Jusuf Nurkic And Draymond Green Might Never Be Pals
12:15 PM EST on February 11, 2024
The Golden State Warriors beat the visiting Phoenix Suns Saturday night, on an incredible game-winning three-pointer from Steph Curry. The play almost could not have been cooler: Curry's first responsibility was to shed Kevin Durant, which he accomplished by pressing his shoulder into Durant's intestines and then darting away from the basket, running Durant into a screen from Draymond Green. Green's defender on the play was Bradley Beal, whose assignment was to switch onto Curry; the in-bounds pass from Brandin Podziemski was low and inaccurate and pulled Curry even further toward half court, and was soft enough that Beal was tempted into making a play on the ball. Steph caught it on a bounce and pivoted around on his right foot; Beal was now behind the play, but flying across the court to help contest the play was Phoenix's third superstar, Devin Booker. Curry never took a dribble, just squared up and fired over Booker's desperate flailing fingertips. Dagger!
It took some late heroics, but this was a great win for the Warriors, who looked sharper and more committed and more dangerous Saturday night than they have all season. Klay Thompson still can't shoot; Andrew Wiggins still seems medically sedated; Moses Moody is back out of the rotation; Steve Kerr is still relying for important minutes on guys you've never heard of. Not everything is fixed, or even close. But the Warriors have now won four straight, and their defense is starting to look fearsome. In the time since Green returned from his extremely super-duper serious recent suspension, the Warriors have had the fifth best defense by points allowed per possession, per Cleaning The Glass. Not coincidentally, they're 7–4 over that stretch, with two overtime losses and another by a single point.
Saturday's game was the first time Green and Jusuf Nurkic shared a court since the time in mid-December when Green randomly slugged Nurkic in the ear and earned the unscheduled time off. It was clear very early on that the two men still do not enjoy each other's company. At about the six-minute mark of the first quarter, Nurkic brought the ball into the front court and initiated a handoff with Booker; the play failed to engineer a switch but Nurkic established decent position on the low block against Green, against whom he enjoys a six-inch height advantage. Booker dumped the ball back to Nurkic, who took a violent back-down dribble into Green's chest, and Green fouled him. After the whistle, Green took a swipe at Nurkic's extended leading elbow, and the two men stood yapping at each other before Thompson sauntered in and punched the ball away, earning a technical foul.
On Phoenix's next offensive possession, Nurkic threw a backdoor pass to Booker, leading him into traffic. Booker pinged the ball back to Nurkic in the paint; Nurkic threw up a pump-fake and then shoulder-charged into Green; Green took the contact and went to the floor, and Nurkic tumbled onto the top of him, chucking up a wild shot on the way down. This time Nurkic was whistled for the offensive foul, and Green responded in the most Dennis Rodman fashion possible: by running triumphantly down the court while doing a bunch of hand-signaling about how his opponent is a moron. "I was calling him a dummy when I was pointing to my head," recalled Green after the game, per ESPN. "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."
Later, with the score tied in the third quarter, Nurkic backed Green into the paint and threw up a hook shot; as the ball bounced around the rim and then dropped home, Nurkic hit Green with the "too small," reaching all the way down with both hands to pat the floor for emphasis. Less than a minute later, with Nurkic sort of theatrically pretending not to defend Green on the right block, Green bulled his way to the front of the cup and dropped in a contested layup, and then immediately returned the "too small" celebration. The way Green sees it, he might be the smaller of the two, but if anything that gives him more of a basis for mockery. "You probably outweigh me by 70 pounds and you get put in the rim," he boasted later. "Got to be more careful."
As you might imagine, the one of these two oaves whose team lost the game had a somewhat darker take on the implications of their back-and-forth. "It's sad. He didn't learn anything," said Nurkic, transforming more and more into a corncob with every syllable. "Just a matter of time. He's going to hit somebody else again. Take back everything I said. He don't deserve a chance."
OK, yes, Nurkic is probably right about Green inevitably hitting someone. But the thing to be sad about Saturday night was getting worked over by the angry backpack gremlin, and the increasing probability that he will still be out there woofing and goading and targeting groins come playoff time.