When the NBA created the In-Season Tournament as a way to inject playoff-level intensity into regular-season games, the scuffle between the Golden State Warriors and the Minnesota Timberwolves that resulted in three early ejections on Tuesday night might not have been what the league had in mind.
The game was still scoreless and not even two minutes old when Golden State’s Klay Thompson and Minnesota’s Jaden McDaniels got in a shoving match near midcourt following a Timberwolves possession.
The Timberwolves’ Rudy Gobert stepped in and grabbed hold of Thompson before the Warriors’ Draymond Green rushed in and pulled Gobert away from behind with his arm around the center’s neck.
Thompson’s jersey was ripped during the scuffle, which led to Green’s second ejection of the season and two free throws for Gobert.
“Not much to say,” Gobert said. “That’s just clown behavior.”
Golden State coach Steve Kerr said that McDaniels instigated the altercation and Thompson should not have been ejected.
“He’s running up the floor, and the guy grabs his jersey, and he’s pulling on him. So Klay pulls back,” Kerr said. “No way that Klay should have been ejected. That was ridiculous.”
McDaniels and Thompson initially collided after a missed Minnesota shot, when the Wolves forward was going in for the rebound.
McDaniels said he was “just trying to defend myself” when Thompson grabbed at his collar.
There was some early aggression between the teams, but McDaniels did not anticipate the tension would boil over.
“There was some chitter-chatter going back and forth, but I wasn’t taking it serious,” McDaniels said. “I was laughing, and then I guess it was just a bigger deal to him.”
After the fracas began, Gobert said he got involved to “de-escalate the situation.”
When Green grabbed him, Gobert threw up his hands to avoid making matters worse.
“My first thought was just: ‘I’m not going to fight. I need to be in this game to help my team,’” Gobert said. “I just showed the ref that I had my hands up, and I just waited until the situation was over. Nothing more than that. It wasn’t a good enough choke to put me to sleep.”
Crew chief Tyler Ford told a pool reporter that Gobert was considered a “peacemaker” and thus was not ejected for his involvement.
“I thought the ejections were the right ones,” Minnesota coach Chris Finch said. “I thought they were warranted. I thought [the refs] did a good job of getting control of the game from that point of view. The game was very physical, but it wasn’t a very dangerous and out-of-control game.”
While Gobert said he did not feel unsafe during the scuffle, he expects the NBA to punish Green for his actions.
“I do hope that the league is going to do what needs to be done,” he said.
Once the dust settled, Karl-Anthony Towns scored 33 points, sending Minnesota to a 104-101 tournament victory over Golden State.
The Wolves have won seven straight games for their longest win streak since 2004.
“We just found a way to win ugly in a game that was pretty ugly,” Finch said. “All credit to [the Warriors]. Those guys, they were super physical and took us out of our rhythm, but we found a way to win it and showed some toughness mentally.”
The rematch of the Wolves’ 116-110 win at the Chase Center on Sunday was not lacking in intensity as the lead changed hands several times in the fourth quarter, until Towns gave Minnesota the lead for good with a 3-pointer with 1 minute, 7 seconds remaining.
Towns also grabbed 11 boards, and Gobert had 13. Reigning Western Conference player of the week Anthony Edwards scored 20 points.
In Tuesday’s other group stage games of the tournament, the Atlanta Hawks survived the Detroit Pistons 126-120, the Miami Heat topped the Charlotte Hornets 111-105, the Indiana Pacers outplayed the Philadelphia 76ers 132-126 and the Oklahoma City Thunder devastated the San Antonio Spurs 123-87.
The Brooklyn Nets defeated the Orlando Magic 124-104, the New Orleans Pelicans took down the Dallas Mavericks 131-110, the Utah Jazz beat the Portland Trail Blazers 115-99, the Denver Nuggets edged the Los Angeles Clippers 111-108 and the Los Angeles Lakers dominated the Memphis Grizzlies 134-107.
Additional reporting by staff writer
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