It was April 14 at 8:35 Central Time on Tuesday in Memphis, Tennessee when a hardwood crime was reported on the FedExForum floor.
The victim, Gary Payton II was finally on firm footing after seven years as a pro. This was his first full season in an NBA rotation. Smothering perimeter defense was his birthright. His father, Gary Payton, could pick the pockets of even the slickest ball handlers. Payton II was finally living up to “The Mitten” nickname, a play-off of his father’s nickname, “The Glove.” It’s the only thing he’s been given in his NBA career. For the bulk of his career, he scaled the G-League mountain.
The 2022 playoffs were the pinnacle of his career. Payton was the yin to Jordan Poole’s offensive yang in the first round. The Mitten even started the first two games of the Warriors’ Western Conference Semifinals series against the Memphis Grizzlies. His badgering defense frustrated the hell out of Ja Morant in Game 1. Game 2 was supposed to be his encore until his fateful encounter with Brooks at the 9:08 mark in the first quarter as Draymond Green led the Warriors out in transition.
Green laced a pass ahead to Payton, who had slipped into a crevice between Memphis’ transition defense. A split second later, Payton was sprawled on the hardwood, clutching his left arm in agony. Payton’s injury would later be diagnosed as a fractured left elbow delivering a blow to Golden State’s rotation. His playoffs may be over. Now Warriors fans, who’ve harbored Draymond Green for nearly a decade, are adamant that Dillon Brooks should face justice for his crimes against basketball.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr was especially animated about Brooks’ mid-air foul of Payton.
“I don’t know if it was intentional but it was dirty,” Kerr said† “There’s a code that players follow. You never put a guy’s season or career in jeopardy by taking someone out in mid-air and clubbing him across the head and ultimately fracturing Gary’s elbow.”
Disclaimer: The individuals mentioned in this piece cannot and will not be charged in a court of law. Our only jurisdiction is the NBA Disciplinary Process. Although, we do reserve the right to drag both parties in front of the Slam Dunk Contest judges for a sham trial.
Ultimately, the NBA will be the final arbiter of justice here. The league will soon decide Brooks’ intent and if his action was worthy of more punitive justice or if his ejection from Game 2 sufficed. A second suspension would essentially be a 2-game suspension, given that he only played three minutes in Game 1.
Is Dillon Brooks a revenge-seeking head-hunter who saw an opportunity to knock the snot out of a player who made Morant’s life harder? Or was this a crime of fast-break passion, executed on the fly with adrenaline pumping? Short of an admission of guilt from Brooks, all NBA PI’s can do is watch the replay over and over again in super-slow-mo(the most common description for Brooks understudy, Kyle Anderson’s style of play), fill in the puzzle pieces and search for clues a grand basketball jury could indict on.
However, it’s essential to know the backstory and how the loss of Payton will affect this series. Like Will Smith being exhausted by Chris Rock’s Jada Pinkett Smith jokes long before the Oscars, tensions were already high. Green spent the past 48 hours explaining his assault on Brandon Clarke via any medium he could find, including TNT’s Inside the NBA, which felt like Hannibal Lecter discussing the texture of flesh over a nice Chianti.
Meanwhile, the Grizzlies have been trying to send a message to these Warriors for at least three years now. Last May, the Grizz ended Golden State’s season in the play-in game† Their real obsession is with Andre Iguodala, a Grizzlies persona non grata for never playing a game for Memphis, has helped fuel their ascension. Conveniently enough, they may have his full attention now. With Payton out of action for the foreseeable future, Golden State will be relying more heavily on Iguodala if he is cleared to return for Game 3.
During the Warriors’ demolition summer of 2019, Iguodala was traded to Golden State with the understanding that he’d be bought out or traded to a contender. Dillon Brooks in particular, took offense to Iguodala’s refusal to share wisdom with theirs young roster, singling him out every chance he got. Just after Iguodala was traded to the Grizzlies, Brooks was the most scorned by Iggy to the point that it started giving off Eminem “Stan” angry letters vibes.
Brooks was still mentioning him in press conferences as late as March.
Their backgrounds on different sides of the Oregon State-Oregon Civil War adds circumstantial evidence the league office should take into account. There was already some grease between them and any country lawyer worth his JD could get that evidence admitted.
Ultimately, Brooks’ foul has changed the tone of this series. Payton will miss a significant period of time rehabbing his elbow, robbing Golden State of their poor man’s Marcus Smart. It’s not as brutal as Zaza committing manslaughter on Kawhi Leonard’s ankles in 2017, but in a series decided by razor-thin margins between two teams in the penthouse of the NBA hierarchy, the adjustments that Kerr makes could be the difference. Winning is the best elixir. Even if Brooks isn’t levied a suspension, there’s more than one way for Golden State to earn justice for The Mitten.