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Flagrant point system dooms Green as suspension enforced

Warriors contend rules unfair to teams making deep playoff runs

POSTED: Jun 13, 2016 8:57 AM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner


Game Time: Reactions to Green's Suspension

Steve Kerr, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and LeBron James react to Dramond Green's Game 5 suspension.

— Golden State's Draymond Green wound up suspended from Game 5 of the 2016 Finals when the NBA reviewed his skirmish with LeBron James in Friday's game and assessed a Flagrant Foul 1 for his retaliatory swipe.

It was the league's cumulative points system, rather than that single incident, that triggered Green's suspension. The Warriors forward already had three points in the playoffs from previous flagrant fouls, and a fourth point exacts an automatic one-game suspension.

With that in mind, it's worth reminding Toronto's Bismack Biyombo that he's sitting on four flagrant points, which means his next one will mean an automatic two-game suspension. The Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant and the Dallas Mavericks' Justin Anderson each have two points, which means they're one Flagrant 2 foul or two Flagrant 1 fouls away from sitting out a game.

GameTime: Vandeweghe On Green's Suspension

NBA Vice President of Basketball Operations Kiki Vandeweghe joins GameTime to speak on Draymond Green's suspension for game 5 of The Finals.

Of course, they're all already sitting, their teams eliminated before they could hit the points threshold for suspensions. Green still is playing -- or at least, he will be, if his absence Monday necessitates a Game 6 in the championship series.

This facet of the penalty system -- that a player's behavior against previous opponents can benefit an entirely new opponent, in this case James' Cavaliers -- caught Golden State coach Steve Kerr's attention as he and the Warriors absorbed the news of Green's unavailability for Game 5.

"I do think it's curious that somebody who gets knocked out in the first round and who's been on vacation for seven weeks is under the same penalty system as somebody who is still playing in The Finals now," Kerr said. "I'm not sure why that is the case. It seems like a strange rule. It's not anything we're going to bring up with the league. Maybe it's something to talk about in the offseason. It does seem a little strange."

Kerr engaged on that topic but waved off most of the questions about Saturday's ruling by Kiki Vandeweghe, executive vice president, basketball operations. "I had no idea what to expect, and it's irrelevant, anyway, whatever any of us feel," Kerr said. "We accept the ruling and we move on to Game 5."

A game that might serve as the clincher for Golden State's second consecutive NBA championship, with a chance to seal at home at Oracle Arena what it won on Cleveland's floor last year, now looks like an opportunity for the Cavaliers to claw their way back a little from the 3-1 deficit they face in the best-of-seven series.

Green Goes Down After Tangle-Up

Draymond Green and Steven Adams get tangled up going for the rebound, leaving Green stunned on the ground.

If that latter situation plays out, the Cavaliers and their fans might want to send gift baskets to Houston's Michael Beasley and OKC's Steven Adams, the players who were involved in Green's previous flagrant fouls this postseason.

On April 21 in the first round, Green threw Beasley to the floor without being whistled for a foul but the league assessed a Flagrant 1 upon review. On May 22 in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, Adams was kicked in the groin when Green flailed his leg. That transgression was rule a Flagrant 1 by the referees but upgraded in review to a Flagrant 2.

Green's most recent flagrant came with 2:48 left in Golden State's 108-97 victory Friday at Quicken Loans Arena. Green was knocked to the floor in a tussle with James, and the Cleveland superstar then stepped over Green as Green tried to get up. Green swiped his arm into James' groin area from below, then took another swipe upon standing that did not connect.

The referees called nothing on the play. But Vandeweghe's review produced a technical foul on James and the Flagrant 1 on Green.

I do think it's curious that somebody who gets knocked out in the first round and who's been on vacation for seven weeks is under the same penalty system as somebody who is still playing in The Finals now

– Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr

Vandeweghe stressed that Green wasn't suspended for the swipe itself but for his points total. The NBA has a similar system for the regular season but resets everyone to 0 points when the playoffs begin.

"He was fully on notice regarding contact to the groin area," Vandeweghe told NBA TV in a phone interview. "He was aware of his point total prior to the Finals."

The league's chief discipline officer acknowledged The Finals as controversial circumstances for such a ruling, but said the policy and interpretations must be consistent regardless of regular season schedules or playoff rounds.

"Of course it makes it tough, there's no question," Vandeweghe said. "That weighs on your mind. But again, you can't make an exception because of that.

Things Get Testy In Cleveland

Draymond Green and LeBron James exchange words with one another after getting tangled up.

"What I have that referees don't have is I have time. I can do the interviews. I can look at angles many, many times. I've probably seen this play 30 times. Nobody wants anybody suspended. But again, this is a cumulative thing."

That seemed to be the crux of Kerr's comment, though. The teams that go the deepest into the playoffs are the ones most at risk of suspensions, and since they don't face the same opponents, one might have an especially contentious or physical series that leads to more flagrant fouls. Dragging those points along to start the Finals does not make for a level playing field.

Granted, the league has an interest in players not lashing out or getting dirty, both for opponents' safety and for reputation as audience grows in the Finals. Just as in the civilian realm, repeat-offender laws don't require that the same victim be involved -- the focus in on the perpetrator.

Teams that comport themselves with greater discipline or control of their reactions position themselves better for later rounds, essentially benefiting from good behavior. And as Vandeweghe noted, the review and points systems have been in place for years. All players and coaches know it in advance.

Bottom line: Green did not have to flail.

We're all very aware of what happens over the course of the playoffs in points and technical and flagrants.

– Cavs forward Richard Jefferson, on Draymond Green's flagrant foul total

The plot thickens, however, if an opponent baits a player because it knows he has little wiggle room to react. In this case, knowing Green was one flagrant point away from a suspension might have been to their competitive advantage.

Some would say that's precisely what James did when he stepped over Green.

Cleveland's Richard Jefferson acknowledged that his team knew Green was on the brink. "We're all very aware of what happens over the course of the playoffs in points and technical and flagrants," Jefferson said, adding: "You don't wish for anything on anybody."

But James told reporters Sunday he wasn't aware of Green's points total.

Stepping over a player apparently is considered disrespectful in the NBA and other basketball circles, with a history that includes Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue -- he lives on in YouTube ignominy from getting stepped over by Philadelphia's Allen Iverson in the 2001 Finals. Another memorable step-over that caused no small amount of umbrage: Chicago's Scottie Pippen dunking on, and then walking over, New York's Patrick Ewing in the 1994 Eastern Conference semifinals.

Also, NBA legend Charles Barkley told Sirius XM's Bleacher Report Radio on Sunday that "when a guy steps over you, you have a moral obligation to punch him in the [groin]. ... Because that's really disrespectful to step over a guy. You're supposed to pop him in his junk if he steps over you like that."

Said Golden State center Andrew Bogut: "When someone stands on you and puts their nether regions on your head, y'know, people can react funny."

But again, James said he was only trying to get back into the play. "I'm not a disrespectful guy," he said. "I don't disrespect anybody. It's all in competition."

Bogut, an 11-year veteran, believed both James and Green should have received technical fouls for the exchange. He referred to teammate Andre Iguodala getting hit in the groin by Cleveland guard Matthew Dellavedova without a flagrant assessed. Also, he thinks the points system should start fresh with each round. Setting the suspension threshold to three or even two points could still keep potential transgressors on notice.

"I don't like carrying them over in the playoffs," Bogut said. "I think there should be some sort of reset button for a playoff series. But who knows?"

Bogut, Kerr and the rest of the Warriors do know that Green's emotions run hot when he plays, and that great asset occasionally can turn into a great weakness.

"It's hard to tell Draymond, 'Hey, switch it off,' " Bogut said. "Risk vs. reward, one game [lost] every 100, you'll take that energy and emotion for 99 games. If it happens in that one game and he's suspended, you don't want it to happen. But you want it those other 99."

What I have that referees don't have is I have time. I can do the interviews. I can look at angles many, many times. I've probably seen this play 30 times. Nobody wants anybody suspended. But again, this is a cumulative thing.

– NBA VP of Basketball Operations Kiki Vandeweghe

Green knew where he stood in flagrant points. And stands, for that matter. If there is a Game 6 and he picks up another flagrant or gets two technical fouls, he will be suspended from any Game 7.

Bogut thought Green was doing a good job of avoiding the no-nos.

"As soon as I see him get in any little scuffles and I'm out there, I'll run in and try to step between 'em, and I'll try to take the T," the Golden State big man said. "He's done a good job of it, man. The last five, six, seven games, he's gotten into little scuffles and he's ran right away. Bad calls on officials, he's run right to the bench and kind of kept his cool. So he's made a concerted effort to do it."

Without Green on the floor, the Cavaliers won't have to worry about Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson or Channing Frye having to defend out to 3-point range, which means they can stay in the game. "He's very dynamic on the defensive end and one of the few players in the league who can really guard one-through-four, one-through-five," Love said.

Without Green on the floor or in their huddles, the Warriors lose his offensive skills, his defensive switch-ability and his fire.

"You see every game what he brings, the energy, the defensive presence," guard Steph Curry said. "He's a playmaker with the ball in his hands, and he's a proven All-Star that's done a lot for our team this year. So we'll obviously miss his impact and the intangibles that he brings to the game. We're going to have to have somebody step up and do it by committee to replace that effort."

Might Green's absence have a reverse effect? In theory, taking a hit from the league office might sharpen the Warriors' focus, ignite some anger to channel into their play or open up playing time for an unexpected hero. Kerr did note, however, that Green still has to be carried on the active roster for Game 5 -- it doesn't allow him access to a player who otherwise would be inactive for Monday's game.

Kerr did mention the 1980 Finals, recalling that Los Angeles had to play Game 6 in Philadelphia without an injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar -- Kerr was 14, a Lakers fan at the time -- and won the title anyway when rookie Magic Johnson scored 42 points with 15 rebounds and seven assists.

And just last week, the Cavaliers won Game 3 without Love after he suffered a concussion in Game 2.

The policy in play then was the NBA's concussion protocol. This time, it's the flagrant points tracker. If that merits any review, as Kerr seemed to suggest, it won't happen until summer.

As is, the system might have put off summer a while longer for everybody.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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