“It’s sad,” Nurkic said. “He didn’t learn anything, man. Just a matter of time. He’s going to knock somebody else again. Take everything back what I said. He don’t deserve a chance.
“Just his antics,” Nurkic continued when asked why he felt Green hadn’t changed. “Try to hit people. The stuff he shouldn’t do, but I don’t care. At the end of the day, he tried to play that way. No one is worried about him. They got the win tonight. We’ll see what happens in a few games.”
As Nurkic’s comments reached the Warriors’ locker room, some key members of the team scoffed at them, suggesting that Green’s ability to play a physical, fiery game without crossing the line was a sign that he had taken the lessons learned during his suspension to heart. Green was assessed with a technical foul on Saturday for the first time since returning from his 16-game absence, but helped lead the team to victory with 15 points, nine assists, and seven rebounds.
“That month off, that suspension was real,” head coach Steve Kerr said, per Andrews. “(Draymond) knew that his career was on the line or is on the line. He understands that he’s got to be the guy he’s been the last nine years, not the one he’s been the last year. I see him doing that.”
Stephen Curry, who hit the game-winning shot in the final seconds of the fourth quarter, called Nurkic’s comments “idiotic.”
“You can tell when someone is in your head when you go out of your way to celebrate,” Curry said of Nurkic’s “too small” gesture. “Then Draymond comes back at him. All of the talk, Draymond was in his head — plain and simple.”