The crowd sighed in relief, players crowded around the field after the Warriors’ brutal Game 4 victory, and Mike Brown and Draymond Green walked straight towards each other, then shared a long, strong hug who communicated a multitude. of emotions.
The embrace of a great man. A moment when two people who meant so much to the Warriors seemed to lean in and melt into each other a bit, sharing things that only they could know.
So much happened on Monday before the Warriors faced the Grizzlies in that pivotal game at Chase Center. So much pain and transition and surprise and adaptation on the fly. So many things that had nothing to do with each other. And so many things that had everything to do with each other and the community of this team.
Early in the morning, news broke that Draymond’s former Michigan State teammate Adreian Payne had been fatally shot in Florida. Later, Brown was officially hired as head coach of the Sacramento Kings. Then, hours before the whistleblower, Steve Kerr tested positive for COVID-19, which meant he couldn’t coach the game (and probably Game 5) and Brown was suddenly the guy, like he had. been for 11 games in the 2017 playoffs when Kerr was suffering the effects of botched back surgery.
There’s so much going on.
“I love Draymond, you know, and when he hurts, we all hurt,” Brown said after the game. “So it was difficult for me personally. Then to find out that Steve was also out, that was a hectic or emotional day for me too.
But the Warriors had to get through this game. It was no small game. The 101-98 victory, ugly as it may seem, gave them a 3-1 lead as they head to Memphis for Game 5 on Wednesday and a shot for end this grueling streak. The Warriors really didn’t want to lose this game. So they had to deal with everything because it all happened on Monday, which happened around the same time.
They had the perfect guy to handle it, though. Which the Warriors knew, because Brown has dealt with this before.
“You know, we’ve done this drill before,” Brown said after the game.
And once Kerr called to tell him he wasn’t feeling well, and then later that he’d tested positive, Brown did the perfect Warriors thing: he leaned on the dynastic figures of this franchise. Led by letting them lead too. Leaned on them while they leaned on him.
“Andre (Iguodala), I know he doesn’t play, but just his voice, his presence, he always says the right thing,” Brown said. “It uplifts us all. And for me, it lifted me up. I told him, I told Draymond, I said, ‘I need you tonight. I need you guys. I will lean on you guys. And those guys were steady all game, Andre on the bench obviously and Draymond on the floor, and we found a way. You can do that when you have Steph Curry and (Jordan Poole) on the floor.
Perhaps the clearest indication of the currents that ran through the players and staff came when Brown refused to talk about the Kings’ job because he wanted to stay focused on the Warriors’ situation and didn’t want to talk about the Kings before all his attention. was onto his next role. And then, about 20 minutes later, Draymond stood patiently in the interview room waiting for Curry’s presser to finish, then politely said he couldn’t speak at length right now.
“So my emotions are all over the place now,” Draymond said. “I’m going to go home and sit on my podcast and talk because I can pause and cry if I need to cry. I don’t like crying in front of people. What I will say is that (my wife) Hazel and I are going to donate $100,000 to a fund in Adreian’s name.
“I appeal to my Spartan family, coach (Tom) Izzo,
“But I can do it at my own pace and in my own space. I apologize. I’m going to give you the best press conference after Wednesday’s game, but I just don’t have it in me tonight, I really apologize.
It would be a cop to say that the series of events leading up to the game caused the Warriors’ first three quarters to be incredibly slow on Monday. They also knew that Ja Morant was unlikely to play due to his injured knee, which could have resulted in a disappointment for the Warriors. And also, the Warriors just couldn’t shoot for long in this game.
They were hanging out after the first quarter. They could barely score in the second quarter and were trailing at halftime as well. Curry, Klay Thompson and Poole were all struggling. Everyone on the Warriors was struggling. They trailed 69-62 going into fourth thanks to Desmond Bane’s 32-foot buzzer-beater.
But the Warriors have been together too long and held together too long to despair over it all.
“I felt like we were going to win the game when Bane hit the hard shot to finish the third, we just wanted it at four, and I just knew we could,” Klay said. “We were going to win the game. I just had a feeling. It was ugly, but at this time of year, all that matters is this victory.
Curry got hot in the fourth quarter. Klay took a huge leap from the corner. The Warriors defense surged. The Grizzlies offense, sans Morant, hit the wall. Draymond brushed off his fetid troubles and stopped Jaren Jackson Jr. at a few crucial moments.
Brown ran the game calmly. He didn’t call a million timeouts. He did not deviate from his rotation plan and that of Kerr. He hasn’t tried outlandish things to show the Kings and the world how brave and creative he can be. He just led the team. And when it was over, he accepted the congratulations of the rest of the coaching staff, patted down a few players as they made their way to the locker room and walked over to Draymond.
“Yeah, it was an emotional day,” Klay said. “Prayers to Adreian and his family, and Draymond, I know they played together. Just a terrible loss of life, and his legacy will live on. It was just a sad day.
“Really happy for Mike B., though. He’s going to do great things for Sacramento. I think his head coaching record for Warriors playoff games is undefeated. We missed Steve a lot, just his voice, his presence But we had been here before in 2017 when Mike took over and we had a lot of wins, I thought about it a lot, just a day of highs and lows as far as emotions go.
The Warriors will miss Brown. They know that. He joined the coaching staff for the 2016-17 season, just in time for Kevin Durant’s arrival and to replace Kerr in those 2017 playoff games en route to a championship.
“Coach (Kerr) talked about it, I think this morning, about what (Brown has) meant to our team and to this coaching staff,” Curry said. “And maybe the way they approach it all year in terms of everybody having a voice for us and being able to hear it all year round, that makes situations like tonight a bit easier of a transition. He had a lot of good words tonight.
“I don’t know in history if you could name the head coach of two teams in 24 hours. He continues to set many trends.
Of course, being the Warriors in a moment of victory, it also had to have humor. During his post-game interview with TNT, Curry joked that when things were bad, it felt like the whole team had been traded for the Kings. (He tried to backtrack a bit later, which was almost as fun as the one-liner.)
“Yeah, we got a lot of pranksters on the team,” Brown said with a smile when asked about Curry’s crack, “and I’m okay with that.”
You get used to that stuff when you’re with the Warriors. You get used to the big jumps of emotion, the surprises, the drama, the passion and a lot of victories. And in the end, sometimes you just hug someone who needs it, and you realize you need it too.
(Photo Mike Brown and Draymond Green: Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)