SAN FRANCISCO — Damion Lee’s second and final return to the Chase Center this season, barring a playoff matchup, wasn’t kind to the former Warrior Monday night in Golden State’s 123-112 win over the Phoenix Suns.
Lee played 18 minutes, scored seven points and had five rebounds. He was 3 of 9 out of the field and a minus-11 in plus/minus. The optics were worse than the box score.
That’s when Klay Thompson sped past him, Steph Curry put him on a highlight roll and Jordan Poole dropped a big step back 3 on him.
All of that was lost thanks to the scene late in the fourth quarter between Lee and JaMychal Green. With a minute and a half left and the Warriors 15 points clear, Green and Lee went nose to nose down the court. Green was upset about a minor scuffle between Lee and Poole, the previous possession, and let him know as much.
Then Lee tried to push Green. The result was somehow that Lee flew backwards and Green leaned more while continuing to talk and walk forward. It was clear who was in charge here. Lee then drove past Green but elbowed him while the Warriors big man was called for a foul, and then Lee proceeded to pin Moses Moody to the ground when it was in sequence.
A shove from Lee to Green as JaMychal came to Moody’s side to pick him up was the final straw. Green needed teammates, coaches, Suns players and umpires to hold him back. Enough was enough. A protector at heart, the 32-year-old has been ready for action.
“I was just reacting, really,” Green said Tuesday after the Warriors’ practice session. “I just saw them get into the argument and I just reacted. I can’t really explain. It’s just the heat of the moment.
“They beat us this season. At the moment every game is a must for us. It’s like playoff mode so I’m ready to go.”
When the Warriors Green signed a one-year, $2.6 million deal this offseason, he made it clear how he felt he would be the best fit. It wasn’t about his shooting ability. Neither does his rebound.
Defense is not what was first addressed.
More than anything, Green wanted to show Dub Nation the dog that lives within him. He was thrilled to be the guy the Warriors can count on for the dirty work in games. Fighting to keep the plays alive, engaging on loose balls and standing up for teammates is what Green loves most about the game.
That drives him on the pitch.
“I enjoy it,” Green said. “I think I’ve started having fun again in the last two or three games. You just have to go out and compete. Leave everything on the ground.”
The season didn’t go as planned for Green. He started slowly, trying to gain a foothold in a new system. Then COVID-19 and a leg infection kept him away for a month. Upon his return, he found himself in and out of the lineup with a handful of DNPs (Did Not Play) while Steve Kerr tinkered with rotations and playstyle.
Through the ups and downs, even into his ninth season, Green reminded himself every day how lucky he is to be living his dream. Instead of looking for answers, he focused on controlling only what he can control. The mindset has allowed him to play freely and the results have shown on the pitch.
Green Golden State gave up winning minutes as the Warriors went 2-0 home after a five-game road trip without a win. He had 18 points with six rebounds, a block and four three-pointers in the Warriors’ overtime win over the Milwaukee Bucks. Then he added nine points with seven rebounds, a block and three more against the Suns on Monday.
The numbers are there. Grit has always been and always will be. His performance and presence as a veteran doesn’t go unnoticed by his coaches and teammates. What has impressed Kerr most is the persistence of the Greens.
“J-Mych was great,” Kerr said Tuesday. “Things didn’t really go the way he wanted at the start of the season. I let him play with some difficult combinations. We tried to figure out different lineups and I didn’t put him in a great position to be successful. He is persistent.
“He just stuck with it and has been really good lately. He obviously put down shots but delivered that tenacity and courage. And yes, you do like having a guy who supports his teammates, which we saw last night. It’s great for chemistry, it’s great for team morale and J-Mych made sure of that.”
Last season, Green shot just 26.6 percent with 3-pointers. But that was while playing due to a painful injury to his right wrist. The Warriors had seen the 6-foot-8 stretch hurt them deep enough in the past to know he was still capable of it.
In October he made just 23.1 percent of his three. In November he shot 16.7 percent over the bow. But in December, that number rose to 38.9 percent. Despite only playing three games in January, he went with 3 points in 4 of 8.
Last month he was a 46.2 percent 3-point shooter and is up 50 percent in March (11 of 22).
“It’s huge,” Donte DiVincenzo said Tuesday of Green’s 3-point ability. “If they’re worried about him shooting threes with the pick and pop, our guards can go downhill. Once we’re downhill and through the defenses, we can kick, swing, ride again, and then we’ll get whatever we want.
“When we played Milwaukee, Brook [Lopez] sat in the paint. When JaMychal knocked over his threes, it kind of forced them to come out a bit more and that opened up the paint more in the second half.
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Despite his slow start, Green is now shooting 38.1 percent from 3-point range for the Warriors. They’re 6-2 in games where he makes multiple 3s.
Soft-spoken but with a deep, strong voice that calls for a goal, Green has earned his respect in the NBA. He was undrafted from Alabama in 2014 and has now played in the league for almost a decade. Green has signed three different 10-day contracts and has traded twice.
The Warriors is his fifth franchise and they’ve had his eye on him for years. Dub Nation’s newest dog shows how his bite can match his bark, suspended in playoff mode.
“I think the biggest thing is that he still is – whether he’s playing or not,” DiVincenzo said when asked about Green’s toughness. “Perhaps he is not even aware of his effect.
“A lot of people turn to him when the game heats up. He has everyone’s back. It doesn’t matter whether it’s on or off the pitch.”
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