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OKLAHOMA CITY — The NBA finally delivered its verdict late Monday on Draymond Green’s kick to Steven Adams, and the ruling, in typical Adam Silver style, leans toward pragmatic rather than punitive.
Green will not be suspended for Game 4 between the Warriors and Thunder in Oklahoma City on Tuesday after he kicked Adams below the belt during the second quarter of a Game 3 loss on Sunday. Instead, Green’s foul was upgraded from a Flagrant Foul 1 (given to contact that’s deemed “unnecessary”) to a Flagrant Foul 2 (which applies to “unnecessary and excessive” contact) and the All-Star forward was hit with a $25,000 fine.
“After a thorough investigation that included review of all available video angles and interviews with the players involved and the officials working the game, we have determined that Green’s foul was unnecessary and excessive and warranted the upgrade and fine,” NBA Executive VP of Basketball Operations Kiki VanDeWeghe said in a statement. “During a game, players—at times—flail their legs in an attempt to draw a foul, but Green’s actions in this case warranted an additional penalty.”
VanDeWeghe’s ruling differed from a one-game suspension given on Sunday to Cavaliers guard Dahntay Jones for striking Raptors center Bismack Biyombo below the belt. That’s understandable: Jones swung a fist rather than flailing his leg, he isn’t a central player in the East finals, and his suspension is a footnote wholly lacking in series-deciding implications. The NBA should have, and apparently did, treat the two situations on a case-by-case basis, rather than rushing to a blanket ruling.
There was no way to completely bridge the gap between the two options—suspension or no suspension—but the league nevertheless appeared to seek a compromise that made the most sense to the greater good.
By opting not to suspend, the NBA avoided overshadowing a competitive series with its own bureaucratic rulings, as it famously did by suspending multiple Suns players for leaving the bench during a 2007 second-round series against the Spurs. The league also ensured that the Warriors, owners of the best regular-season record in league history, will be able to enter the most important game of their season at full strength. The defending champions will decide their own fate; if they go down 3–1 against a resolute Thunder team, they will have no one to blame but themselves.
Golden State clearly wins too. Warriors coach Steve Kerr, MVP Stephen Curry and Green all repeatedly asserted that Green’s kick was unintentional. Watching a 73-win season go up in smoke due to an unfortunate flailing and a heavy-handed ruling would have been truly lamentable. Without Green, Kerr would have been forced to split up his power forward minutes among the likes of Harrison Barnes, Marreese Speights and Anderson Varejao—a terrifying prospect indeed.
Green, one of the league’s most polarizing players, is surely breathing a sigh of relief. The only thing worse than a career-worst -43 plus/minus in Game 3 would have been a Game 4 suspension, especially for a player who is so eager to assume leadership responsibilities. Green had an unbelievable season—one worthy of All-NBA and All-Defensive team selections—and it would have been a shame if an absence over a disputed play would have undercut that body of work. This kick might still prove to be the turning point in this series, as it clearly changed the direction of Game 3, but at least Green will have a chance to participate in the series’ next chapter.
The league’s fans are also winners. The Western Conference finals has seen spectacular stretches from Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, among others. Keeping the focus on the superstars who are on the court, rather than the one who could have been off the court, is in the best interests of the viewing public (not to mention TNT, the league’s television partner).
Although the Thunder don’t get the benefit of facing the Green-less Warriors, it’s hard to call them “losers” from this ordeal. On the contrary, Oklahoma City conducted itself extremely well throughout the incident, much like it did during multiple controversies over late-game officiating during its second-round series with San Antonio.
Thunder coach Billy Donovan did his best to stand up for his players without giving the Warriors any bulletin board material, Westbrook called out Green for his below-the-belt blows in an appropriate and honest fashion, and Adams played through the pain before smiling through the pain during his postgame interviews.
What’s more, he delivered the perfect sentiment during Oklahoma City’s practice on Monday.
“Regardless, I think we can beat them with or without [Green],” Adams said.
The NBA also offered the Thunder some consolation prizes in the upgraded foul and the fine. With Green’s foul upgraded to a Flagrant 2, he now has three flagrant points during the playoffs. If Green commits a Flagrant Foul 1 at any point during this series, he will be subjected to an automatic one-game suspension. If he commits a Flagrant Foul 2 at any point in this series, he will be hit with an automatic two-game suspension. Given the physical and intensely competitive nature of this series, Green will need to be very, very careful.
As for the fine, it matches the amount that Thunder forward Serge Ibaka was docked in 2013 when he struck Clippers forward Blake Griffin below the belt. That part evens out.
Oklahoma City can also take solace in the fact that Green’s presence on the court will make an already electric Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd go even crazier during Game 4. If the building’s booing and “Kick Him Out!” chants toward Green during Game 3 are any indication, the Thunder’s homecourt advantage will be palpable from before player introductions to the final buzzer on Tuesday.
There are only two real groups of losers from this ruling: the game officials and those observers who firmly believe that Green’s kick was intentional and that he lied about it.
The 2015-16 NBA Season Sneaker Awards
Most Valuable Sneakerhead: PJ Tucker
The Phoenix Suns forward is a bonafide sneakerhead who has gained Internet fame for wearing non-traditional performance models such as Nike Air Yeezy’s and Don C Air Jordan 2’s. In other words he is a hypebeast. Tucker also paid homage to Kobe Bryant and former Suns players throughout the season, wearing various Kobe and Air Jordan player edition kicks. While he is not one of the biggest names in the game, he is one of the most respected sneakerheads in the league today. — Most notable sneakers: Air Jordan 12 Public School (pictured), Don C Air Jordan 2 Retro “Beach”, Air Jordan 5 Retro Shawn Mario PE, Nike Air Yeezy 2 “Zen Grey” and Nike Air Yeezy 2 “Red October”
Innovator of the Year: Stephen Curry
The two-time reigning MVP has already proven to be a phenomenon on the court, but what Curry is doing off the court is pretty magnificent. As the face of Under Armour’s basketball division, Curry has become one of the most marketable athletes in the world. With two signature sneakers under his belt, Curry is reportedly on pace to surpass the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant in sneaker sales. — Most notable sneakers: Under Armour Curry Two “Iron Sharpens Iron”, Under Armour Curry Two “Northern Lights”, Under Armour Curry Two “Haight Street” (pictured), Under Armour Curry Two “Surprise Party”, Under Armour Curry 2.5
Lifetime Achievement Award: Kobe Bryant
When Kobe Bryant signed to Nike in 2003, the two established a relationship that will last a lifetime. The Swoosh went all out for Bryant in his final season. It was perhaps the longest goodbye in the history of sports, but Bryant left the game on top with a 60-point performance in a very special pair of Kobe 11’s for “Mamba Day.” Nike will continue to move forward with Bryant’s line post-retirement, with some of his previous models getting the retro treatment. — Most notable sneakers: Nike Kobe 10 Elite “Opening Night”, Nike Kobe 11 “All-Star”, Nike Kobe 11 “Purple/Yellow” PE, Nike Kobe 11 “Mamba Day” (pictured)
The Michael Jordan Legacy Award: LeBron James
There is no secret that LeBron James wants to become the first active billionaire athlete. In December, James signed a lifetime contract with Nike that is reported to be the largest single athlete endorsement deal in the brand's history. While Michael Jordan is a Nike lifer, LeBron is the first to ink this kind of deal with the brand. James played in his 13th signature model with the Swoosh this season and probably wore the most colorways of any signature athlete in history. — Most notable sneakers: Nike LeBron 13 “All-Star”, Nike LeBron 2 “Triple Double” PE, Nike LeBron 13 “Black/Gold” PE (pictured), Nike LeBron 13 Elite “Red”
Rookie of the Year: D’Angelo Russell
While his credibility took a hit with the Nick Young ordeal, the rookie did not disappoint when it came to footwear on the court. Russell spent the season rocking various Nike models, including a handful of Kobe PE’s. The Swoosh also featured him in their “Gear up for Greatness” campaign along with a couple of posters in Los Angeles. As the future of the Lakers, Russell has the potential to be a star, and maybe a signature athlete one day. — Most notable sneakers: Nike Kobe 4 Prelude (pictured), Nike Kobe 10 White/Purple, Nike Air Max Uptempo “Lakers” and Nike LeBron Solider 9
Most Improved: Zach LaVine
While his teammate Andrew Wiggins has signature athlete potential with Adidas, LaVine made a name for himself by rocking Air Jordan retro models throughout the season and cool Nike Hyperdunk 2015 Low in his dunk contest win. This upcoming season is going to be a pivotal year for the Timberwolves, and we expect LaVine to play a huge part. — Most notable sneakers: Air Jordan 3 Retro “True Blue”, Air Jordan 9 Retro “Photo Blue”, Air Jordan 17 Retro “College Blue”, and Nike Hyperdunk 2015 Low “Dunk Contest” PE (pictured)
Acquisition of the Year: James Harden
Adidas made a huge splash in the sneaker free-agency period by signing James Harden to a reported 13-year, $200 million deal. After losing ground in the U.S. basketball market, Adidas decided to revamp their marketing strategy, gearing it toward bringing in more high-profiled athletes such as Harden. The Beard spent the season wearing several colorways of the adidas Crazylight Boost 2015 and has a signature sneaker on the way. — Most notable sneakers: adidas Crazylight Boost 2015 “All-White” PE, adidas Crazylight Boost 2015 “Clutch City” PE, adidas Crazylight Boost 2.5 “All-Star” (pictured), adidas Crazylight Boost 2.5 “Cargo” PE, and adidas “The Kobe”.
Free Agent of the Year: John Wall
Prior to the season John Wall decided not to renew his contract with Adidas. He spent the season wearing various Nike and Air Jordan models while auditioning for his next shoe contract. He can sign a new deal this upcoming Summer. — Most notable sneakers: Air Jordan Retro 12 “French Blue”, “Air Jordan 17 retro “Copper” (pictured), Jumpman Team 2 “White/Navy”, and Nike Kobe X.
Comeback Player of the Year: Dwyane Wade
Dwyane Wade is a sneaker journeyman who has made stops at Converse, Jordan Brand and now Chinese brand Li Ning. Wade’s fourth signature sneaker with Li Ning “Way of Wade 4” has found popular success despite a limited release in the United States. More players, such as Klay Thompson, are opting to secure sneakers deals with Chinese brands like Anta and Peak. — Most notable sneakers: WoW 4 “Birthday, WoW 4 “Filthy Grey”, WoW 4 “Christmas”, and WoW 4 “Lucky 13” (pictured)
All-First Team: Nick Young
Nick Young made his adidas debut in a way only Nick Young could, by wearing a pair of adidas Yeezy 750 Boost on the court. Throughout the season, Swaggy P donned past adidas models worn by players such as Gilbert Arenas and former adidas athlete Kobe Bryant. — Most Notable Sneakers: adidas Yeezy 750 Boost (pictured), adidas TS lightswitch Gil 'Gilwood', adidas TS Lightswitch Gil 'Vote for Gilbert', and adidas Crazy 8 II 'Power Purple' editions.
All-First Team: Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving kicked off the NBA season with his second signature sneaker with Nike. The Kyrie 2’s came with a lot of fun colorways that follows Irving’s journey throughout his career. Irving is beloved by the younger demographic and his sneakers have been a great success thus far. — Notable sneakers: Nike Kyrie 2 “Green Glow” (pictured), Nike Kyrie 2 “Christmas”. Nike Kyrie 2 “BHM”, Nike Kyrie 2 “Bruce Lee” PE
Best Signature Sneaker Duo: Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant
Russell Westbrook (Jordan Brand) and Kevin Durant (Nike) are without a doubt the best signature sneaker duo in the NBA. Westbrook is the heir apparent in the Air Jordan line and has worn the Air Jordan XX9’s and Air Jordan XXX’s throughout the season. The Jordan Brand also gave Westbrook his own signature lifestyle model the “Jordan Westbrook 0”. Durant continued his long relationship with Nike with a reported $300 million deal. Durant wore various colorways of his Nike KD 8 sneakers, along with introducing the Nike KD 8 Elite and Nike KD 9 models. — Most notable sneakers: Air Jordan 3 Retro “Navy/ White” PE, Air Jordan XX9 “Orange/ White" PE, Air Jordan XXX “Galaxy” PE (left), Air Jordan XXX “Photo Blue” PE, Nike KD 8 “All-Star” (right), Nike KD 8 “Blackout”, and Nike KD 8 “Road Game”
The officiating crew shouldn’t be all that upset with the ruling. Reasonable people can disagree over whether Green’s act was “excessive” given his questionable intent and his history of flailing his legs in traffic. While the officials ultimately decided to allow Green to continue playing in Game 3, given the high stakes in that moment, they couldn’t have been shocked that an off-site review aided by an investigation of the incident and time to reflect reached a stronger decision.
As for those who are sure Green is getting away with one, there’s no other message except, Tough luck. His reward for avoiding sanction for this flagrant kick will be one of the most pressure-packed games of his career, an angry and loud crowd of 18,000-plus people going after him all night, and the intense scrutiny of officials who will surely be waiting for him to take things too far. Not to mention, a talented and imposing Thunder frontline that has owned two of the three games in this series to date. That’s no walk in the park.
While Silver, VanDeWeghe and company certainly could have been harsher with this ruling, they landed at a reasonable place that sets up a fascinating Game 4. Instead of fueling a distraction, they found a solution that put basketball first.