The crowd was sighing in relief, the players were milling around the court after the Warriors’ rough-and-tumble Game 4 victory, and Mike Brown and Draymond Green headed straight for each other, then shared a long, strong hug that communicated a multitude of emotions.
A big man’s embrace. A moment when two people who have meant so much to the Warriors seemed to lean into and blend into each other for a bit, sharing things only they could know.
So much happened Monday before the Warriors ever played the Grizzlies in this crucial game at Chase Center. So much pain and transition and surprise and adapting on the fly. So much that had nothing to do with each other. And so much 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 shot and killed in Florida. Later, Brown was officially hired as the Sacramento Kings’ head coach. Then, a few hours before tipoff, Steve Kerr tested positive for COVID-19, which meant he couldn’t coach the game (and probably Game 5) and Brown suddenly was the guy, as he’d been for 11 games during the 2017 postseason when Kerr was suffering from the effects of a botched back surgery.
So much going on.
“I love Draymond, you know, and when he hurts, we all hurt,” Brown said after the game. “So that was tough on me personally. Then to find out Steve was out, too, it was an up-and-down or emotional day for me, too.”
But the Warriors had to get through this game. It was not a small game. The 101-98 victory, as ugly as it looked, gave them a 3-1 lead as they head to Memphis for Wednesday’s Game 5 and a shot to end this grueling series. The Warriors very much did not want to lose this game. So they had to deal with everything as it all came down Monday, which was pretty much all at once.
They had the perfect guy to handle it, though. Which the Warriors knew, because Brown has handled 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’s not playing, but just his voice, his presence, he’s always saying the right thing,” Brown said. “It uplifts all of us. And for me, it uplifted me. I told him, I told Draymond, I said: ‘I need you guys tonight. I need you guys. I’m going to lean on you guys.’ And those guys stayed steady the whole game, Andre on the bench obviously and Draymond out on the floor, and we found a way. You can do that when you have Steph Curry and (Jordan Poole) out on the floor.”
Maybe the clearest indication of the currents that flowed through the players and the staff came when Brown declined to speak about the Kings job because he wanted to remain focused on the Warriors’ situation and didn’t want to talk about the Kings until his full attention was on his next role. And then, about 20 minutes later, Draymond patiently stood in the interview room waiting for Curry’s presser to end, then politely said he couldn’t talk at length right now.
“So my emotions are kind of all over the place now,” Draymond said. “I’m going to go home and just sit on my podcast and talk because I can pause that and cry if I need to cry. I don’t like to cry in front of people. What I will say is (my wife) Hazel and I are going to donate $100,000 to a fund in Adreian’s name.
“I call on my Spartan family, coach (Tom) Izzo,
“But I can do it at my own speed and at my own space. I apologize. I will give you guys the greatest press conference after Wednesday’s game, but I just don’t have it in me tonight, I truly apologize.”
It would be a cop out to say the run of events leading up to the game caused the Warriors’ incredibly sluggish first three quarters Monday. They also knew Ja Morant was unlikely to play because of his injured knee, which could’ve led to a Warriors letdown. And also, the Warriors just couldn’t shoot for a long time in this game.
They trailed after the first quarter. They could barely score in the second quarter and trailed at halftime, too. Curry, Klay Thompson and Poole were all struggling. Everybody on the Warriors was struggling. They trailed 69-62 going into the fourth thanks to Desmond Bane’s 32-foot…