SACRAMENTO, Calif. — In 28 playoff series together, there aren’t many firsts left for this Golden State Warriors group. Coming into the 2023 postseason, they had never trailed 0-2 in a series. In fact, the Warriors hadn’t dropped their first two games of a playoff series since the 2007 Western Conference semifinals.
Monday’s game unraveled in waves for the Warriors — missed open layups, being outmatched physically, struggling to take care of the ball — issues they have faced all season. It culminated with Draymond Green being ejected with 7:03 remaining in the fourth quarter after stomping on the chest of Sacramento’s Domantas Sabonis.
After Stephen Curry grabbed a defensive rebound and turned to head up the floor, Sabonis slipped and fell in the paint. He grabbed onto Green’s leg, and after Green initially shook off Sabonis’ grip, he took a hard step right on Sabonis’ chest.
Sabonis stayed down for a few minutes as officials reviewed the play. He was called for a technical foul for grabbing Green’s leg, and Green was given a flagrant foul 2 that led to an automatic ejection.
“When I fell, I was protecting myself, and then the incident happened,” Sabonis said. “There is no room for that in our game today.”
Sabonis underwent X-rays on his sternum that came back negative, and he appears to have avoided injury, a source told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. He will undergo additional testing on Tuesday as a precaution.
Green, in explaining his side of the incident, said, “My leg got grabbed — the second time in two nights — and the referee is just watching. I got to land my foot somewhere, and I’m not the most flexible person, so it’s not stretching that far. … I can only step so far with someone pulling my leg away.”
The first time Green’s leg was held, he said, was in Game 1, by Kings guard Malik Monk.
“I guess ankle grabbing is OK,” Green said Monday.
“What are you going to do when someone grabs your foot when you’re running full speed?” Warriors guard Klay Thompson asked rhetorically. “That’s not cool. I’m not saying what Draymond did was right, but you can’t just grab somebody’s foot taking off in a full sprint.”
Kings coach Mike Brown said he was “curious” about what would happen when the league reviews the incident. The question now becomes whether the play warrants any additional suspension or punishment.
During the in-game review, the fans in Sacramento yelled derogatory chants toward Green, who egged them on by waving his hands, holding a hand to his ear calling for louder jeers and standing on a chair with a towel wrapped around his shoulders.
This isn’t the first playoff infraction for Green, who got suspended for one game during the 2016 NBA Finals after accumulating too many flagrant fouls in the playoffs that season.
As he sat on the bench with “Draymond sucks” chants raining down Monday night, Green flashed a smile and a peace sign. And as he walked back to the locker room, he emphatically dapped up all of his teammates.
The game wasn’t lost when Green was sent off. The Warriors have fed off moments like that before — allowing Green’s fire to fuel them.
Instead, it did exactly that for the Kings.
“That brought us together,” Sacramento point guard De’Aaron Fox said. “We huddled up and were like, ‘We have to win this game,’ especially because everybody thought [Green] would be ejected. When that usually happens, that team comes together and goes on a run. We were able to negate that.”
“My leg got grabbed — the second time in two nights — and the referee is just watching. I got to land my foot somewhere, and I’m not the most flexible person, so it’s not stretching that far. … I can only step so far with someone pulling my leg away.”
But there were too many other errors that prevented the Warriors from closing the gap between them and the Kings, even with the game within reach nearly the entire time.
The Warriors’ 20 turnovers surely didn’t help. The same goes for their fouling. Both of those areas have been glaring issues for Golden State through the first two games of this series. The Kings attempted 29 free throws Monday night, after taking 32 foul shots in Game 1.
Curry finished with 28 points on 9-of-21 shooting and was just 3-of-13 from 3. He was contested on 16 of his 21 field goal attempts and nine of his 13 3s. He was 0-for-5 with either Fox or Monk as his primary defender.
Andrew Wiggins added 22 points on 9-of-19 shooting, and Thompson scored 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting, including five 3s. But it wasn’t enough to overcome the areas that hurt the Warriors.
“I think the confidence we have, as delusional as it sounds, we continue to make the same mistakes but still compete at a high level and show what we are capable of,” Curry said. “We know we have it, and we know we are capable. It’s just, can we execute? That question will determine our fate in this series.”
But perhaps it’s also time to pay the Kings their dues. Every time there was an opportunity for panic to creep in, they appeared poised, calm and in control, despite their lack of playoff experience.
“They played better than we did down the stretch,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “They were the aggressors, and I thought they benefited from being the aggressors.”
Despite trailing 0-2, the Warriors appear unshaken. Green spoke with a smile on his face while addressing reporters after the game.
“It’s exciting, right?” he said of being in unfamiliar territory in a playoff series. “It’s a new challenge. After the game, I was thinking that: This is something we haven’t seen yet. And we’ve conquered all the rest of them, so why not go conquer this one? It will be a lot of fun.”‘
Thompson was the image of “chill” as he fielded questions. The locker room, albeit quiet, didn’t have a negative aura.
“I don’t feel pressure,” Thompson said. “I see an opportunity to protect home court and make adjustments. We’ve been through it all. We’re not accustomed to hitting the panic button.”
The Warriors aren’t at the point where they are too concerned. But that could very well change depending on how they respond back in San Francisco.
“That’s the old saying: The series doesn’t start until somebody wins on the other team’s home floor,” Curry said. “If we want to get ourselves back into it, we’ve got to start with a focused effort on Game 3 at home.”
Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.