The Warriors did not lose on Thursday night because Draymond Green got ejected. It was just the tipping point.
Golden State was outplayed by the visiting New York Knicks for the game’s first 23 minutes, and trailed 60-55 when Green was bizarrely ejected for yelling at teammate James Wiseman.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Green was upset with Wiseman for not sealing his man as Green attempted an entry pass, leading to a steal. Green hollered at Wiseman as the two ran back on defense, and continued as the Knicks got into their offensive set. That’s when the misunderstanding apparently happened between Green and referee John Butler, who believed Green to be yelling an expletive at him and threw him out of the game. Green had previously received a technical earlier for arguing a foul call.
Green and the rest of the Warriors players and coaches tried to convince the refs they’d made a mistake. Steve Kerr even tried to challenge the call, something that cannot be done under the current replay rules. The best the Warriors can hope for is that the technical gets rescinded after the fact, something that seems to be a certainty.
Green’s absence only exacerbated the Warriors’ issues in the second half. The Knicks 27th ranked offense shot 48 percent in the third quarter, while their excellent defense held Golden State to just 19 points on 35 percent shooting. New York eventually coasted to a 119-104 win.
It was a night where the Knicks were excellent from the start, showing a physicality and reletlessness typical of Tom Thibodeau led teams. Though they have mostly avoided the three-point line early in the season, the Knicks dropped 40 points in the first quarter on 7-10 shooting from deep, despite solid Warriors defense. Golden State, meanwhile, was anemic from beyond the three-point line all night, held to just 23 percent shooting (9-of-38).
Another calling card of Thibodeau-led teams is a desire to muck up and slow down the game. In that sense, the Warriors were a perfect foe, a team that both thrives in transition, and entered Thursday second in the NBA in fouls per game (23.6). What followed was a Thibodeau masterpiece; both teams combining for 80(!) free throws, with the Knicks leading the way, going 32-of-41 from the stripe. This also included a period in the fourth quarter when the Warriors committed four fouls in 13 seconds.
The Warriors committed four fouls in 13 seconds. Five if you include the Kent Bazemore technical.
To quote Kelly Oubre: "Everything is art, depending on the way you look at it." pic.twitter.com/l8M3XHz3zd
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) January 22, 2021
Ultimately it was the first and third quarters that doomed the Warriors, who were outscored 66-50 in the frames combined, all with Stephen Curry on the floor. Curry had a solid night, dropping 30 on 9-of-19 shooting, but he was the only one. Wiggins started 5-for-5 but disappeared in the second half.
Oubre made us question whether the slump is actually over, scoring just seven on 2-of-11 shooting. Wiseman was solid while scoring 15, but never got into a consistent offensive rhythm going up against an excellent young defensive center in Mitchell Robinson, who also scored 18 on the other end.
The biggest bright spot? Rookie Nico Mannion, who got the first meaningful playing time of his NBA career, and looked comfortable with the ball in his hands while dishing four assists in eight minutes.
Nico Mannion with the nice assist to James Wiseman in the first meaningful minutes of his NBA career pic.twitter.com/BZF3iGF3FO
— KNBR (@KNBR) January 22, 2021
The Knicks showed how good they can be when they play well on offense. Every starter scored in double figures. Second-year wing RJ Barrett was the biggest head-turner, dropping 28 points on 10-of-17 shooting, looking like he did as one of the best college players in the nation during his time at Duke.
In short, on the back end of a back-to-back, after maybe the most complete win of the season, it was a game in which the Warriors had to be excellent to win. They weren’t that before losing Draymond, and they weren’t even close afterwards.