SAN FRANCISCO — After converting a hook shot over Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green in the third quarter Saturday night, Phoenix Suns center Jusuf Nurkic slapped the floor twice and taunted Green with a “too small” gesture.

Two minutes later, Green returned the favor.

With Nurkic between him and the hoop, Green quickly backed Nurkic down and scooped the ball over his head and into the basket. Immediately, Green smacked the court, just as Nurkic had.

“You can’t be a nothing defender if you’re going to do that,” Green said of Nurkic. “You probably outweigh me by 70 pounds and you get put in the rim? Got to be more careful.”

The Warriors’ 113-112 win was the first time Golden State and Phoenix had faced off since Dec. 12, when Green hit Nurkic in the head and earned an indefinite suspension that sidelined him for 12 games.

Part of the criteria for Green’s reinstatement was undergoing counseling and proving to his team and the league that he had learned to manage his behavior.

Nurkic said after Saturday’s contest that Green clearly hadn’t.

“It’s sad. He didn’t learn anything,” Nurkic said. “Just a matter of time. He’s going to hit somebody else again. Take back everything I said. He don’t deserve a chance.”

When told of Nurkic’s remarks at his postgame news conference, Green paused before responding.

“I thought I was great tonight,” Green said with a smile. “He tried to get in my head, and it didn’t work. If he wants me to walk around quiet, like him, I’m never going to do that. Quiet guys don’t win.

“He can keep rocking with that same horse that he rode in on. He can ride his ass right out of here on that same horse. It’s not working.”

Nurkic’s remarks trickled throughout the Warriors’ locker room, prompting chuckles and headshakes. Stephen Curry called the comments “idiotic.”

To the Warriors, Green’s antics and how he balanced them on Saturday represented the strongest evidence yet that he has changed.

“That month off, that suspension was real,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. “[Draymond] knew that his career was on the line or is on the line.

“He understands that he’s got to be the guy he’s been the last nine years, not the one he’s been the last year. I see him doing that.”

Before Saturday’s game, Kerr said he didn’t want Green to be a “Goody-Two-shoes,” adding that if Green wasn’t going to bring his fire, the Warriors might as well not play him. But Green’s availability is his most important asset.

Against the Suns, he finished with 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting, 9 assists and 7 rebounds in one of his best two-way performances of the season.

“He’s given us a lift every game he’s been back,” Curry said. “He connects, obviously, our defense, but you can talk about his defense every game. What he did offensively tonight, especially in the fourth quarter … he gave us great energy in the sense of having that competitive spirit you need to win a game like tonight, to meet the moment.”

“Draymond knows how to walk the line that he needs to walk,” he added. “This is probably the best game that you’ve seen it.”

Green and Nurkic exchanged words four minutes into the first quarter after a foul was called on Green.

A few seconds later, Nurkic posted up Green and was called for an offensive foul. Green responded by flexing, running down the court and gesturing by knocking on his head twice.

“They called a foul on the post-up, and he started talking,” Green said of Nurkic. “Never backing down from that. I like that type of action.”

Asked about the gesture following Nurkic’s offensive foul, Green stated, “I was calling him a dummy when I was pointing to my head. I wasn’t saying I was keeping my head. I was saying, you can’t start talking and then charge into me. That’s not smart.”

With eight minutes to go in the third quarter, Green was assessed his first technical foul since his suspension for stomping his foot in frustration after a non-call.

But to Curry, it was the “too small” gesture that shifted the momentum in Green’s favor.

“You can tell when someone is in your head when you go out of your way to celebrate,” Curry said of Nurkic. “Then Draymond comes back at him. All of the talk, Draymond was in his head — plain and simple.”


Kendra Andrews

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