There were always going to be a plethora of storylines emanating from the Golden State Warriors' marquee meeting with the Phoenix Suns on Saturday night, but Draymond Green's return matchup with Jusuf Nurkic certainly proved the most fascinating.
It was the pairs' first meeting since December 12 in Phoenix where Green hit Nurkic during the third-quarter, leading to a flagrant two ejection and subsequent indefinite suspension that saw the 33-year-old miss 16-straight games.
A fiery on-court battle between Draymond Green and Jusuf Nurkic spilled over into the post-game of the Golden State Warriors 113-112 victory over the Phoenix Suns
Green and Nurkic went at it from the outset, with the matchup fuelled by the former's recent move to Golden State's full-time starting center. They entered into an early verbal exchange that led to a Klay Thompson technical foul after the veteran sharpshooter intervened, and just seconds later Green was animated after drawing an offensive foul from the Suns big man.
Things escalated in the third-quarter when Nurkic followed a jump hook over Green with an extravagant 'too small' signal, slapping the floor twice as part of the gesture. The Warrior veteran soon had his revenge, taking advantage of Nurkic's disrespect by attacking him under the rim, finishing a layup and delivering his own 'too small' signal.
While the matchup was clearly personal, it never went overboard -- Green walked the tightrope to perfection and Nurkic gave as good as he got the other way. Phoenix head coach Frank Vogel labelled it as "just two guys competing."
But after Stephen Curry proved the difference with a ridiculous three-point game-winner, Nurkic was apparently keen to retake the spotlight with some controversial post-game comments.
Whether heartfelt or not, he had been in a forgiving mood immediately after the December 12 incident. Fast-forward to Saturday and his attitude had done a 180, backtracking from the initial comments and stating that Green doesn't deserve a chance.
""It's sad. He didn't learn anything. Just a matter of time. He's going to hit somebody else again. Take back everything I said. He don't deserve a chance."- Jusuf Nurkic
The post-game comments stemmed from a player who knew he'd been comprehensively outplayed. Perhaps Nurkic was trying to distract from that fact, but knowledgeable NBA fans saw past what was a strange backflip from the Bosnian.
Green had 15 points, seven rebounds and nine assists, regularly blowing by some lazy Nurkic defense for easy layups at the rim. The four-time All-Star shot 7-of-9 from the field, then finished the game with a defensive stand to prevent a game-winning attempt from Kevin Durant at the buzzer.
In contrast, Nurkic had just six points, six rebounds and four assists, shooting only 3-of-7 from the floor. His underwhelming performance and the style of the game led Vogel to going in a different direction, preferring to play Durant as a small-ball center in critical moments as the momentum ebbed-and-flowed down the stretch.
Curry put it simply after the game, stating that "Draymond was in his head. Plain and simple.” Green himself preferred to stick with the on-court antics, suggesting "you can’t be a nothing defender if you gonna do that," in reference to the 'too small' signal.
While Green's initial incident with Nurkic may have put the Warriors in a deep, dark hole, Saturday was another example of the franchise legend looking to rectify his misconduct by playing a lead role in his team's recent resurgence.