Draymond Green was ejected from the Golden State Warriors’ 119-116 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday for delivering a flagrant blow to Jusuf Nurkic’s head, an incident that could garner additional punishment from the NBA league office given his recent track record of unsportsmanlike incidents.
With Golden State leading 65-60 and 8:23 remaining in the third quarter of a nationally-televised game at Phoenix’s Footprint Center, Green and Nurkic battled for position on an inbounds play. Nurkic held the right side of Green’s body in an attempt to prevent him from breaking open to receive a pass, and Green responded by spinning counterclockwise toward Nurkic and wildly swinging his right arm. Video replays showed that Green made direct contact with the left side of Nurkic’s face, causing the Bosnian big man to fall to the ground.
“What’s going on with him? I don’t know,” Nurkic said of Green. “Personally, I feel like that brother needs help. I’m glad he didn’t try to choke me. At the same time, it ain’t nothing to do with basketball. I’m just out there trying to play basketball. He’s out there swinging. I think we saw that often. I hope whatever he’s got [going on] in his life, it gets better.”
The officials deemed Green guilty of “unnecessary and excessive contact” and assessed him a flagrant foul 2, which requires an automatic ejection from the game.
“This one checks all the boxes: he had windup, impact and follow through above the shoulders to the face there with that open hand swing and slap to the head,” the NBA’s vice president of referee operations, Kane Fitzgerald, explained on the TNT broadcast. “Clearly unnecessary and excessive.”
Green, who didn’t protest the ejection and jogged straight to the locker room, departed with two points, two rebounds and two assists in 17 minutes.
“[Nurkic] was pulling my hip and I was swinging away to sell the call and made contact with him,” Green said. “As you know, I’m not one to apologize for things I meant to do, but I do apologize to Jusuf because I didn’t intend to hit him. … A replay is never going to look good. I know my intentions. My intentions were to sell the call. I don’t think I’m an accurate enough puncher to do a full 360 and connect with someone. It’s unfortunate. … It was hard contact. I think the flagrant 2 was warranted.”
Nurkic was able to continue playing after the incident and finished with 17 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists.
“It just looked like a reckless, dangerous play,” Suns Coach Frank Vogel said. “I’m sensitive to our guys getting hit on plays like that. I didn’t like it. The refs did what they had to do and the league will do what they have to do.”
Suns guard Devin Booker added: “[Green] wears his emotions as every top competitor does. It got out of hand.”
With Green back in the locker room, Golden State fell behind by double digits early in the fourth quarter before mounting a furious rally in the closing minutes that came up short. Warriors Coach Steve Kerr said that he had “no comment” about Green’s flagrant blow because he hadn’t seen a replay.
“[Losing Green was a] huge swing,” Kerr said. “We kind of felt good about having him at the five and spreading the floor. … I felt good about having him out there and he lost his poise. … We need Draymond. He knows that. We’ve talked to him. He’s got to find a way to keep his poise and be out there for his teammates.”
Green’s latest ejection comes less than one month after he was ejected and subsequently suspended five games for putting Rudy Gobert in a headlock less than two minutes into a 104-101 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Nov. 14.
In announcing that suspension, the longest of Green’s 12-year career, the league said that the four-time all-star escalated an altercation involving teammate Klay Thompson and Minnesota’s Jaden McDaniels, that he was guilty of “an unsportsmanlike and dangerous” action toward Gobert and that his “history of unsportsmanlike acts” had factored into the suspension’s length. The suspension cost Green more than $769,000 of his $22.3 million salary.
Before his ejection for the Gobert incident, Green was tossed from Warriors’ 118-110 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Nov. 11 for shoving Donovan Mitchell from behind during a transition play.
Green is no stranger to ejections and suspensions: He was ejected from Game 2 and suspended for Game 3 of a first-round playoff series against the Sacramento Kings in April for stomping on center Domantas Sabonis’s chest. As it did in its statement following the Gobert suspension, the NBA noted at the time that the suspension was “based in part on Green’s history of unsportsmanlike acts.”
Perhaps most famously, Green hit LeBron James below the belt during the 2016 NBA Finals, prompting a one-game suspension that helped swing the series in favor of the Cavaliers. In October 2022, Green punched then-teammate Jordan Poole at practice. Poole was traded to the Washington Wizards in June, one week before the Warriors signed Green to a four-year, $100 million contract extension.
The Warriors, who fell to 10-13 with the loss to the Suns, sit 11th in the Western Conference standings. Golden State’s next five games are against the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday, Brooklyn Nets on Saturday, Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, the Boston Celtics on Dec. 19 and the Wizards on Dec. 22.