MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Draymond Green stood in the Golden State Warriors’ tunnel as the final buzzer sounded for their 117-116 Game 1 win over the Memphis Grizzlies.
As his coaches and teammates walked back to the locker, Green greeted them with a high-five, hug or chest bump. As Jordan Poole exited the court, the two had a long embrace, with both screaming at the top of their lungs.
It was as close to the action as Green could get after being ejected with less than two minutes to go in the first half.
« This is a huge game to win, especially with [Draymond] going out early, » Poole said. « You really have to find that grit and grind and buckle down and lock in offensively and defensively. He is such a big part of our team…we were able to fill in for the energy he has. »
As Memphis forward Brandon Clarke went up for a dunk with 1:18 left in the second quarter, Green initially made contact with Clarke’s head as Green swiped down, grabbing the collar of Clarke’s jersey in the process.
« My hand got caught in his jersey, » Green emphatically told Warriors coach Steve Kerr. He then echoed the same exact message to the referees as they gathered to review the call.
After it was deemed a flagrant foul 2, Green ran around the court for several seconds, waving his hands up and down to the crowd and high-fiving his teammates. He was met with roaring boos. As he made his exit, he gave the crowd one last wave before heading down the tunnel.
Warriors guard Stephen Curry told the refs the ejection was « f—ing crazy, » as Curry, Green and the Warriors expected it to be called a flagrant 1.
« He’s been known for flagrant fouls in his career, » Clarke said. « I’ve watched him on TV my whole life, he feels like. I wasn’t really shocked. I don’t really like to flop or nothing, but he did hit me pretty hard twice when I saw it again… It is not shocking that he did that. Something he has done in the past. »
Green finished the game with six points, four rebounds, three assists, three steals and one block.
Afterward, Green said on his podcast he was trying to hold Clarke up, not throw him down, and argued that what he did was not excessive.
« I think tonight it was probably a reputation thing more so than a hard foul, » he said, adding that he is hopeful the fragrant 2 gets rescinded.
The Warriors entered the locker room at halftime with a bit of anger, but they emerged with some fire.
« We were just determined, » Kerr said. « We were all kind of shocked by the decision. But we were confident and determined, and the guys stayed with it. »
Without Green, the Warriors knew they needed to up their defensive energy. But they didn’t need to change their game plan. Instead, they plugged center Kevon Looney in Green’s spot and let the rest take care of itself.
In the second half, the Warriors held the Grizzlies to just 29% shooting on contested field goal attempts. The Warriors were particularly stingy in clutch time, contesting 11 of Memphis’ 13 attempts.
Kerr pointed to the start of the third quarter as the time when the momentum shifted in favor of the Warriors. Golden State began the third on a 13-5 run to get within one.
The two biggest defensive possessions of the game — the two that sealed the win for the Warriors — came from players who are used to big moments in crunch time, but usually on the offensive end: Curry and Klay Thompson.
Following a 26-foot 3-pointer by Thompson that put Golden State up one, Curry blocked Memphis’ Ja Morant with 19.8 seconds left. It was just his third career block inside the final 20 seconds of a game in both the regular season and playoffs.
« Steph has been underrated defensively for a long time, » Kerr said. « I think this was the best defensive season of his career. We saw that all year long … I thought it was just a brilliant defensive play by Steph. »
Sixteen seconds later, still up by one, Thompson put the clamps on Morant as he hunted for the game-winning shot.
« I missed a layup I normally make, all the time, » Morant said.
Thompson explained his strategy.
« I thought he was going to attack, » Thompson said. « I just tried to cut him off from getting an open layup and force him into a tough shot. And that’s what me and Gary [Payton II] did. »
Curry and Thompson finished with 24 and 15 points, respectively, but foul trouble kept them on a short leash throughout the night. In their absence it was Jordan Poole, once again, who kept the Warriors afloat. And he did it on both ends.
In his first playoff game off the bench, Poole scored or assisted on 52 of Golden State’s points, while allowing just 14 points on 5-of-13 shooting as the primary defender. He finished the night with 31 points on 12-of-20 shooting, including five threes, eight rebounds, nine assists and two blocks.
« This is the Jordan we have seen now for the last few months, » Kerr said. « This is what he looks like. He’s not always going to hit five threes, score 31 points, almost get a triple-double, but he’s a playmaker. He’s a shot creator. He’s been fantastic for us all season so this didn’t surprise me at all. »
When the Warriors touched down in Memphis on Monday night — just 24 hours after they found out that’s who they were facing in the second round — the goal was to split on the road. If they could just get one win in Memphis before heading back to San Francisco, that would be considered a successful trip.
When they lost their heart and soul in Green less than 24 minutes into the game, it was unclear if the Warriors would use that to spark them or if it would end up costing them the game.
After 12 minutes in the locker room and a few seconds on the court, the answer was clear.
« Whatever way you explain it, whatever emotion you tap into, you just bring it, » Curry said. « When Draymond went out, there’s a moment where you are like, alright, what are we going to do about it? How are we going to figure this out? Use halftime to regroup, and to come out the way that we did, I ‘m really proud of everybody and their approach to the game. It was a good vibe out there. »