It was Steve Kerr’s hypocrisy and Draymond Green’s obnoxiousness.
It was Kerr reading everyone about how Dillon Brooks broke the NBA’s “code” with his flagrant foul, even though that code doesn’t apply to Green, a player who has kicked so many opposing players in the nether regions, there’s a YouTube video of them that lasts nearly two minutes.
It was Green complaining about the behavior of the fans inside FedExForum he had spent Game 1 inciting, then bragging about how much money he makes compared to them.
That’s when I knew again.
I hate the Golden State Warriors, and the NBA playoffs will be better off now because of it. Now that everybody involved in their Western Conference semifinal series against the memphis grizzlies is starting to develop a healthy hate for one another.
You hear players often cite “playoff basketball” when discussing the increased physicality and heightened emotions of the postseason. Well, conjuring up an irrational distaste for people, places and teams, that is as much a part of “playoff basketball” as a debate about what should and shouldn’t constitute a hard foul.
This series between the Grizzlies and the Warriors is what the NBA needs and wants. It has so many of the elements the league has thrived with in the past. It’s why this matchup is the best thing the NBA has going right now.
Golden State is in the midst of perhaps its last best chance to win another championship with its celebrated core and the Grizzlies have their first best chance to win a title with their young nucleus.
Stephen Curry is the 34-year-old shooting marvel somehow still in his prime and Ja Morant is the 22-year-old athletic marvel somehow just beginning his prime.
But more than that, there’s a history of hate between these teams.
Golden State hates Brooks because of the flagrant foul Tuesday night that knocked Gary Payton II out of this series, but also because he repeatedly called out Andre Iguodala for not playing for the Grizzlies when Golden State discarded him in a salary dump trade to Memphis in June 2019. Brooks did it again as recently as the Grizzlies’ final regular season win over the Warriors on March 28.
The Memphis hate for Green also goes back, all the way to 2015 when he hit Mike Conley in his broken face. Green then had the gall to explain to us he was actually trying to help Brandon Clarke when he slapped Clarke in the face and yanked him to the court by his jersey in Game 1.
“I actually tried to hold him up,” Green said, an explanation that felt a lot like giving someone a black eye and then expecting forgiveness because there was an ice pack handy.
Green also spent the day between Games 1 and 2 serenading the memphis rap scene only to flip off the FedExForum crowd 24 hours later, accuse them of booing him when he had blood running down his face and a possible concussion, and remind everyone who hates him, “I make $25 million a year. I should be just fine.”
“If they gonna be that nasty,” Green declared, “I can be nasty, too.”
And a snob, evidently. A decade spent in the Bay Area, I guess.
This might get nastier, too.
Memphis hates Iguodala enough that he got booed any time he touched the ball during the two games he played at FedExForum during the regular season, and he hasn’t played in this series yet.
Brooks, meanwhile, is suspended for Game 3 as a result of the flagrant foul that fractured Payton’s elbow. Needless to say, Green never got suspended for his flagrant foul. One person’s “code” is another person’s double standard.
“Obviously ‘dirty’ has been thrown out there,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said, referring to Kerr’s comments during Game 2. “But I look at my locker room, and I look at our culture, what we exude, we’re the furthest thing from dirty. We’re competitive, so I want that to be squashed pretty quick here.”
So yes, there’s room for your hate to still grow, yet another playoff principle essential to elevating the NBA product.
The Grit and Grind era showed us how this can work, and how impactful this can be on the legacy of a team.
Memphis beat Oklahoma City to advance to the 2013 Western Conference finals, but many of the lasting memories of that playoff run occurred when the Grizzlies beat the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round.
Because everyone hates the Clippers.
Memphis hated Chris Paul, Zach Randolph hated Blake Griffin, and Grizzlies fans hated Clippers fans. They hated them over multiple years and multiple series.
In Golden State, Memphis has the first team to inspire something that approaches those feelings.
It started seven years ago, when Golden State rose up for its first title by ending the Grizzlies’ last real shot at one with the Core Four. It simmered again when Iguodala never played in Memphis and Brooks called him out on it. It picked up steam last year when the Grizzlies ended Golden State’s season in the play-in tournament.
And it began to boil just as soon as Green and Brooks exchanged ejections and Kerr sanctimoniously spoke of the “code” Brooks broke. A “code” that apparently doesn’t apply to the four Golden State players who finished among the top 11 in the NBA in flagrant fouls this season.
I hate these guys. Isn’t it great?
You can reach Commercial Appeal columnist Mark Giannotto via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @mgiannotto