SAN FRANCISCO -- Damion Lee's second and final return to Chase Center this season, barring a playoff matchup, wasn't as kind for the former Warrior on Monday night in Golden State's 123-112 win against the Phoenix Suns.
Lee played 18 minutes, scoring seven points and grabbed five rebounds. He was 3 of 9 from the field and a minus-11 in plus/minus. The optics were worse than the box score.
There was Klay Thompson racing past him, Steph Curry putting him on a highlight reel and Jordan Poole dropping 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 one minute-and-a-half left in the game and the Warriors up by 15 points, Green and Lee walked nose-to-nose down the court. Green was upset with a mini scuffle between Lee and Poole the previous possession, and was letting him know it.
That's when Lee tried to push Green. The result somehow was Lee flying backwards and Green flexing harder as he continued talking and walking 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 push Moses Moody to ground at the end of the sequence.
A shove to Green from Lee as JaMychal came to Moody's side to pick him up was the final straw. Green needed teammates, coaches, Suns players and referees to hold him back. Enough was enough. The 32-year-old is a protector at heart and was ready for action.
"I just reacted, really," Green said Tuesday after Warriors practice. "I just seen them get into the altercation and just reacted. I can't really explain. It's just the heat of the moment.
"They had beaten us up this season. Every game is a must-win game for us right now. It's like playoff mode, so I'm ready to go."
When the Warriors signed Green to a one-year, $2.6 million dollar contract this offseason, he made it clear how he believed he'd fit in best. It wasn't about his shooting ability. Not his rebounding either.
Defense isn't what was brought up first.
Green more than anything wanted to show Dub Nation the dog that lives within him. He was excited to be the guy the Warriors can rely on for the dirty work in games. Fighting to keep plays alive, laying out for loose balls and sticking up for teammates -- that's what Green loves most about the game.
It's what fuels him on the court.
"It's fun for me," Green said. "I think I started to have fun again these last two or three games. You just gotta go out there and compete. Leave it all on the floor."
The season hasn't gone as planned for Green. He started off slow trying to get his footing in a new system. Then COVID-19 and a leg infection kept him out for a month. Upon his return, he found himself in and out of the lineup with a handful of DNPs (Did Not Play) as Steve Kerr tinkered with rotations and style of play.
Through the ups and downs, even in his ninth season, Green began reminding himself how lucky he is living his dream every day. Instead of searching for answers, his focus turned to controlling only what he can control. The mindset has allowed him to play free, and the results have shown on the court.
In the Warriors' 2-0 homestand after a winless five-game road trip, Green gave Golden State winning minutes off the bench. He scored 18 points with six rebounds, a block and four threes in the Warriors' overtime win against the Milwaukee Bucks. Then on Monday against the Suns, he added nine points with seven rebounds, a block and another three.
The numbers are there. The grit always has been and always will be. His production and veteran presence doesn't go unnoticed by his coaches and teammates. What has impressed Kerr most is Green perseverance.
"J-Mych's been great," Kerr said Tuesday. "Things didn't really go his way early in the season. I had him playing with some tough combinations. We were trying to figure out different lineups and I didn't put him in a great position to succeed. He's persevered.
"He's just stayed with it and he's been really good lately. Obviously knocking down shots, but providing that toughness and that grit. And yes, you like to have a guy who's going to backup his teammates, which we saw last night. That's great for chemistry, that's great for a team's morale and J-Mych has provided that."
Last season, Green shot a lowly 26.6 percent on 3-pointers. But that was while playing through a painful injury to his right wrist. The Warriors had seen the 6-foot-8 stretch big hurt them from deep enough in the past to know he was still capable of doing so.
In October, he made just 23.1 percent of his threes. Then in November, he shot 16.7 percent beyond the arc. But in December, that number jumped to 38.9 percent. Though he played only three games in January, he went 4 of 8 on 3-pointers.
This past month he was a 46.2-percent 3-point shooter, and is at 50 percent (11 of 22) in March.
"It's huge," Donte DiVincenzo said Tuesday of Green's 3-point ability. "When they're worried about him shooting threes on the pick-and-pop, that allows our guards to get downhill. Once we get downhill and break down the defense, we can kick, swing, drive again and that's when we get whatever we want.
"When we played Milwaukee, Brook [Lopez] was sitting in the paint. With JaMychal knocking down his threes, it kind of forced them to come out a little bit more and that opened up the paint more in the second half."
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Despite his slow start, Green now is shooting 38.1 percent from 3-point range for the Warriors. They're 6-2 in games he makes multiple 3s.
Soft spoken but with a deep, strong voice that calls for a purpose, Green has earned his respect around the NBA. He was undrafted out of Alabama in 2014 and now has nearly played a decade in the league. Green has signed three different 10-day contracts and has been traded twice.
The Warriors are his fifth franchise, and they've had their eyes on him for years. Dub Nation's newest dog is showing how his bite can match his bark, locked in on playoff mode.
"I think the biggest thing is, he still is that -- whether he's playing or not," DiVincenzo said when asked about Green's toughness. "He may not even realize his impact.
"A lot of people turn to him when things are kind of heating up in the game. He has everybody's back. On or off the court, it doesn't matter."