One involved an open fist closing as it approached its target. The other involved a wild -- albeit partially strategic -- kick, done to attract the referee’s attention and elicit the screech of the whistle. That, according to the NBA, is why the two low blows seen in the conference finals this past weekend have provoked different disciplinary measures from the league’s office.
NBA Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Kiki VanDeWeghe stated as much while speaking with Sam Amick about the league’s decision to suspend Cleveland Cavalier Dahntay Jones and merely fine and upgrade the flagrant foul level of Golden State Warrior Draymond Green. VanDeWeghe emphasized and underscored that these two incidents were entirely “different” animals -- and that their punishments reflect that.
Using the word “different” 13 times in the interview published by USA Today, VanDeWeghe made his point crystal clear: One was a basketball play, done to educe a call, while at the end of the day the other was simply an intentional, unfortunate, inappropriate shot to the groin.
It’s worth quoting VanDeWeghe at length:
But just to talk about the Dahntay Jones situation, I think that was basically a completely different play. That, you had somebody [who was] tussling for a rebound, and Jones brings back his hand his hand is open. And as he brings his hand back forward and makes contact with Bismack [Biyombo’s] groin area, the fist is closed. And so you have contact with a closed fist, so to me that’s a very different scenario and, to me, a different fact pattern, so it’s very different from what we’re talking about with Draymond, that I viewed as a flail that is becoming, you know, pretty common amongst our players in trying to sell calls. Draymond does it a fair amount. Westbrook does it a fair amount, and a number of other players.
Those that disagree with the league’s decision to hold off on the Green suspension will argue that it wasn’t as simple as a flail of his legs -- it wasn’t merely him following through on his shot, as he argued after the game. Green seems to kick his leg out in a motion entirely separate from his shot attempt, hitting Oklahoma City big man Steven Adams in the exact same place he knocked him in the previous game. Hence why Thunder fans are aggravated by the NBA’s verdict.
But VanDeWeghe seems adamant that Green’s flail was a matter of being in the heat of the moment, and doing what he could to get to the free throw line. And that, inherently, is distinctive from the Jones “strike,” which occurred when the Eastern Conference game was all but over, with just seconds remaining on the clock.
“[A] closed fist to the groin area right in front of a straightforward strike is very different than going up, getting the ball knocked out,” he said again.
And while we likely will not know anytime soon the true intent of Green’s high kick, you can be sure that when Oklahoma City and Golden State face off tonight, the referees will be on their toes, ready to defuse the rising tempers and climbing tension we’ve already seen on full display in these conference finals.