SAN FRANCISCO — Draymond Green defended his headlock of Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert last week that earned him an ejection and five-game suspension, which expired in time for the Warriors’ in-season tournament game against the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday.
The league suspension came with a note that severity was “based in part on Green’s history of unsportsmanlike acts,” a clause Green argues is unfair, referencing the retroactive one-game suspension he earned for an entanglement with LeBron James in the 2016 NBA Finals. The league implemented the Green-specific rule after he stepped on Kings’ Domantas Sabonis’ chest escaping his grasp during last season’s playoff series.
“To continue saying, ‘Oh, what he did in the past..’ I paid for those,” Green said after Warriors practice on Sunday. “I got suspended for Game 5 of the Finals. So you can’t keep suspending me for those actions.
“They’ve made it clear that they are going to hold everything against me that I’ve done before. That’s OK. I need to adjust where I see fit. Where my teammates see fit, where my coaches see fit. Where our front office sees fit. The people I care about, I trust, when I hear them say something, it means something to me.”
Green’s suspension stems from a scuffle between the Warriors and Timberwolves on Nov. 14 that started with Klay Thompson and Jaden McDaniels getting into it at center court. Green saw Gobert grab Thompson to pull him away from the scrum — something players concede breaks an unwritten rule not to put hands on an opposing player when breaking up a fight. Green saw that and pulled Gobert away — but held him in a headlock for a few seconds too long.
“Anytime there is a situation and a teammate needs you to come to his defense, I’m going to come to their defense,” Green said. “Especially with someone I’ve been a teammate with for 12 years. That’s more than a teammate, that’s a brother. Things can be interpreted how people interpret them, I’m not here to judge people’s interpretations or change them. They are what they are. But for me, I will always be there for my teammates.”
Gobert and Green have something of a history that mostly stems from the one-time Defensive Player of the Year, Green, resenting comparisons to three-time DPOY Gobert as he sees their defensive impacts as nothing alike. After the Warriors’ loss on Nov. 14, Gobert called Green a “clown.”
“It’s kind of funny because before the game, I was telling myself that Steph (Curry) is not playing, so I know Draymond is going to try and get ejected. Because every time Steph doesn’t play, he doesn’t want to play – it’s his guy Steph. He’ll do anything he can to get ejected,” Gobert gold reporters. “Clown behavior, and I’m proud of myself for being the bigger man again and again. And yeah, doesn’t even deserve me putting my hands on him.”
Asked if he had a response to Gobert’s comments, Green took a long pause and smirked.
“No comment,” he said. “No comment is a comment, right?”
Green did not say he regretted putting Gobert in a headlock, but regrets not being on the court for his teammates. While he acknowledged he has to find ways to hold back, he doesn’t plan on changing his ways entirely.
“I’m going to play basketball the way I play basketball,” Green said. “The way I play basketball has gotten me here. The way I play basketball has brought me a tremendous amount of success, individually and from a team standpoint, so I will always be myself. But I do understand and know there is room for growth and I need to be better in those moments in different situations.”
Green added that he didn’t speak to the team about the incident after his suspension. He did go over film, practice and scrimmage with teammates within the guidelines that prohibit him from being at the arena in the few hours before, during and after games during a suspension. The Warriors went 2-4 in his absence, missing his voice on defense and playmaking on offense.
“Our chances of winning drop dramatically if I’m not out there, so I have to be better at being there as one of the leaders of the group,” Green said. “You have to find different ways, so for me that’s the biggest lesson out of all of this.”
Green returns to the fold with the Warriors sitting at 8-9 heading to Sacramento for a deciding in-season tournament game. If the Warriors win and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Timberwolves earlier that day, the Warriors will win Group C and advance to the quarterfinals. If they win and the Timberwolves win, they’ll have to beat the Kings by at least 13 points to advance. If they lose, they’re out.
Green has missed eight of the Warriors’ 17 games. He won’t have any minutes restrictions, but hasn’t been at full conditioning strength this season as he missed all of training camp with a sprained ankle. His availability will depend on his conditioning and if other lineup combinations perform better on Tuesday, coach Steve Kerr said.
Don’t expect Green to jump back into the season trying to appease NBA officials, though.
“I’m going to be me, no matter what,” Green said. “That’s not going to change. But in saying that, there’s always a better way something can be done. So figuring out a better way is the consensus among all of us…But I cannot play the game of basketball thinking, ‘I can’t do this because they are probably looking at it.’ They’re going to do what they’re going to do, regardless. I’m not going to play worrying about what they’re going to do.”