In the NHL, there are enforcers, the so-called “goons” who exist to extra-judicially punish the opposing team’s players. The NBA has no such role. They do have defensive players who love to walk a similar line, though. For the Warriors, power forward Draymond Green relishes in this kind of aggressiveness.
To be clear, Green is far more than a goon; those guys skate well, crack heads, and that’s about it. He has the retributive mindset of an enforcer within the skill set of one of the best defenders in today’s NBA. When Green decides it’s time to intimidate players or officials on behalf of his team, he’s putting quite a bit on the line in the process. See: the 2016 NBA Finals.
Draymond Green’s bumpy 2016 NBA Finals experience
The Warriors were by far the favorites to win the whole thing in 2016. The NBA’s Eastern Conference was broadly considered weak compared to the West, creating a slanted situation for the Finals. Even with LeBron James backed by Kyrie Irving, the Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t seem to have much chance.
By the fourth game of the series, the Warriors were up 2-1. By the middle of the game, they were well on the path of making the series 3-1. No team had ever overcome such a deficit in the history of the NBA, according to Bleacher Report. The Cavs’ run looked all but over with.
Then James flipped a switch and started getting aggressive. Not just on plays, but towards Warriors players, personally. Green didn’t take kindly to this. The two bumped chests, jawed at each other repeatedly. Eventually, it got aggressive enough that James took on a flagrant foul. In retaliation, Green took a swipe at James’ groin, one of his go-to moves to swiftly punish a player.
The referees caught this one. It was his fourth flagrant foul point of the playoffs, triggering an automatic suspension. Had a role player made this move, the impact might have been minimized. But, according to NBC Sports, Green averaged 15.3 points, 9.6 rebounds, and six assists up to that point in the 2016 postseason.
Green’s comments on his role in the Warriors’ 2016 collapse
Green’s Game 5 absence proved crucial for the Cavs’ coming series victory. The Cavs came up on top, 112-97, a margin that could’ve benefited greatly from an elite defender on the court. Said elite defender knew it.
“I have a strong belief that if I play Game 5, we win,” he said before Game 6. He acknowledged his own role in what came after, too. “I put myself in a position to where I couldn’t be out there, and the way I view it, it’s awful. Terrible teammate. I take pride in being better.” That self-reflection seems about as pointed as it gets. But did he learn anything from the incident?
Did Green learn anything from his fine and suspension?
Green actually did appear to calm down somewhat, at least in terms of flagrant fouls, after 2016. He has $750,000 in fines, and three suspensions across his career. In 2017, the Warriors calmly and quickly rolled over the Cavaliers without drama. In 2018, Green avoided the groin-slaps and stuck to the sorts of fouls one expects from a handsy defender.
Then he ended up in a very different position at the start of the latest season. Kevin Durant left for the Brooklyn Nets. Klay Thompson was knocked out for the coming year during the 2019 Finals. Steph Curry injured his hand, stuck on the sideline for months. The Warriors plummeted to the very bottom of the standings, and a familiar version of Green came out to play.
He racked up over $30,000 in fines from technicals, with haste. Had the pandemic not intervened, that number likely goes higher. Perhaps Draymond learned his lesson to calm down during crucial moments. But with their season completely moribund, he’s happy to open his checkbook to keep opposing teams in line.